The Travel Guide to Stewart Island for Families© Unsplash
The Travel Guide to Stewart Island for Families

The Travel Guide to Stewart Island for Families šŸ‘Ŗ [2024]

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Plan a Family Trip to Stewart Island

Craving a bit of nature? The Subantarctic (yes, really!) island of Stewart Island is one of the best places to get kids immersed in the natural world and see some of the stunning wildlife of New Zealand. It’s a place where kiwi birds are known to roam around in the daytime, where parrots come to say hello and marine animals like penguins and seals are often spotted. From scenic cruises to bird sanctuary ambles, there is an array of ways to experience nature.

Stewart Island also has a captivating history which can be explored through the island’s museum or through the eyes of a dog! Whether your family is heading over for a day trip or staying a few days in one of the holiday homes or motels, there’s plenty of ways to keep even the youngest members of the family entertained throughout! Find out more in this complete travel guide to Stewart Island for families.

Activities on Stewart Island for Families

  • Watch the array of birds and look out for kiwi on Ulva Island (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
  • Get some beach time at Bathing Beach
  • Do the family-friendly Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track
  • Enjoy a scenic Stewart Island cruise
  • Hit the highlights on an entertaining driving tour (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
  • See relics of Stewart Island’s history at the Rakiura Museum
  • Watch a fun movie about life on Stewart Island through the eyes of a dog at The Bunkhouse Theatre
  • Try some fresh fish and chips
  • Get some awesome views from Observation Rock
  • Play some giant chess on the waterfront.

For more details on each activity, check out the 10 Things to Do in Stewart Island with Kids.

The Guide to Stewart Island for Families© RealNZ

Family Adventure Activities

Stewart Island has a wide selection of land and sea activities that are suitable for all ages.

Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary

A must-do is the wildlife sanctuary of Ulva Island, just a 10-minute boat ride from Golden Bay. Like wandering in a forest from a time long forgotten, the island is alive with birdsong and all sorts of species spotted in the trees and on the ground, including the elusive kiwi bird.

There’s a network of short and easy walking trails around the island, ideal for all ages, even as young as toddlers or infants if you have a baby backpack. 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).

Family-Friendly Cruises

Not limiting yourself to Ulva Island, there are also several 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” offers space for kids to roam, yet 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.

Stewart Island Land Tours

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 ReaNZ (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!

See more family adventures in the 10 Things to Do in Stewart Island with Kids.

The Guide to Stewart Island for Families©

All-Weather Family Activities

If the weather doesn’t play ball, no worries. There are a few options to keep the family fun going on Stewart Island, even when it’s raining.

The Rakiura Museum

A good go-to on a rainy day (or any day, for that matter) is the Rakiura Museum. While the architecture of the museum brings something ultra-modern to Stewart Island, what the museum contains takes you back in time 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!

The Bunkhouse Theatre

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.

Stewart Island Fish & Chips

Finally, if all else fails on a rainy day, you can make it the day that you treat yourself to the island’s famous fish and chips! A popular go-to 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 take back to the warmth of your accommodation. Check their opening hours, which change with the seasons. Alternatively, the South Sea Hotel offers a more comfortable indoor dining experience along with your fresh blue cod and chips.

For more rainy day ideas, check out the 10 Things to Do in Stewart Island on a Rainy Day.

The Travel Guide to Stewart Island for Families©

Free Things to Do on Stewart Island for Families

When it comes to free things to do in Stewart Island with the kids, you better lace up your’s and their hiking shoes because there are a whole lot of walks! While Stewart Island might be more famous for its multi-day hikes and Great Walk, there are plenty of short walks suitable for young ones.

Bathing Beach

A favourite of ours is the 30-minute return walk to Bathing Beach 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-sand beach 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.

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.

For more free activities, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Stewart Island.

More About Stewart Island

Now that you know all about Stewart Island for families, check out these alternative experiences and additional advice about planning a trip to Rakiura.

That’s it from the travel guide to Stewart Island for families. Discover even more family trip tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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