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Glimpse into an ancient world - untouched places to see on Stewart Island

Stewart Island
South Island
Jason Granville
Jason Granville
Tour Guide
March 5, 2023
minute read

Experience pristine forests & incredible wildlife on the land of glowing skies

Not for the faint-hearted, the ferry crossing from Bluff to Stewart Island tests your worthiness of travelling to this magical place. While you can just as easily have a smooth sailing across from the mainland, the incredible skill of the captain will ensure that even if it's a ‘bit rough’, you’ll be ‘safe as Houses’.

Oban, or Halfmoon Bay, the only settlement on Stewart Island, is home to a warm, friendly and self-sufficient community of around 400. They are outnumbered by their feathered friends in this birdwatching paradise by 50 to 1! Rightly proud of their slice of heaven, many locals are fourth- or fifth-generation islanders. Infamous for its fresh seafood, the island offers delicious blue cod, whitebait, green-lipped mussels, salmon & pāua that are hard to beat. Whether you grab fish n’ chips at the Kai Kart or prefer fine dining at Church Hill Restaurant, you’re guaranteed finger-licking food. Be sure to visit the iconic South Sea Hotel, which stands proudly in the bay. You’ll find an eclectic crowd of locals and travellers happy to yarn over a beer & hearty kiwi fare. 

Birdwatching Paradise

National Park covers 85% of the island. Many options exist to immerse yourself in wild, forested beauty with 280km of walking tracks covering short walks, day walks & multi-day hikes. You can experience diverse ancient, untouched ecosystems, from the impressive granite Ruggedy mountain ranges flanked by lush podocarp rainforest to the freshwater wetlands & sweeping white dune beaches. Warm, subtropical & subantarctic currents converge in the ocean surrounding the island, causing a wealth of marine biodiversity. 

Catch the ferry from Golden Bay to Ulva Island to glimpse an ancient paradise. One of the few predator-free bird sanctuaries in New Zealand, this 267-hectare island is a haven for the cheeky Stewart Island robin, saddleback, yellowhead, rifleman & brown kiwi. Enjoy the symphony of these rare & endangered native birds as you wander along mossy trails through the pristine rainforest of rimu, kāmahi, southern rātā, tōtara & miro. Pest control has also enabled bird populations on the main island to thrive, as kākā, kākāriki, kererū, & tūī use Ulva island for breeding.

Ulva Island

The Paterson Inlet (Whaka a Te Wera) has long held spiritual significance for the tangata whenua. The inlet is a crucial habitat to over 56 fish species of fish & 261 varieties of seaweed, more than anywhere else in Aotearoa, New Zealand. It is also home to brachiopods, prehistoric living fossils or lamp shells. These ancient filter-feeding shellfish have existed since the Paleozoic period, & it is rare to see living examples of such a time today. A mātaitai reserve since 1994, this unique area is a haven for larger marine life, including seals, blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins and seabirds such as the magnificent albatross. 

Raikura is the world’s most southern dark sky sanctuary & provides an incredible opportunity to experience our Milky Way like never before. Named after its glowing skies and the Aurora Australis, you have the best chance to see the Southern Lights between March and September.

The short 30 min steep climb through the bush to Observation Rock is the perfect place to soak in sensational views of Paterson Inlet at sunrise & sunset or to be wowed by billions of stars in the night sky.

Horseshoe Bay is a stunning white sand beach lapped by crystal clear blue water dotted with holiday baches poking out from the bush. You can easily be mistaken for being on a tropical island on a good day & will likely enjoy this beautiful vista all to yourself. It is also a perfect star gazing spot.

You can find one of New Zealand’s oldest stone buildings at beautiful Harrold Bay. Built by Lewis Acker for his family of nine children in 1835, you can imagine the squeeze! Then, follow the coastal track through the forest to Ackers Point, where you can enjoy fantastic views of the Tītī  (Muttonbird) Islands & Foveaux Strait. After dusk, you may even spot a kororā (little blue penguin) coming to shore, or during the summer, tītī returning to their burrows by the point.

Part of the Glory Cove Scenic Reserve is a dedicated kiwi protection area. With a permit, you can walk the coastal forest trail at Little Glory Cove on the southern part of the peninsula called The Neck. Enjoy listening to kiwi fossicking amongst the bush and observing them feeding on sand hoppers amongst the grasses & seaweed. At Big Glory Bay, you can visit one of the world’s most remote aquaculture farms for King Salmon & Greenshell Mussels. 

Stewart Island is a place to recalibrate life’s rhythms & enjoy the simple pleasures of great food and company amongst an unspoiled natural paradise. Whether you are a kiwi or from distant shores, this land of glowing skies will leave an indelible impression on your heart.