Stewart Island is New Zealand's third largest island, situated 30 kilometres south of the South Island, across the Foveaux Strait.
In the Māori language, it’s known as Rakiura, which means ‘the land of glowing skies’. You’ll get an inkling why when you see the Aurora Australis which often appears in these southern skies.
Travellers who make the effort are rewarded with a warm welcome from both the local kiwi and the local Kiwis. This is arguably the best place to spy the country’s shy, feathered icon in the wild, and the close-knit community of Stewart Islanders are relaxed hosts. If you’re staying on the island for just a few days, don’t be too surprised if most people quickly know who you are and where you came from – especially if you mix and mingle over a beer at New Zealand’s southernmost pub in Oban, the island's only settlement.
Stewart Island offers plenty of active adventure opportunities including kayaking, and tramping the Great Walk or other tracks in Rakiura National Park, which makes up 85% of the land area. The island has just 28km of road, but 280km of walking tracks suited to short walks, day walks and multi-day hikes. Walk the three-day Rakiura Track and you will get the full experience of Stewart Island’s wild beauty.
As well as beautiful coastal and inland scenery, a major impetus for such excursions is bird life. Stewart Island/Rakiura is a bird sanctuary of international repute, and even the most amateur of spotters are likely to be distracted by the constant – and utterly glorious – squawking, singing and flitting of feathery flocks. If you like bird watching, catch a ferry to Stewart Island where you’ll find a haven for native bird life and the only place in New Zealand where you have a fair chance of seeing kiwi in their native habitat. Stewart Island is a haven for brown kiwi or Tokoeka, which outnumber humans on the island and are active day and night. Blue penguins and the rare yellow-eyed penguins waddle among the rocks. Offshore on Ulva Island, you’ll find a predator free bird sanctuary with dozens of native species.
Stewart Island, New Zealand, can be reached by ferry from Bluff, or by light aircraft from Invercargill. Ulva Island is accessible by water taxi.
Iconic Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara is one of the few pest-free open sanctuaries in New Zealand. In this unspoiled rainforest you can see rare birds and plants at close quarters in a safe environment mostly unchanged by human activity and free of introduced animals. Never milled and pest-free since 1997, the island offers threatened native species a safe haven in which to flourish. Healthy populations of kiwi, saddleback and yellowhead can be found – birds which often struggle on the mainland.