We have just got home from a trip to Stewart Island, New Zealand. Gosh, what a fabulous place and I am so excited to share my experiences with you! I am hoping that this is just the ticket for you particularly if you have had an inkling to visit this beautiful island but wanted a bit more information to help with your decision.
Getting there is much easier than I thought. It initially felt like a such a long distance away. However, there is a direct flight from Auckland to Invercargill where a one night stopover seemed to be the best idea for us because we were meeting up with friends who were already on their road trip around the South Island. So we met at the motel and stayed overnight.
Not a lot to do in Invercargill but we did stop into the local hardware store, “Ehayes Store”, where they had the World’s Fastest Indian on show… it’s the legend Burt Munro’s racing motorcycle.
And, I believe you can also drive a digger at New Zealand’s only heavy machinery playground “Dig This Invercargill”, but we did not have the time unfortunately… next time perhaps.
And a totally adequate pub-grub style dinner at Lone Star, all good things like steak, chips etc.
From Invercargill it is a 27km taxi ride or bus ride to Bluff. “Catch-A-Bus South” operates a bus from Invercargill to Bluff twice daily. Then it is on to the ferry “Stewart Island Experience NZ” and after a one hour boat ride you will arrive at Oban, Stewart Island. The other option is a 20 minute flight from Invercargill to Oban.
The first glimpse of Stewart Island from the ferry was lovely and right from the start we could see this was going to be a remarkable place for natural vegetation, birdlife and gorgeous coastal views. ✨
The ferry arrives at Oban and it is just a short stroll with your suitcase or back pack to South Sea hotel where the friendly team will allow you to head upstairs to take in the view and sit with a cup of tea if you are waiting for your room to be ready. Or you can leave your luggage downstairs in the hallway and head along the shore line for a walk. Don’t worry, no one seems to lock their doors here or get overly concerned about left luggage.
We stayed for three nights on the island and it was just the perfect amount of time. Of course if we were doing any of the DOC hikes we would have needed longer but we were happy to stay around the main areas. We walked to Church Hill, down to Bather’s Bay, around to the point, up high to Observation Rock Point and went out to the airport runway to see kiwis coming out of the bush to feed. Unfortunately we missed the Southern Lights display and I believe they had a great view on the night after we left, drat it all… just means another trip is required at some later stage.
We also joined a short tour to the privately owned Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary which was beautiful and there are photos later in this blog post.
See my tips further below for suggestions of things to do.
Stewart Island Video
Watch my video here
There is not a huge selection of places to eat but what is available is good. We were wanting to support the local businesses and visit different venues each night which worked out well with 3 to 4 great places to eat.
The hotel serves good hearty meals and the blue cod is beautiful… fried or baked with a lovely sauce, yum.
The Fin and Feathers food cart is quite spectacular and consists of gourmet food in a box. The sweet pear and brandy risotto for dessert was amazing.
There is also a good fish and chip cart for takeaways, Kai Cart on Ayr Street.
There is a variety of accommodation available for all different budgets from a backpacker’s lodge to upmarket boutiques so you may wish to have a thorough check on Booking.com.
We stayed at the South Sea Hotel where they have motel units available at the rear of the main building and these are comfortable and clean with small kitchenettes to reheat food, make tea and toast. There are also some rooms available upstairs in the main building where the views are to die for but bathroom facilities are shared.
The most important thing is to book well in advance because there is not a huge capacity and when we were staying on the island it was fully booked.
Things to do
Kiwi spotting- The main attraction to the island for me was to see kiwis so we joined the Beaks and Feathers tour. You are sure to see kiwis here or you can walk up to the Trail Park and wait around from about 9.30pm and you just might get lucky. On the tour we saw two adult kiwis and a little baby kiwi, adorable! We managed to film a tiny video which is inserted below but it’s hard to see because of the red light we had to use so that the kiwi are not frightened by any bright light. But you get the general idea… dead silent…pitch black…listening intently…rewarded but grunts and rustling… then you see them poking along in the ground…magic.
Trip to Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary, see more information further below.
Taxi tour with Aurora Cab Co here. We hired a taxi and driver/guide for 1.5 hours and he took us all over the 28km of road that exists on the island. The main sights were Lee Bay – Gateway to Rakiura NP, Horseshoe Bay, Observation Rock Lookout & Ackers Point Historic Stone House. Dave was an awesome driver and was unendingly patient answering all our questions. He later served us at the fish and chip cart, made us feel right at home and just like one of the locals.
Hire an electric bike here
Walk walk walk- follow the road and walk as long as you like, you won’t get lost. If you need some directions just ask a local who is out walking the dog. Everyone, that’s everyone on the island is friendly and helpful, only too pleased to stop and point you in the right direction.
Rakiura Jade- make your own jade treasure, see here. If you are not interested in taking up tools to make something it is still worth a visit to see the beautiful jade items and also to see the art studio with the best view in the world.
Rakiura Museum here. Extensive collection of items and photographs of Stewart Island’s early history, including Maori settlement; muttonbirding; whaling; fishing; timber milling; mining; boat building; transport; schools and churches, interesting history.
Scenic boat tours, Stewart Island Water Taxi Service here
Stewart Island Adventures Snorkel tours here. Brrr, too cold for us but if you have a wet suit this would be fascinating.
Kiwi Spotting Video
Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary
Ulva Island was cleared of rats and deer during the 1990’s and it is a beautiful island, covered in forest, with picturesque beaches and bays. It is a private island but is open to the public for everyone to enjoy the beautiful bird life.
We joined the Real Journeys guided walk for Ulva Island and it was a fascinating experience, pristine bush, abundant birdlife and beautiful beaches, just look at the stunning photos above and in the flesh it was even better because of course you get to hear the bird calls.
Ulva Island is a haven for endangered birds including South Island Saddleback, Yellowhead, Rifleman, Stewart Island Robin and Stewart Island Brown Kiwi.
They say that it is pretty much the only place on earth where you can see kiwis during the day but no such luck for us. I am guessing that sightings do occur but are rare, all part of the quest that is involved with this type of travel to see wildlife. However, we did get to spot a saddleback deep in the bush, also fantail, kaka and several beautiful robins.
Our guide explained that the ocean currents from Australia bring warm waters to this area and with that there is a prolific amount of seaweed and as a consequence there is vibrant sea life and birds.
Our boat ride was stunningly scenic. Alternatively, you can take a water taxi and wander around on your own but it was certainly lovely to go in a group with a guide.
Book on the Beaks and Feathers website here
Alternatively book Stewart Island Water Taxi Service here
Ulva Island Video
Watch my video here
What to Take
- woolly hat, gloves and scarf
- puffer jacket/windbreaker
- waterproof and comfortable shoes
- outdoor and/or hiking clothes
- torch, pref one with red light
- seasick tablets
- phone charger
- top up your data because the internet connection is not consistent
- be sure to download Netflix episodes before you head to the island- that is if you have any spare time to watch your fav series.