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Rakiura National Park

Where is Stewart Island

stewart island

Stewart Island is situated off the South Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. On a nice day one can see “the Island” quite clearly from the townships of Bluff or Riverton in the province of Southland, as it’s only 30 km (19 miles) offshore.

Rakiura National Park, a relatively recent addition to New Zealand’s National Park network, opened in 2002 and covers about 85% of Stewart Island. Rakiura, which is also the island’s Maori name, translates as ‘The land of glowing skies’, which probably refers to the incredible sunsets this region offers or possibly, the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).

How to Get to Rakiura National Park

stewart island 2

There are no roads or bridge to Stewart Island, so access is by boat or by air. The comfortable Stewart Island Ferry makes the 1-hour crossing of Foveaux Strait 6 times daily for most of the year (3 times each way) and only twice each way in winter. There are also flights from Invercargill to the small Stewart Island airstrip daily.      

Where to Stay on Stewart Island

For a small island (75 km by 45 km / 46 miles by 27 miles) there are an impressive number of backcountry huts, managed by the Department of Conservation. There are 28 in total, plus 3 campsites! Of course, they range in quality and size, but for hikers, wildlife enthusiasts and people who just want a bit of peace, it’s not hard to find a hut that fits the bill. There’s also a small village on Stewart Island, called Oban, where you’ll find a small shop, a fish and chip cart, DoC office, and a well-frequented pub. There are a number of hotels, motels, B&Bs, holiday homes for rent and backpacker lodges scattered among and along the surrounding hills and bays around Oban.

The Flora and Fauna of Rakiura

To the reader this may give the impression of ‘significant development’, but it’s far from the case. Once you arrive by ferry on Stewart Island, you’ll be immediately struck by how wild the land is – rugged mountains reaching nearly 1000 m (3300 ft) above sea level, ancient podocarp and hardwood forests, alpine herb fields, coastal dunes, shrub land and wetlands! The bird life is also astonishing here, as the island was a lasting stronghold for our native flightless birds. On a typical hiking trip in Rakiura, you may see kakariki (parakeet), kereru (native wood pigeon), tui, korimako (bellbird), miromiro (tomtit), weka, kakaruai (robin), mata (fernbird) and kaka. The Island is also well known for having a healthy population of kiwi birds, of a particular Rakiura breed. These birds actually behave quite differently to kiwis in other parts of the country as they maintain family groups and often feed during daylight hours, so for bird enthusiasts, Stewart Island and the small surrounding islands such as Ulva Island, represent the best opportunity to view kiwis in their natural habitat.

Read more about New Zealand native birds.

The People of Rakiura

About 400 people live permanently on Stewart Island and as you can imagine, they have a slightly more relaxed perspective on life than most of us, with a far less hurried approach. They also exemplify that old Kiwi trait of self-reliance and innovation (usually involving a piece of number #8 fencing wire, so the saying goes!). Many of the residents are direct descendents of the whalers and early Rakiura Maori and their ancestors, which can be traced back over 200 years.

Hiking in Rakiura National Park

Perhaps nowadays Rakiura National Park is best known for the Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand’s newest ‘Great Walks’. It’s a 30 km (18 mile) tramping track that can be done year round, takes 3 days and is suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Part of the track actually covers Maori land, but access has been granted by the land owners. Being one of New Zealand’s specified ‘Great Walks’, the huts on this track are all well maintained and serviced, providing mattresses, a wood-burning stove, running water and toilets. However, hikers should still carry their own cookers and utensils.

There are also plenty of longer, more challenging treks on Stewart Island for more experienced trampers.

More hints and tips on packing for a multi-day trek can be found here.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1903 reviews)

    Tui experience

    This trip provided a good balance of activities with the necessary travel time to access the different parts of the South Island. The trip was well organized, and the guides were super. They accommodated our individual desires and capabilities, as well as being good cooks, leaders, and knowledgeable guides. Our group quickly melded into collegial and interesting companions, and that make the experience that much better. The itinerary provides a taste all that the South Island offers. I'm happy to have chosen this company to tour with.
    Gary Ezzell Review Image
    – Arizona, United States
    Tui, February 2017
  •   4.44 out of 5 (from 920 reviews)

    Manuka-February 2018

    This is our third Active Adventures trip and we have never been disappointed. Each trip has been a learning experience for us. The beautiful sights and people we have met along the way have made it a very worthwhile event that we will never forget. We enjoyed working with your professional team of staff and guides and hopefully one day we will return for another adventure. Thanks, Steve and Marilyn.
    Stephen Tatham Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Manuka, February 2018
  •   4.39 out of 5 (from 1229 reviews)

    Kiwi & Active Adventures - Perfect!

    With great anticipation, and admittedly high expectations, Ann and I left New Orleans on Christmas Day to begin our trip to the North Island of New Zealand. We each had long wanted to see this special place! From the moment that Phil and Vanessa picked us up, until the time that Phil and Elder dropped us at the airport for our return flight, we could not have been happier, or more satisfied, with our trip. Phil, Vanessa, and Elder were perfect guides... and hosts. The history and information that Phil shared along the way helped us understand, and therefore appreciate even more, the places we visited and the people we met. We fell in love with the North Island, and its people and history! With Active Adventures having arranged practically everything, and Phil, Vanessa, and Elder taking great care of us along the way (even preparing our last 2 wonderful evening meals), we had nothing to do but rise each morning and enjoy our day! Perfect!
    Thad Minaldi Review Image
    – Louisiana, United States
    Kauri, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5005 reviews)

    Amazing South Island Rimu Trip!!

    The diversity of what we saw and did on the Rimu trip was amazing!! Beautiful mountain and glacier views, our first sea kayak experience, the sub-tropical West Coast rain forests, caving to see glowworms, cycling the Hawea River Trail, and a challenging but very rewarding Angelus Circuit hike. We were fortunate to be with a wonderful group of people - a great team that encouraged each other throughout the trip. Our guides (Dani & Pepper) were outstanding, very positive, and full of energy. We were so impressed with Active Adventures that we will be hiking on their Mont Blanc tour this summer.
    Kevin Cahill Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, February 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5005 reviews)

    Wow! What a trip!

    We had an absolute blast exploring the South Island with two legendary guides, Ken and Elder. Amazing hiking and other activities, great food, and awesome company!
    Jordan Altaras Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, April 2017

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