Our visit to Stewart Island (New Zealand’s third-largest island, just south of the South Island) was one of the highlights of our road trip around the country. To be honest, though, we’d never even heard of it before booking our Stray Maximus Pass and seeing it on their itinerary. I’m so glad we went!
This post is excepted from my feature on Planit NZ’s blog.
Why Visit Stewart Island
- An estimated 15,000 kiwi birds live here, making this the best place to try to spot them in the wild
- The historical town of Oban is home to the charming South Sea Hotel, whose pub perfectly reflects the culture of this salty seaside village
- With low levels of light pollution, there is no better place in New Zealand to try to catch the elusive aurora Australis or southern lights
- Little blue penguins nest at dusk on the rocks by the Halfmoon Bay ferry terminal
- Take a water taxi to Ulva Island for the chance to see several species of native New Zealand birds and plants
Watch: Bird Spotting on Ulva Island
How to Visit to Stewart Island
Ferries ($79 NZD each way) depart for Stewart Island from the town of Bluff, but there are also options that include transportation from as far north as Queenstown (3 hours driving from Bluff). There are three or four departures daily during the summer season and two in winter. Check the schedule before you go. The ferry is an exhilarating one-hour jaunt through the Foveaux Strait – expect some rough waters and plan accordingly if you’re prone to seasickness! The ferry will arrive in the town of Oban on Stewart Island, and from the ferry terminal it is an easy walk or short ride to all local accommodations.
In the evenings, walk down to the ferry port where you arrived to try to spot blue penguins. Additionally, the rugby field is known as a reliable place to find kiwis late at night. For both, bring a red-light torch with you, as the white light hurts their eyes and frightens them.
To visit Ulva Island, you will take either a water taxi (starting at $30 NZD; flexible times) or ferry ($20 NZD return; set times). Note that this ferry departs from Golden Bay Wharf, not Halfmoon Bay where you arrived! It’s a quick 15-minute ride. When you arrive, put a $2 NZD coin in the honor box and grab a self-guided pamphlet, which has walking tours and pictures of the birds you will see, so you can identify and learn about the wildlife! If you’re lucky (and quiet), you might even spot a day walking kiwi!
Though small and quiet, Stewart Island offers big experiences for those travelers ready to get off the beaten path and spend some time in one of the country’s best wildlife havens!
Have you ever been somewhere you’d never head of previously and been totally enamored with it? Where was it?
Read More: Detailed South Island Itinerary