Family Activities on Stewart Island
The final frontier for families travelling New Zealand, Stewart Island is New Zealand’s southernmost populated island and a must for nature-lovers or those wanting to educate kids on the importance of the natural world. The island has some of the best wild bird sightings in the country, while a walk through the forests of Stewart Island is a must. The island also has a fascinating history, which families can immerse in through the impressive museum or even a quirky movie at the local cinema!
Whether you’re bringing the kids to Stewart Island for a day trip on the ferry or for multiple days, these things to do in Stewart Island with kids are sure to make your trip as fun-filled as possible!
For more trip-planning tips, check out The Guide to Stewart Island for Families and the 5 Best Family Accommodations in Stewart Island.
1. Watch an Array of Birds and Look Out for Kiwi on Ulva Island
A must-do in Stewart Island for families is visiting the wildlife sanctuary of Ulva Island. Just a 10-minute boat ride from Golden Bay, Ulva Island takes you to a time long forgotten with its forest still alive with birdsong and all sorts of species to spot, from the treetops to the floor, including the elusive kiwi bird.
There’s a network of short and easy walking trails around the island, ideal for all ages – pack the baby backpack if you have an infant. Either visit the island independently using the blue-boat Ulva Island Ferry or Rakiura Adventure Water-Taxi or take a small-group guided tour with RealNZ (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), which pairs up well with day trips via the Stewart Island Ferry from Bluff (again, available on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).
Location: Ferries depart from Golden Bay, 1km (0.6 miles) from Oban town centre. Alternatively, tours with RealNZ depart from the Oban ferry terminal.
2. Get Some Beach Time at Bathing Beach
While families might like to relax at Oban’s beach, a more picturesque option is just a 30-minute return walk from Oban. From the Four Square general store, turn left up the hill on the Horseshoe Bay Road and branch right when you reach Kamahi Road. Follow the signpost through the bush and around the clifftops and down to the stunning golden sands of Bathing Beach where the kids can go for a paddle. At low tide, you’ll be able to cross the whole beach and find a small boat wreckage.
Location: Kamahi Road, Oban.
3. Do the Family-Friendly Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track
Another good walk for families is the Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track that 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. See more activities like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Stewart Island.
Location: Dundee Street, Oban.
4. Enjoy a Scenic Stewart Island Cruise
For a small island, there is a multitude of tours to explore Stewart Island’s coast and surrounding islands by boat! For instance, Rakiura Adventure offers an array of scenic tours with something that’s bound to suit your interests, whether it’s seeing Ulva Island on a unique circumvention tour or cruising down the Freshwater River with a diverse array of scenery that changes with the tide. Their evening cruise on the larger “Ranui” has space for kids to roam, yet is a more relaxing cruise around Ulva Island where you’re welcome to bring your own food and drink on board.
Other boat tours on Stewart Island offering similar experiences (with a few twists) include Rakiura Charters & Water Taxi, Aihe Eco Charters & Water Taxi, Bravo Adventure Cruises and Tequila Fishing and Bird Watching Charters. See more experiences like these in the 6 Best Luxury Experiences on Stewart Island.
Location: Meeting points arranged with tour operators.
5. Hit the Highlights on an Entertaining Driving Tour
To see more of Stewart Island’s sights on land, take a guided driving tour of the island. Get an entertaining insight into the history, environment, wildlife and today’s culture on the island on tours with RealNZ (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), Sails Ashore, Island Explorer, Aurora Cab Co. and Ruggedy Range. The latter also specialises in bird watching tours with minimal walking, which is ideal for kids and nature-lovers alike!
Location: Pick-ups available from local accommodations and the ferry terminal.
6. See Relics of Stewart Island’s History at the Rakiura Museum
If the weather doesn’t play ball, no worries. The Rakiura Museum is the island’s go-to for rainy day activities! While the architecture of the museum adds a bit of “new” to Stewart Island, what the museum contains is a bit of the “old”, with relics on Stewart Island’s Maori history, as well as history on muttonbirding, whaling, fishing, timber milling, boat building, mining and the island’s schools, churches and transport. They also have a cool display of Stewart Island’s shells and crustacea. The museum is open daily and kids get in free! See more activities like this in the 10 Things to Do in Stewart Island on a Rainy Day.
Location: 11 Main Road, Oban.
7. Watch a Movie About Life on Stewart Island Through the Eyes of a Dog
A more unusual but no less entertaining way to learn about the life and culture on Stewart Island is at the Bunkhouse Theatre. This cute cinema doesn’t show you the latest Avengers movie, but the story of Stewart Island in a 40-minute film called “A Local’s Tail” told from the perspective of Lola the Dog. Buy a bag of popcorn and snuggle under a blanket for this family-friendly cinema experience.
Location: 10 Main Road, Oban.
8. Try Some Super Fresh Fish and Chips
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 (sometimes wrapped in newspaper) 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 a comfortable indoor and alfresco dining experience along with your fresh blue cod and chips.
Location: Kai Kart – 7 Ayr Street, Oban. South Sea Hotel – 26 Elgin Terrace, Oban.
9. Get Some Awesome Views from Observation Rock
If your kids can handle a 15-minute climb, then make Observation Rock an item on the itinerary. Start with an uphill walk up Excelsior Road where you’ll reach a sign for the Observation Rock track. From there, it’s a short walk through the forest to an exposed rock that forms the lookout over the Paterson Inlet (where Ulva Island is). It’s particularly special at sunset!
Location: Excelsior Road, Oban.
10. Play Giant Chess on the Waterfront
On the shores of Oban, a giant chess board on the waterfront is a popular place for families to relax while waiting for the ferry or while enjoying their fish and chips. These once humble traffic cones have been transformed into kings, queens and pawns for families to enjoy a brain-teasing game. Nearby is also a children’s playground.
Location: Elgin Terrace, Oban.
More Things to Do on Stewart Island with Kids
That’s it for our list of the best family activities on Stewart Island. If you’re looking to fill up more of your itinerary, then take a look at these:
- 10 Incredible Things to Do on Stewart Island
- The Complete Guide to Stewart Island
- 20 Best Things to Do on the South Island with Kids
Finally, see how this list compares to the 50 Best Things to Do in New Zealand with Kids.