Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third largest island, is moored a short distance off the southern coast of the South Island. An hour by boat (or a 15 minute flight), Rakiura Stewart Island is a haven for hikers and bird lovers, or anyone looking for a unspoilt island paradise in New Zealand!
Things to Do in Oban
Oban is the main settlement on Stewart Island and is home to pretty much all its tourism infrastructure. Unless you’re out on a multi-day walk you’ll likely be staying close to downtown Oban. Luckily, there is heaps to do!
Observation Rock is my favourite viewpoint on the island, and it couldn’t be a more convenient place to visit. It takes around 30 seconds to walk there from the road, although most people will be walking up there from town (10 minutes uphill).
From Observation Rock you can see several bush-clad bays as well as Ulva Island. It’s a good place to watch the sunset too.
Bathing Beach is a short walk from downtown Oban and can’t be beat if you’re looking for a beach to hang out at for a few hours. Clear, calm water, soft sand and a lush forest backdrop are all features of Bathing Beach, and the various bush tracks leading to it makes it ripe for exploring.
Halfmoon Bay is the focal point of Oban. It’d where you’ll arrive if coming by boat, and lots of the hotels, Airbnbs and restaurants are nearby. It’s the perfect beach to bring your takeaways or go for a stroll after dinner.
Fish and Chips
Speaking of takeaways, the fish and chip shop (Kai Kart) in Oban is highly rated, and unless you’re averse to seafood you’ll almost definitely end up going there at some point on your trip. I’m not usually a fish burger fan but the blue cod burger was really good — so was everything else we ordered.
Galleries and museums
Rakiura Museum Te Puka O Te Waka is good place to go on a rainy day (it’s more than likely you’ll get one), with heaps of information about the island’s pre-European history as well its development into a place of industry (farming, logging and fishing mostly).
We stumbled across Rebecca-Lynn Cavanagh Smith’s gallery while walking around Oban. Her seaweed prints make for unique souvenirs and she’s a good person to talk to about life on the island. It’s located at 6 Petersons Hill Road – opening hours vary (it doesn’t seem to be on Google Maps at the moment).
We drove around the back roads of Oban for over an hour with a local in the search for Kiwi. We eventually saw one — apparently It’s common to spot them in the long grass by the roads. The rugby ground is also somewhere I heard you could see them — we tried but couldn’t be bothered waiting long as it was freezing.
See Other Native Birds
You’ll see heaps of other native birds while walking around Oban, including kaka, tui, wood pigeons and kingfishers. It’s one of the many things that make Stewart Island unique.
If you’re not sick of seeking out viewpoints already, consider the short walk out to Oban Cemetery (or stop by on the way to the gardens / Horseshoe Bay).
Moturau Moana Native Gardens
The Moturau Moana Gardens are the most southern public gardens in New Zealand, which I guess is hardly surprising. It’s worth a look for more than just garden fans too as you’ll get one of the best views over Oban from up there.
Bays and Beaches
Walk down either Elgin Terrace, Horseshoe Bay Road or Golden Bay Road and you’ll find heaps of different bays and beaches. It’s fun to walk along those roads and check out the views — lots of places to stop along the way too. Highlights include Lonnekers Beach, Thule Bay and Vaila Voe Bay.
The Best Things to Do on Stewart Island
The following sights and activities are a little outside of Oban, but most are still walkable from town.
The Rakiura Track is a big provider of tourists to Stewart Island, with the summer months being the most common time to do it. You’ll generally need to book well in advance though.
Luckily, you can see the best of the Rakiura Track on a day walk. We did just that, catching a boat to Port William and walking back to Oban. If you do the whole three day walk one day is entirely through the bush and the other is along the coast but nowhere near as nice (from what I’ve heard and seen) as the Port William to Oban section.
From Ringaringa Beach you can walk through some farm land to a small peninsula (just past Wohler’s Monument). Make sure to explore a bit while you’re there — there’s a lot to see with views in all directions.
A trip to Ulva Island, a predator-free bird sanctuary, is one of the most popular things do while on Stewart Island. It takes 5-10 minutes to get there by boat and an hour or two to walk around — so pristine and lots of birds!
North West Circuit
The North West Circuit is a proper hike for those looking for a bigger challenge than your typical 3-4 day Great Walk. We haven’t done it but I’m sure it a special experience.
Horseshoe Point Track
This track around Horseshoe Point is another good spot for a midrange walk close to Oban. Some good views from the end of Horseshoe Point, and Horseshoe Bay is a worth a look too.
Ackers Point Lighthouse
The lighthouse at the end of Ackers Point isn’t especially interesting, but the walk to get there makes up for it. If walking from town you’ll walk along the road for a few kilometres, passing Lonnekers Beach and other small coves and bays. The walk to the lighthouse follows a ridge along the cliffs and is mostly through bush. It took us around three hours to walk to the lighthouse and back from Oban.
Fishing is big business in the waters surrounding Stewart Island. You can charter a boat while on the island and catch blue cod among other things.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Stewart Island Backpackers on our five night trip and it was perfect for what we needed. It’s basic but has good facilities and if you want to meet other travellers this is a great place for it. South Sea Hotel is another good option if you’re keen to stay right in town.
Getting to Stewart Island
You have two options for getting to Stewart Island — a flight or a ferry. Flights leave from Invercargill Airport and take around 15 minutes. The planes are tiny — such a fun experience and the views are amazing.
Ferries ply the route between Bluff and Stewart Island, with crossings taking around an hour. Foveaux Straight is a notoriously choppy stretch of water and the crossing isn’t for the weak of stomach on rough days. Flights are around twice the cost of ferries — only you can decide the best choice!
We walked pretty much everywhere during our trip to Stewart Island. It’s not hard to be motivated to walk along scenic roads like these! You can rent e-bikes, which would be good if you’ve got limited time on the island. With only around 20 km of road you could cover that ground quickly on an e-bike. There are also taxis and boats available for hire.
Are you planning a trip to Stewart Island? Let us know in the comments below!
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