How to Plan a Cheap Trip to Stewart Island
New Zealand’s southernmost populated island, which is technically a Subantarctic Island, Stewart Island is wild, remote and rugged. Many travel here to tackle the multi-day hikes and Great Walk of the Rakiura National Park which covers 80% of the island. However, there’s plenty to do for those just spending a day or two. Despite its remote location, Stewart Island can be a cheap destination thanks to the budget accommodation, free walks and a couple of excellent cheap attractions in the mix. Let us walk you through it with this travel guide to Stewart Island on a budget.
By the way, you might also want to bookmark the Stewart Island – Guide for Backpackers too.
Tips for Visiting Stewart Island on a Budget
- Some accommodations on Stewart Island close for the winter season (May to October) so note that you’ll have a limited choice if travelling during this time
- In relation to the above point, budget accommodation books up quickly in summer, so book early to avoid disappointment
- While flights are available, the cheapest way to get to Stewart Island is on the ferry from Bluff (see the latest ferry deals on Klook, Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Although the general store is not too expensive in Oban, you might want to bring some of your own supplies for cooking meals to save money on food
- In relation to the above point (again), book into self-catering accommodation to easily spruce up your own meals
- Fill up your itinerary with the free and cheap things to do in Stewart Island!
For more general budget tips, check out the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities on Stewart Island
When it comes to activities that are 100% free, well, you better lace up your hiking shoes!
Free Walks on Stewart Island
Although 80% of Stewart Island is a national park, which is awash in hiking trails, only the ones that you can access from Oban will be free for most visitors who don’t have their own transport. With that in mind, some spectacular walks you can do from Oban include the short walk to Bathing Beach! This 30-minute return stroll takes you over the clifftops from Kamahi Road, through a short tract of bush and down to some golden sandy shores. The beach is best explored at low tide.
For a longer expedition, continue from Bathing Beach to Lee Bay, which takes about five to six hours-return from Oban. After crossing Bathing Beach, take Horseshoe Bay Road north for about 1.5km (1 mile), turn into Bragg Bay Road just uphill from Butterfield Beach. Continue along the 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 iconic Rakiura National Park and its gateway.
A must-do walk that won’t take you too long is to the top of Observation Rock, just a 15-minute climb from Excelsior Road, through the bush to a rocky opening with spectacular views of the Paterson Inlet, i.e. where Ulva Island is (more on Ulva Island below).
And for a quick free thing to do, play a game of giant chess on the waterfront of Oban, found along Elgin Terrace.
For more free activities, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Stewart Island.
Cheap Activities on Stewart Island
There are some experiences on Stewart Island that cost a little but are still well worth checking out.
One such experience is Ulva Island, a small island off the coast of Golden Bay (1km/0.6 miles from Oban) which is a protected wildlife sanctuary. Sure, the island is protected from introduced predators, but this means that the birdlife here thrives with a capital “T”! 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.
Stewart Island’s other cheap attractions give you an insight into the history of the island, such as the Rakiura Museum. Set in striking contemporary architecture, the Rakiura Museum ironically houses some of Stewart Island’s oldest relics from its history of the Maori, muttonbirding, mining, timber milling, boat building, fishing and much more. The museum costs around NZ$10 per adult, while kids get in free.
A perhaps more creative way to learn about Stewart Island history, as well as today’s island culture, is by watching “A Local’s Tail” at the Bunkhouse Theatre. This quirky little attraction is a boutique cinema that’s famous for showing one movie in particular: a 40-minute film about Stewart Island from the perspective of Lola the Dog. We know it sounds weird, but just trust us; go and see it! Tickets cost around NZ$10 per adult, while there are discounts for families and groups.
For more cheap attractions, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Stewart Island.
Cheap Eats on Stewart Island
On an island of only 400 residents, you’re not going to find a huge offering of affordable dining options. But we didn’t say that they don’t exist! Kai Kart is New Zealand’s southernmost fish and chips joint, serving an array of fresh fishy dishes to either eat in their cosy trailer or to take away. Find them in the blue trailer along Ayr Street.
While most visitors expect the only general store of Stewart Island to have extortionate prices, you might be surprised that they’re actually reasonably priced considering their remote location. The prices of Four Square Stewart Island also reflect in the freshly-made sandwiches, quiches and pizza slices for sale. They also sell hot pies, sausage rolls, cakes, slices and ice cream.
More About Stewart Island
Now that you know how to plan a cheap trip to Stewart Island and how to visit Stewart Island on a budget, here are more experiences you might want to incorporate into your trip:
- 10 Incredible Things to Do on Stewart Island
- 10 Things to Do on Stewart Island on a Rainy Day
- The Complete Guide to Stewart Island
That’s it from the travel guide to Stewart Island on a budget. Check out even more money-saving tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget.