Stewart Island Rakiura Trip Guide

Stewart Island Rakiura Trip Guide
excellent flowers

Note: this is not a guide for the Rakiura Multi-day hike trek.


How long to spend on Stewart Island depends on your goals and interest. 3 days would be sufficient to try a variety of activities here but you can also guage how many days in total to spend based on to-do list on the island. Personally, I would recommend not packing your days too tight on the day you are getting to Stewart Island. Also, have a more flexible schedule as it is not uncommon to have your ferry rescheduled due to bad weather and your plans would be foiled due to rain.

You will need 3 days at least to do the Rakiura Track (if you want to). Ulva island is usually a half day trip for most people and you can take the on-demand water taxi available. You could also spend a day on short hikes at Rakiura could be a day. Electric biking about the available roads would be around 4 hours.

Stewart Island is special for the bird life and the abundance and friendliness (except that kiwi - not friendly) of endemic NZ birds makes the birds very easy for visitors to spot. It is the best place in New Zealand for spotting wild kiwi too. New Zealand is said to be one of the best pelagic birding capital and you can see a large variety of sea birds here.

Ferry and ferry parking

The ferry from the bluff to Stewart Island can be quite rough and can be rescheduled at the last minute notice.

There is parking -  street parking is free, the Parkmate parking is NZD5 per night and the RealNZ ferry parking is about NZD15/night. There has been police reports that there have been car theft attempts at Parkmate and generally car thefts are not uncommon in New Zealand in recent years. There are cars parked at all car park areas, so I think you can take your chances especially if ur vehicle is not a campervan (somehow vans might be more attractive to thieves) and make sure you leave your car completely empty. The expensive car park is indeed fenced, but almost all the spots did not have CCTV (at least from what I could see). Choose your parking spot based on your risk appetite.

Phil's Kayak was the highlight of the visit

A very knowledgeable and passionate guide was Phil. We had a blast even though the kayaking time was only 2.5 hours. I would personally recommend kayaking at low tide to see the intertidal marine life at Stewart island. The water is very clear and you can see tons of starfish, sea urchins, paua, and big fishes from the kayaks.

Sometimes, curious sea lions can be sighted swimming around the kayaks. You might see blue penguins or even the yellow-eyed penguin in Paterson Inlet.

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^ Spotted a few fairy penguins who were barking to each other

I would also suggest to tamper expectations for weather and the trip can be cancelled or rescheduled a few days before. Currents at Stewart can be very rough and unsafe, esp for inexperienced kayakers.

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A trio of spotted shags at their next on a branch hanging lowly above the water

Day hikes

It is possible to tramp all around Stewart Island on foot. An electric bike might be more pleasant for some trails as some trails involve hilly tarmac roads (like to Acker's point and Horseshoe Bay).

The bird life on stewart island treks are mostly silvereyes, bellbirds tomtits. You might see more Kakas, Tuis and Kerurus in Oban town.

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^ some day hikes you can consider.

stewart island hiking map

Ulva Island

Ulva Island is highly concentrated with birds, which is probably due to is predator-free status. Having children is very desirable when you do not have to worry about predators as having your kids eaten can be very traumatising. There are still signs of rats currently and eradication is taking place. Please check your belongings for hitch-hiking rats and clean ur boots on the shoe brushers at the jetty.

Paterson Inlet often has blue penguins swimming in the ocean in the morning which you might catch on the boat trip to Ulva Island.

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How Long to spend at Ulva Island

  • 2-4 hours for casual hikers. It is possible to finish most of the treks in 2 hours but you would want to go slow for the birding.
  • 4-6 hours for serious bird watchers. You would want to go slow to look for birds.

Oban Town

You can stay at Oban Town as a base and walk to various sites such as Golden Bay Wharf where the water taxi departs. Stewart Island Backpackers is an excellent place to stay - affordable, clean and many facilities. Tours should be able to pick you up at Oban. Do bring some cash as there is no ATM machine on the island though many places accept card.

Oban is small and the whole town is walkable.

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^ Golden Bay Wharf, about 15minutes walk from Oban Town. Some short section of the road to here is a steep hill, but it is just for about 3-4min.

Ulva Island

I recommend going to Ulva Island as early as possible as birds are more active and also going on a non-rainy time. We found Rakiura Charters to be the cheapest (at 30NZD return) for a return trip and you can book at their Oban store the day before or give them a call. Sometimes you can spot blue penguins while on this 10 minute ride.

Also, please stay 20m away from sea lions, these guys here are pretty angry and aggressive.

Also, it is possible to spot the blue new zealand mushroom, werewere kokako, on Ulva island.

Where to find penguins and Kiwis

If you intend to go kiwi and penguin spotting after the daytime, bring a red cellophane plastic to wrap your torch. You can get a piece from foursquare Oban or try asking someone who is leaving the island if they still need theirs (They are done with their kiwi spotting)

Please use red light for the birds. Flash photography is often harmful and white light disturbs them (and also ruins your chances of sighting them).
Your best chances of Kiwi as an average inexperienced tourist is usually on a guided tour.

For finding blue penguins, there is a small colony that will pass the steep rock shore behind the large white fuel tanks at the Oban ferry terminal and you can spot them while waiting at the Oban ferry terminal facing the fuel tanks. You can also see blue penguins coming home at Ackers point. the best time to see them is dusk and after.

For Kiwi, the easiest from Oban is the trail park (old rugby field) which you cna find on Google Maps. In the morning, Kakas and Kerurus can be seen flying around here. As Kerurus are quite chonky, they are hard to miss.

Ulva Island ferry: you can call the Rakiura Charters for 30 NZD return trip from Golden Bay Wharf. The timings are varied.

you can also have a one way tour to some wharf and walk back to Oban via the trails.

Other Things you can do on Stewart Island Rakiura

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^ This was from an infomation pamplet from Stewart Island backpackers.

Visiting Tips

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  1. recommend 3 days or more to account for bad weather which could affect plans and the ferry. The ferry can be postponed to next day due to bad weather (not uncommon)
  2. DO NOT FEED BIRBS. ESPECIALLY NOT THE NEW ZEALAND CHICKEN AKA WEKAS. Human food is often bad for them and we do not want them to rely on human food and lose their foraging skills. Also, we don't want to make feed birds in the wild a common activity.
  3. Stay 20m away from sea lions. They angy.
  4. For tours, do book in advance as there are not many tour operators and they book out during high season fast.
  5. Stewart island ferry is expensive, so it might not be worth it to just do a day trip.
  6. You don't need a car to get around.

Birding tips

  1. Parakeets and Kakas are easy to spot because they don't shy from humans and the cracking of nuts and rustling of branches are obvious signs one of them is very nearby.
  2. A Keruru's arrival can be heard - A crash landing or loud wing flapping sounds.
  3. They get high on Rimu berries and can fall off trees.
  4. Mohuas are pretty noisy and are usually in flocks. The flash of yellow is not hard to miss.
  5. When you see a New Zealand robin, scratch the feet on the ground. They would fly to your feet. Again, DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS.
  6. Do not touch the rat traps on the ground. We heard some birds like baby Wekas do unfortunately get poisoned (we heard) but on ocassion.
  7. Wekas can be found on boulder beach. They might steal your lunches, so please secure your food.
  8. Get a guide if u want information on native plants and get some bird introduction. but i think with basic bird watching skills, u can do without.
  9. Oban Town has tons of birds. Kaka, all over oban, bellbirds, tomtits, fantails, tui, keruru. The best time is in the morning. Check out the fushchia trail.
  10. RURU sounds at night come from the morepork owl
  11. For pelagic birds, you can go on one of those boat trips to Muttonbird islands or Paterson inlet. They might be pricey.

More New Zealand bird photos here

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^ The r2d2-sounding birb, Tui. THe Stewart Island Tui has a dalect that sounds like R2D2 (star wars)

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^ Round boy finding snaccs

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Angry boi

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^ Kaka trying to destroy all the nuts on this tree

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^ Mohuas!

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^ New zealand robin are curious peeps who would fly to your feed hoping there are some worms kicked up to the ground surface

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^ A yellow crowned parakeet, much less common than the red-crowned parakeet on Ulva Island

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