Free Things to Do on Stewart Island (and a Few Cheap Things Too)
The great thing about Stewart Island is that, of course, it is a stunning off-the-beaten-track location and furthest south you’re ever likely to go. But what’s more, you don’t have to spend a lot of money when you get there. Even beyond this list, there are heaps of affordable activities to really enjoy your time on the island. For the sake of those free (or super cheap) activities, we have put together this list of free things to do on Stewart Island.
Once you have got over to Stewart Island and had a browse through The Guide to Stewart Island on a Budget, there are a number of stunning walks to go on without the extra cost of transport. Plus, with a cheap museum, an abundance of wildlife, cheap entertainment and stunning beaches, you can definitely stretch your stay in Stewart Island for longer with these free and extremely affordable activities. By the way, don’t miss the 10 Best Things to Do Stewart Island too.
1. Relax on Bathing Beach – FREE
Bathing Beach is only a 10-minute walk from Oban. The walk takes you to an often secluded beach with crystal clear waters and access to a boat wreck at low tide. It’s a great place to go for a swim or relax on the beach. We also list Bathing Beach as one of the 10 Incredible Things to Do on Stewart Island.
Location: On the east side of Oban, walk past the wharf and uphill on Horseshoe Bay Road. Branch right when you reach Kamahi Road. Follow the signpost through the bush and around the clifftops to Bathing Beach.
2. Take the Ferry to Ulva Island – CHEAP
Ulva Island is a protected wildlife sanctuary off the coast of Golden Bay. There are very few places in New Zealand where you can see such diversity in birds in the forest between the robins, riflemen, two types of bush parrots, oystercatchers, weka and even kiwi birds. The Ulva Island Ferry & Water Taxi is the cheapest way to get there, costing around NZ$20 return from Golden Bay.
Location: Most ferries depart from Golden Bay, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oban.
3. Go to the Rakiura Museum – CHEAP
This modern museum tells the story of the early Maori, sealers and whalers, shipbuilders and their trials and tribulations of settling on an isolated southern island. The Rakiura Museum is open 10am-4pm in summer and 10am-3pm on weekends, public holidays and in winter. Admission is around NZ$10 per adult and free for children aged 16 and under.
Location: 11 Main Road, Oban.
4. Watch “A Local’s Tail” – CHEAP
For around NZ$10 per person, we think this activity can be classed as a cheap thing to do in Stewart Island. Go to the Bunkhouse Theatre and learn about Stewart Island’s history with a quirky 40-minute film, “A Local’s Tail”! Screenings are from Friday to Monday at 11am, 2pm and 4pm.
Location: 10 Main Road, Oban.
5. Walk to Lee Bay – FREE
For a day walk in Stewart Island without having to pay for transport, walk from Oban to Lee Bay (5-6 hours return) take the walk to Bathing Beach (see point #1 above). Cross Bathing Beach and take Horseshoe Bay Road north for about 1.5km (1 mile), turn into Bragg Bay Road just uphill from Butterfield Beach. Continue along the road on the coast of Bragg Bay where The Horseshoe Point track starts at the end of the road. This incorporates many stunning little beaches until you get to Horseshoe Bay. Follow Horseshoe Bay Road and up Lee Bay Road where you will reach the entrance to the Rakiura National Park and its link chain gateway.
Location: Directions as above.
6. Watch Little Blue Penguins – FREE
An evening walk to Ackers Point from Oban (3 hours return) is likely to coincide with seeing little blue penguins returning to the shores (take a torch with your but once you see penguins, don’t shine your torch at them). Otherwise, you may also see little blue penguins just past the fuel tanks on the main wharf – just watch them from the tanks; do not go on the rocks with them. For more places to see penguins, check out Where to Find Penguins in New Zealand.
Location: The walk to Ackers Point follows the coastal road at the east end of Oban. Follow the coastal road past several bays, then the road finishes at a walking track to the Ackers Point Lighthouse.
7. Do a Multi-Day Hike in the Rakiura National Park – CHEAP
The Rakiura National Park, which covers a whopping 80% of the island, is best explored on the myriad of multi-day hiking trails. While the national park is home to the premier (and rather expensive) Rakiura Track Great Walk, some of the cheaper trails include the North West Circuit and the Southern Circuit where most huts along the trails are NZ$5 a night. See descriptions of these hikes in the 10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park and the Rakiura National Park – Guide for Backpackers.
Location: North West Circuit – Lee Bay car park, end of Lee Bay Road, approximately 5km (3.1 miles) from Oban. Southern Circuit – End of Main Road, Oban.
8. Try Stewart Island’s Famous Blue Cod and Chips – CHEAP
While we don’t usually consider eating out as an activity, the fish and chips of Stewart Island are too legendary to miss! A popular chippy choice is the Kai Kart, serving good old-fashioned fish and chips takeaways, which you can eat in their cosy trailer or find a scenic spot on the Oban waterfront to sit. Check their irregular opening hours, however, which change with the seasons. Alternatively, the South Sea Hotel offers comfortable indoor and outside dining along with your fresh blue cod and chips.
Location: Kai Kart – 7 Ayr Street, Oban. South Sea Hotel – 26 Elgin Terrace, Oban.
9. Play Giant Chess on the Oban Waterfront – FREE
Speaking of places to eat your fish and chips, a good place to do just that is on the shores of Oban with its giant chessboard. These once humble traffic cones have been transformed into kings, queens and pawns for visitors to enjoy a brain-teasing game. Nearby is also a children’s playground, ideal if you are travelling with kids. Speaking of which, you might also be interested in the 10 Things to Do on Stewart Island with Kids.
Location: Elgin Terrace, Oban.
10. Stargaze from an International Dark Sky Sanctuary
The second island in the world to be awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary status, Stewart Island has exceptional air quality where the skies are safeguarded to preserve its vividly clear night’s sky. Not only does Stewart Island have breathtaking displays of the Milky Way and distant galaxies, but it’s also one of the best places in New Zealand to witness the Southern Lights, a.k.a. Aurora Australis. Stargazing just about anywhere on Stewart Island rewards visitors with beautiful stars on a clear night, but especially from the secluded huts of the Rakiura National Park.
Location: All over Stewart Island.
11. Do the Easy-Going Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track
A good walk for families or those who just want to take it easy, the Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track is signposted off Dundee Street in Oban. The 30-minute one-way track takes you through beautiful fuchsia forest where it’s possible to spot a variety of native birds. Once you reach Traill Park, continue on the Raroa Reserve Track at the opposite end of the park which takes you through native forest until you reach Watercress Bay. Either return the same way or turn left to return to town via the quiet roads.
Location: Dundee Street, Oban.
12. Play a Round of Bowls or Golf – CHEAP
Round up your travel mates or family and pretend that you are retired for the afternoon. The Stewart Island Bowling Club offers casual games for around NZ$10. Alternatively take a swing at the Ringa Ringa Golf Club, which is NZ$5 for visitors. The NZ Post Centre hires out bowls sets and golf sets for around NZ$5 per person. Now, there are some affordable ways to spend an afternoon on Stewart Island!
Location: Stewart Island Bowling Club – 7 Ayr Street, Oban. Ringa Ringa Golf Club – 30 Deep Bay Road, Oban.
13. Look for Kiwi Birds – FREE
Stewart Island is your best chance for seeing kiwi birds in the wild while in New Zealand. These elusive creatures are mostly seen after dark or in the morning. Triall Park on Golden Bay Road is a likely place to see them (for free). Otherwise, kiwi spotting tours and a trip to Ulva Island are your best bet, which you can learn more about in the 11 Best Things to Do on Stewart Island.
Location: Triall Park, Golden Bay Road, Oban.
14. Do a Day Hike on the Garden Mound Track – FREE
Within the Rakiura National Park, hike up the Garden Mound Track to walk among huge native trees reaching up to 160m (525ft) on the way 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. See more free day hikes like this in the 10 Best Things to Do in Rakiura National Park.
Location: Along Lee Bay Road, approximately 4.7km (2.9 miles) north of Oban.
15. Go to a Quiz Night – CHEAP
South Sea Hotel, also known as “The Pub”, is not only a great place to meet locals and eat some blue cod and chips, but it’s also a great place to test your general knowledge on quiz night. The Pub Quiz is every Sunday night from 6pm. There is a maximum to six people to a team.
Location: South Sea Hotel, Elgin Terrace, Oban.
16. Watch the Sunset from Observation Rock – FREE
Observation Rock is best climbed when there is something to observe… like sunrise and sunset! This 15-minute walk is short but steep but the views over Oban are worth the climb.
Location: On the corner of Leonard Street and Excelsior Street, Oban. Follow the signposts.
More Free Things to Do on Stewart Island
Now that you know about the cheap and free things to do on Stewart Island, check out our other articles that will help you stick to your budget:
- 5 Best Budget Accommodations on Stewart Island
- The Travel Guide to Stewart Island on a Budget
- Rakiura National Park – Guide for Backpackers
- Stewart Island – Guide for Backpackers
That’s it for our list of cheap and free things to do in Stewart Island. For more free stuff, check out the 50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand.