10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park
10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park 🥾 [2022]

© NZPocketGuide.com

Attractions, Tours, Hikes and Activities in the Rakiura National Park

Escape to an island where around 85% of it is a national park! That’s right, the Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island is the final frontier for even the most seasoned traveller of New Zealand, offering untouched river valleys, rolling dunes and sweeping beaches that feel a world away from anywhere. Hiking is the main way to experience the national park, but boat cruises and scenic flights will get you to the remote reaches of the park should you choose not to wear your legs out. Discover the very best things to do in Rakiura National Park with this list.

1. Hike the Rakiura Track

Let’s kick off this list of the best things to do in Rakiura National Park with one of the acclaimed New Zealand Great Walks! The Rakiura Track is a three-day loop track encompassing the highlights of the national park and Stewart Island including beaches, native bush and birdlife.

Location: Start either from Lee Bay, approximately 5km (3.1 miles) from Oban or the Fern Gully car park on Main Road approximately 2km (1.2 miles) from Oban.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© NZPocketGuide.com

2. Take the Ferry to Ulva Island

A must-do half or full-day trip from Stewart Island, Ulva Island is accessed on a five-minute ferry trip from Golden Bay. The island is a pest-free bird sanctuary within the realm of the Rakiura National Park, which is networked with walking trails to explore the island and its inhabitants. Either visit independently via the Ulva Island Ferry & Water Taxi or take a guided tour of the island with a cruise included with RealNZ (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). Learn more about visiting Ulva Island in the 20 Best Things to Do on Stewart Island.

Location: Ferries depart from Golden Bay, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oban. Alternatively, tours with RealNZ depart from the Oban ferry terminal.

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3. Go Kiwi Spotting

Your chances of seeing a kiwi bird in the wild are much higher on Stewart Island and the Rakiura National Park than elsewhere in New Zealand. Not only do the local species of Stewart Island brown kiwi have fewer threats in the national park but they are known for staying up until midday. With that in mind, it’s not uncommon to spot kiwi birds on the hiking trails of the national park. If you want a higher chance to spot a kiwi, however, it’s worth joining a guided tour such as with Ruggedy Range to Mason Bay. Other kiwi spotting tours are also available just outside the national park near Oban, such as with RealNZ to Ocean Beach.

Location: Ruggedy Range, 14 Main Road, Oban. Alternatively, tours with RealNZ depart from the Oban ferry terminal.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© Tourism New Zealand

4. Enjoy a Day Hike on the Garden Mound Track

While the Rakiura National Park is renowned for its multi-day hikes, which we will get onto later, there are a couple of day hikes that are worth seeking out too. Hike up the Garden Mound Track, for instance, to walk among huge native trees reaching up to 160m (525ft) to Little River. You can return on the trail of the Rakiura Track to complete a loop where you’ll find the link chain sculpture entrance to the Rakiura National Park. The trail is about four to five hours return. We also list this experience as one of the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Stewart Island.

Location: Along Lee Bay Road, approximately 4.7km (2.9 miles) north of Oban.

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5. Enjoy a Longer Day Hike to Maori Beach

For a longer day hike and an excellent taste of the Rakiura Track, try the day return walk along the Rakiura Track to Maori Beach and back. The six-to-seven-hour walk offers excellent scenery of bush and beach, as well as some interesting historical sites such as an old sawmill. And if you find long walks a romantic thing to do with your partner on the island, you might also like the 10 Most Romantic Things to Do on Stewart Island for Couples.

Location: Lee Bay car park, end of Lee Bay Road, approximately 5km (3.1 miles) from Oban.

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6. Hike the North West Circuit…

For those looking for a real wilderness experience; to explore the northern reaches of Stewart Island, challenge yourself to the North West Circuit. The whopping 125km (77.7-mile) loop takes between nine to 11 days to complete, where you can easily lose yourself (hopefully not literally) in the sweeping beaches and rocky hilltops. The only downside to this trail is the mud – so much mud!

Location: Lee Bay car park, end of Lee Bay Road, approximately 5km (3.1 miles) from Oban.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© NZPocketGuide.com

7. … Or Hike the Southern Circuit

Yes, there’s another option for multi-day hiking on Stewart Island and it’s the Southern Circuit. Although not quite as long as the North West Circuit, the Southern Circuit is a more challenging backcountry hike where route finding skills may be necessary with areas prone to flooding and, yes, more mud. Nevertheless, a highlight is Mason Bay and its sweeping sands where kiwi birds are often spotted.

Location: End of Main Road, Oban.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© NZPocketGuide.com

8. Fly to Mason Bay and Hike Back to the Freshwater River

For an overnight version of the Southern Circuit with a flight and water taxi experience included, do the Coast to Coast trek from Mason Bay to Freshwater Landing. Join Stewart Island Flights for a scenic journey over the Rakiura National Park, landing on the sandy shores of Mason Bay. You’ll stay overnight in the Mason Bay Hut before making your way down along the wetlands and sand dunes of the Freshwater Valley to Freshwater Landing where a water taxi with Rakiura Charters & Water Taxi can pick you up at high tide. For more Rakiura flight experiences, check out the 6 Best Luxury Experiences on Stewart Island.

Location: Flights depart from Ryans Creek Aerodrome, Airport Road, approximately 2km (1.2 miles) from Oban.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© NZPocketGuide.com

9. Join a Pelagic Bird Cruise

While the Rakiura National Park might just cover land, it also provides important nesting grounds for pelagic birds, who are best seen on a boat cruise around Stewart Island. Experience close encounters with giant petrels, cape petrels, sooty shearwaters, wandering albatross, yellow-eyed and blue penguins and much more. Pelagic birds cruises are available with Rakiura Charters & Water Taxi, Aihe Eco Charters & Water Taxi and Tequila Fishing and Bird Watching Charters.

Location: Rakiura Charters – 10 Main Road, Oban. Aihe – 14 Main Road, Oban. Tequila – 28 Main Road, Oban.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© NZPocketGuide.com

10. Enjoy a Scenic Cruise Through the Rakiura National Park

And for the final best thing to do in the Rakiura National Park, a scenic cruise is a worthy way to see the inhabitants of the surrounding waters and access the park’s remote historical and scenic sites. For instance, join Rakiura Charters & Water Taxi for a scenic trip up the Freshwater River or hit Aihe Eco Charters & Water Taxi up for a tour for a trip to a Norwegian Whalers’ Base or a salmon and mussel farm. See more like this in the 10 Things to Do on Stewart Island with Kids.

Location: Rakiura Charters – 10 Main Road, Oban. Aihe – 14 Main Road, Oban.

10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park© NZPocketGuide.com

More Things to Do in Rakiura National Park

That’s it for our list of the best things to do in the Rakiura National Park. Get more advice on planning a trip to Rakiura with the following guides:

Finally, see which of these Rakiura experiences make it onto your New Zealand bucket list along with some of the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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