Exploring Rakiura – New Zealand’s forgotten Island
‘The Land of the Glowing Skies’ sounds like a place you’d like to visit…right? This is Rakiura.
Rakiura is more commonly known as Stewart Island, and though it is the third largest island of New Zealand, it feels detached. Remote, rugged and beautiful. This third, smaller island is a real national treasure and something you shouldn’t leave off your New Zealand itinerary.
I have been fortunate enough to travel to Stewart Island, as far south in New Zealand that you can commercially travel.
Travel to Stewart Island begins in Bluff. Famed for its Oysters (the best in the world), it marks the end of State Highway 1 through the country! Grab your perfect Kodak moment at the signpost at Stirling Point. Here you’ll see how disconnected you are from the rest of the world! You’ll also note some chain links, the final connection between the ‘mainland’ and its somewhat forgotten little brother…
If you’re on a roadie, you’ll need to make your way to the Bluff Ferry Terminal and park your vehicle in the (secure) carpark ready to board the Stewart Island Ferry. To maximise your time on this island, my ‘local’s hot tip’ is that you board the 9.45 am ferry.
The ferry crossing across the Foveaux Strait is an hour’s journey, and you never know what you’re in for. It can be a bit rough…that’s for sure! But the staff on board are great and used to looking out for their passengers. You’ll enjoy some fantastic commentary and no doubt you’ll get your first taste of the giant Albatross soaring above and swooping down close to the boat – their wingspans will amaze you! If you’re confident you’ll be able to withstand any rough seas (and keep the food down…) there are snacks and bevvies available for purchase on board.
Alternatively, make your way ‘por avion’! You can fly either way from Invercargill Airport, with the travel time being only15 to 20 minutes. If you fly, a local with a van will collect you from the airport and transfer you to the metropolis of Oban.
For arrival by sea, you’ll disembark the ferry at the main wharf in Oban (the village settlement) and it is an easy walk to most accommodations. Some accommodation providers will be able to offer a pick up/drop off for your luggage to and from the ferry terminal.
Hopping off the ferry, it is noticeable how different this island is to the rest of Aotearoa. The birdlife is amazing and prevalent as soon as you set foot on the ground of Rakiura. Take advantage of the birdlife by taking a tour to Ulva Island, a predator free sanctuary where threatened native species can live in a safe environment. Birds that dwell here might often struggle on the mainland.
Oban is a small village with all the necessities you will need for your stay. New Zealand iconic 4-Square grocery store stocks everything, including Gumboots, Frisbees, Jandals and fish bait. If you don’t have it, they will.
The people are ever so friendly, and the scenery out of this world. All I am really concerned about is if I tell too many people about this little piece of paradise everyone will want to go.
There are all types of accommodation available to suit any kind of traveller. For a real local experience, stay at the South Sea Hotel where it seems that everyone who lives there goes for dinner and quiz night on the weekends!
A highlight of visiting Rakiura is seeing a Kiwi bird…in the WILD. This is special for visitors, but I think even more so for New Zealanders who are used to seeing them around the country but homed in wildlife parks to assist with conservation.
In fact, the otherwise nocturnal “kiwis” on Stewart Island are out during the day! Keep your eyes peeled and you may just see one going for a stroll.
In the evening you can go a guided Kiwi hunt, a little like that children’s story “we are going on a bear hunt” – through the long grasses, through the dense bush and onto a beach. Seems like both kinds of kiwi (people and birds) love chilling at the beach!
I could go on and on about the joys of Stewart Island, and now it has been officially recognised as the world's fifth International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and only the second island sanctuary in the world! We all need to go and experience this lovely wee island at the bottom of New Zealand. It’s definitely one for the list…most importantly, plan to stay longer than you think!
Oh! Don’t forget to try the seafood! Blue Cod, Oysters and Crayfish… you just may meet the fisherman himself; such is Stewart Island.
Written by: Sophie O’Grady