How to Plan a Trip to Stewart Island
A lesser-known island that’s as far south as many of us will go in our lifetime, Stewart Island is the final frontier for those travelling New Zealand. Just off the southern coast of the South Island, Stewart Island or “Rakiura” is a paradise of golden beaches, turquoise waters, pristine rainforest, sand dunes and, admittedly, a fair bit of mud. Around 80% of the island is the Rakiura National Park, while its only town, Oban, has a population of just 400 residents. Among its locals, you’re likely to interact with kaka (bush parrots) or even come across kiwi birds roaming in the gardens at night. Stewart Island offers visitors a taste of what New Zealand used to be.
If you want to plan your own island getaway, get started with this complete travel guide to Stewart Island with links to various guides to suit your preferred travel style.
Fast Facts About Stewart Island
Location: Approximately 40km (25 miles) off the southern shores of the South Island.
Climate: Daily average temperature – 9.5°C/49.1°F, yearly average rainfall – 1,182mm/46.5″
Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
Time zone: NZST / GMT+12/+13
How to Get to Stewart Island
Stewart Island is accessible via the RealNZ/Stewart Island Experience ferry from Bluff (available on Klook, Viator and Tripadvisor). Helicopter flights from Bluff with Stewart Island Helicopters or fixed-wing flights from Invercargill with Stewart Island Flights are also available. The closest international airport is Queenstown Airport (3 hours drive), which also has frequent domestic flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
What to Do on Stewart Island
Exploring Stewart Island’s national park via hiking trails, scenic flights or cruises are some of the most popular ways to enjoy the island. But even just a day on the island finding the beautiful beaches near Oban or learning more about the island at the local museum are worthy ways to spend your time here.
The Top Experiences on Stewart Island
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Stewart Island highlights:
- Hike the Rakiura Track Great Walk
- Carve a greenstone pendant at Rakiura Jade
- Take a bus tour of the island (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Cruise to hidden inlets, historical sites and wildlife hotspots
- Take a scenic flight over the island with Stewart Island Flights and Stewart Island Helicopters (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Stargaze in an International Dark Sky Sanctuary…
… And the list continues over in our 11 Best Things to Do on Stewart Island.
What to Do on Stewart Island for a Day
If you can only afford the time to visit Stewart Island for a day, our recommended experiences include:
- Take the ferry or a guided trip to the bird sanctuary of Ulva Island (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Walk to Bathing Beach near Oban
- Enjoy some famous Stewart Island blue cod and chips.
Rainy Day Activities
Even when it’s pouring in Stewart Island the fun doesn’t stop. Some things to keep you going when the wet weather arrives include:
- Visit the Rakiura Museum
- Watch a quirky local movie about Stewart Island at the Bunkhouse Theatre
- Take a guided bus tour with RealNZ (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).
Of course, there’s more where that came from over in the 10 Things to Do on Stewart Island on a Rainy Day.
Where to Stay on Stewart Island
Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to Stewart Island (or at the bottom on mobile), we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is compiled by real writers; not some algorithm.
Stewart Island for Budget Travellers
Take the ferry to Stewart Island and you can easily spend at least a couple of days here experiencing how different New Zealand’s third island really is. If you thought the nature on the North and South Islands were amazing, wait until you stay at the backpackers or budget B&Bs of Oban where meeting friendly kaka outside of your accommodation is a common occurrence.
While Stewart Island is a hikers’ paradise, home to a myriad of trails in the national park and from Oban, there are also some surprising and affordable finds like a local museum, boutique cinema and more. Find out more about them, as well as our budget tips, in The Guide to Stewart Island on a Budget.
Budget Activities on Stewart Island
- Relax on Bathing Beach
- Walk to picturesque beaches on the Horseshoe Bay and Lee Bay walking trail
- Check out the Rakiura Museum
- Watch a local movie at the Bunkhouse Theatre
- Take a trip to the bird sanctuary of Ulva Island.
For more budget activities, check out the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Stewart Island.
Budget Accommodation on Stewart Island
While most of Stewart Island’s accommodation is more expensive than what you’ll find in the rest of the country, there are a select few accommodations that suit tighter budgets. You’ll find a couple of backpacker hostels, a budget B&B and a hotel with affordable rooms. Check them out in the 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Stewart Island.
Stewart Island for Luxury Travellers
Aside from active adventures like the Rakiura Great Walk, Stewart Island is also a place to relax, disconnect from the outside world and connect with nature. There is a small selection of boutique lodges and B&Bs that will help you do that with ease, whether it’s soaking in the views of turquoise waters from your deck or soaking in a hot tub under the stars of a Dark Sky Sanctuary. Bird watching and kiwi spotting tours, as well as a great white shark cage dive, will help you get closer to nature, while scenic cruises and flights allow you to soak in the splendour of Stewart Island’s pristine wilderness. Get started on planning all this or something else fabulous using The Luxury Guide to Stewart Island.
Luxury Activities on Stewart Island
- See Stewart Island from the skies on a helicopter or fixed-wing flight (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Explore Stewart Island via a small-group bird watching, photography or guided hiking tour
- Dive with great white sharks
- Be treated to a scenic cruise
- Indulge in fine local cuisine.
For more details on each experience and others, see the 6 Luxury Activities on Stewart Island.
Luxury Accommodation on Stewart Island
While you won’t exactly find five-stars on Stewart Island, you will find some upmarket boutique lodges and B&Bs offering a tranquil retreat. There are also some contemporary holiday homes that you’ll never want to leave. Discover more in the 5 Best Luxury Accommodations in Stewart Island.
Stewart Island for Families
Stewart Island is a fantastic place for families to teach kids the importance and beauty of the natural world. A trip to the wildlife sanctuary of Ulva Island is a must, which is an island full of short walks where seeing parakeet, weka, kaka and even kiwi birds is an exciting experience for the whole family. Driving tours of the island and cruises make exploring easy and ensures that parents get a break too. Going to the beach and treating the kids to fresh fish and chips are some of the more relaxing experiences. Start planning your family getaway with The Guide to Stewart Island for Families.
Things to Do on Stewart Island with Kids
- Watch the array of birds and look out for kiwi on Ulva Island
- Do the family-friendly Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track
- Hit the highlights on an entertaining driving tour (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Try some fresh fish and chips
- Play giant chess on the waterfront.
For more details on each activity and many more, check out the 10 Things to Do in Stewart Island with Kids.
Family Accommodation on Stewart Island
The most abundant of family accommodation on the island are holiday homes, which you can check out in the 10 Best Holiday Homes on Stewart Island. Otherwise, family rooms are limited to a couple of motels and one backpacker hostel. Find out more in the 5 Best Family Accommodations on Stewart Island.
Stewart Island for Couples
When many think of an “island getaway” they might not picture an island that’s classed as a Subantarctic Island. But the crystal clear waters, golden sands, an abundance of nature and vivid night’s sky are all awaiting on Stewart Island, offering plenty of opportunities to escape the crowds and connect with nature and each other. Stay in the gorgeous boutique lodges of the island or tackle one of the multi-day hiking trails together where you can snuggle under the stars or the Southern Lights in the campgrounds and huts. Plan your romantic escape using The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Stewart Island.
Romantic Activities on Stewart Island
- Take on the challenge of a multi-day hike together
- Stargaze in an International Dark Sky Sanctuary
- Carve a greenstone pendant for each other
- Explore the coast by double-kayak
- Go for a romantic stroll on the beach.
For more details on each experience and others, take a look at the 10 Romantic Activities on Stewart Island for Couples.
Romantic Accommodation on Stewart Island
It’s as if Stewart Island was made for couples with an array of boutique lodges, B&Bs and even an adults-only motel setting the right tone for a peaceful stay. Check out some of our top picks in the 10 Best Romantic Accommodations on Stewart Island.
Stewart Island for Foodies
Although there are not enough “foodie” experiences on Stewart Island to make a full travel guide on the subject, the island does boast some food staples of New Zealand. For instance, blue cod fishing is huge in the waters of the Foveaux Strait, which has made the fish and chips of Stewart Island something of a legend! Try some for yourself at the Kai Kart or the South Sea Hotel.
Other seafood staples of the island are the salmon from the local salmon farms and local crayfish, which are presented with fine dining in mind at the Church Hill Boutique Restaurant.
Check out more restaurant recommendations in The Honeymoon Guide to Stewart Island and The Guide to Stewart Island on a Budget.
More About Stewart Island
That’s it for our complete travel guide to Stewart Island. Now plan more of your exploration of Stewart Island and New Zealand with the following guides: