New Zealand’s Stewart Island is like the forgotten stepchild of the country. Everyone always talks about the North and South Islands, but what about Stewart? This island deserves some major love too, and this Stewart Island itinerary has everything you need to know.
Here is what you will find in this Stewart Island itinerary:
Table of Contents
Getting to Stewart Island
To make the most of your time on Stewart Island, I recommend taking the earliest ferry ($79 NZD each way) you can from Bluff, New Zealand. Plan to take the afternoon ferry back to Bluff the next day in order to do all the activities on this Stewart Island itinerary. There are multiple departures every day heading in either direction but check the schedule online for your preferred dates.
The ferry is an exhilarating one-hour jaunt through the Foveaux Strait. Expect some rough waters and plan accordingly if you’re prone to seasickness! The ferry will arrive in the town of Oban on Stewart Island, and from the ferry terminal, it is an easy walk or short ride to all local accommodations.
Stewart Island Itinerary
Afternoon – Explore Oban
After you arrive at your hotel, check in and grab a bite to eat. Then, explore the historical town of Oban. It’s home to the charming South Sea Hotel, whose pub perfectly reflects the culture of this salty seaside village.
Evening – Bird Spotting
Kiwis: An estimated 15,000 kiwi birds live here, making this the best place to try to spot them in the wild. The rugby field on the hill behind Oban is the best place to spot them at night!
Little blue penguins: These penguins nest at dusk on the rocks by the Halfmoon Bay ferry terminal. Look for movement where the water breaks to spot penguins coming to shore.
For both animals, bring a red-light torch with you, as the white light hurts their eyes and frightens them.
Night – Sky Watching
With very little light pollution on Stewart Island, it is worth your while to look up. In addition to being a great place to observe the night sky, you also have the opportunity to see the elusive Aurora Australis (southern lights).
Morning – Visit Ulva Island
Take a water taxi to Ulva Island for the chance to see several species of native New Zealand birds and plants. To visit Ulva Island, you will take either a water taxi (starting at $30 NZD; flexible times) or ferry ($20 NZD return; set times). Note that this ferry departs from Golden Bay Wharf, not Halfmoon Bay where you arrived! It’s a quick 15-minute ride. When you arrive, put a $2 NZD coin in the honor box and grab a self-guided pamphlet, which has walking tours and pictures of the birds you will see, so you can identify and learn about the wildlife! If you’re lucky (and quiet), you might even spot a day walking kiwi!
Afternoon – Ferry back to Bluff
Return to Stewart Island from Ulva Island in time to catch an afternoon ferry back to Bluff.
General Tips for this Stewart Island Itinerary
Though small and quiet, Stewart Island offers big experiences for those travelers ready to get off the beaten path and spend some time in one of the country’s best wildlife havens!
- Plan your logistics in advance, because WiFi and cell phone reception are spotty on Stewart Island.
- Being very remote, Stewart Island is even more expensive than the rest of New Zealand. Consider bringing your own groceries to the island and self-catering to save cash.
- When looking for wildlife, try to be as quiet as possible to avoid scaring them!
- Don’t forget to check out my other New Zealand guides:
Have you ever been somewhere you’d never heard of previously and been totally enamored with it? Where was it? Leave me a comment or contact me.