Stewart Island New Zealand / Rakiura Aotearoa: Visit a Natural Paradise

Stewart Island, New Zealand, is renowned for its stunning landscape, but few places capture the essence of unspoiled natural beauty as perfectly. At the southernmost tip of the South Island, Stewart Island is just waiting to be explored by nature and wildlife enthusiasts, adventurers, and those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Stewart Island view of islands, Southland, New Zealand
Photo by Sébastien Goldberg

With its rugged terrain, dense rainforests, and diverse wildlife, Stewart Island offers an unparalleled experience that showcases the untouched wonders of New Zealand.

A Brief Introduction to Stewart Island/Rakiura

Stewart Island, Rakiura in Maori, translates to "The Land of the Glowing Skies," a reference to the mesmerizing Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) that frequently grace its night skies.

Covering an area of approximately 1,746 square kilometres, it's the third-largest island in New Zealand, yet it's inhabited by approximately 400 residents, making it sparsely populated.

Untamed Wilderness of Stewart Island

Stewart Island is a wilderness wonderland where rugged terrain meets lush rainforests.

Rakiura National Park

A network of well-maintained hiking trails criss-crosses the island, allowing adventurers to explore its diverse landscapes. One of the most famous tracks is the Rakiura Track, a 32-kilometer loop that takes you through pristine forests, along sandy beaches, and to stunning viewpoints such as Observation Rock, which offers breathtaking vistas of the surrounding islands.

Ulva Island, just a short water taxi ride from Stewart Island, is a predator-free sanctuary and a haven for birdwatchers. Here, you can encounter some of New Zealand's most endangered bird species, including the South Island Kaka, Weka, and the Stewart Island Robin.

Stewart Island Marine Marvels

The waters surrounding Stewart Island are teeming with marine life. Fishing, diving, and wildlife tours are popular activities for those seeking to explore the underwater wonders. In the clear, cold waters, you can find a variety of fish, including blue cod, paua (abalone), and the elusive white shark.

For a truly unique experience, consider embarking on a guided expedition to spot the island's most famous inhabitant – the Southern Right Whale. These majestic creatures visit the waters around Stewart Island from June to September, making it one of the best places in the world for whale watching. You might also spot dolphins, seals, and a variety of sea birds on your marine adventure.

Māori Culture and Heritage

Stewart Island holds a significant place in Māori culture and history. The island's name, Rakiura, stems from the legend of the demigod Māui, who, according to Māori mythology, caught the fish that became the North Island and South Island while standing on Stewart Island. Today, you can learn about the island's rich Māori heritage at the Rakiura Museum in Oban, the island's only settlement.

Oban: Stewart Island's Heart

Oban, the island's main settlement, is where most visitors start their Stewart Island journey. With a population of around 400 residents, it's a small, welcoming community where you can find accommodation, dining, and essential services. The town's charm lies in its simplicity and connection to nature. Enjoy a stroll along the waterfront, savour freshly caught seafood at a local restaurant, or chat with friendly locals at the pub.

The Southern Lights Night Sky Spectacle - Aurora Australis

One of the highlights of a visit to Stewart Island is its mesmerising night skies, a particular attraction for astrophotography. Thanks to its remote location and minimal light pollution, the island offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the southern hemisphere.

On a clear night, the Milky Way stretches across the sky, and the Southern Lights, Aurora Australis, often dance in vibrant shades of green and pink, leaving spectators in awe of nature's celestial display.

Stewart Island Conservation Efforts

Stewart Island's pristine environment is a testament to New Zealand's dedication to conservation. The island has several initiatives in place to protect its unique flora and fauna. Predator control programs have been established to safeguard native bird species, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) plays a vital role in preserving the island's natural treasures.

When to Visit Stewart Island New Zealand

The best time to visit Stewart Island largely depends on your interests.

Summer (December to February) is the peak tourist season, offering pleasant weather for hiking and outdoor activities.

If you're interested in whale watching, plan your visit between June and September when Southern Right Whales are present.

For stargazing enthusiasts, the winter months (June to August) provide the clearest skies.

New Zealand Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere.

Getting to Stewart Island

The journey to New Zealand's Stewart Island is an adventure in itself.

Ferry to Stewart Island, Southland, New Zealand
Ferry - Photo by Tonia Kraakman

Ferry to Stewart Island: The primary gateway to the island is via a 20-minute ferry ride from Bluff, a small coastal town on the southern tip of New Zealand's South Island. The ferry trip offers captivating views of the Foveaux Strait and the chance to spot marine life, including dolphins and seals.

Flight to Stewart Island: Alternatively, visitors can opt for a scenic flight from Invercargill, Southland Region, offering panoramic vistas of the island's rugged coastline and dense forests.

Places on Stewart Island

Have a look for these places on the map provided below

  • Rakiura National Park
  • Rakiura Track
  • North West Circuit
  • Oban - Halfmoon Bay
  • Rakiura Museum
  • Observation Rock
  • Ulva Island
  • Whalers Base
  • Mason Bay
  • Codfish Island (Whenua Hou) Nature Reserve
  • Muttonvird (Titi) Islands
  • Ferries to Bluff

Weather for Stewart Island New Zealand

The authority for reporting national weather in New Zealand is the MetService, Te Ratonga Tirorangi. These links will report the weather for Stewart Island and the region of Southland from the MetService.

Stewart Island Weather opens in new window

Where is Stewart Island? Interactive Map of Location

If you have heard of Stewart Island New Zealand but have no idea where it is, here is a map showing its location right at the bottom of the South Island!

Escape, Experience, and Connect with Nature and Culture

Stewart Island is a true sanctuary for nature lovers, a place where untouched wilderness, captivating marine life, and a rich cultural heritage converge to create an unforgettable New Zealand experience.

Whether you're hiking through ancient rainforests, observing rare bird species, or simply gazing up at the star-filled southern skies, Stewart Island offers a genuine escape from the modern world. It's a place where time seems to slow down, allowing you to reconnect with nature and savour the beauty of a pristine paradise at the edge of the world.