Rakiura is the third main island of New Zealand – at the bottom of the South Island. An invitation to step back in time, to an ancient landscape where the forest and its wildlife is reclaiming the land and the 400 residents are largely left to hug the shoreline of the island’s eastern bays. It is summer time and we are some of the 400 visitors visiting Rakiura/Stewart Island. Up to 150 can be walking Rakiura’s biggest track – one of 10 New Zealand Great Walks.
Rakiura is friendly – if you need help I get a feeling you will get it from anyone nearby. The policeman is friendly but makes sure we are wearing our bike helmets, Greg is the taxi driver, Rakiura drives the water taxi, and Pete hires the ebikes. Most common topic of conversation – the latest kiwi spotted and where.
Rakiura is like Great Barrier Island, but with electricity, and colder. There are beautiful crescents of golden sand beaches, but nothing tempts me to go in. At 47 Degree lattitude we are a long way south – next stop the sub antarctic islands. it is high summer and a beautiful blue sky day – temperature is 18 Deg – a little warmer if you are out of the wind and in full sun.
The waters around Rakiura are clear and cold with luscious kelp forests flourishing and twisting with the tides. The one trip I would have liked to have done was a snorkelling trip with Stewart Island Adventures – they fit you out with all the gear – wetsuits etc, all you need is to bring your swimmers and a towel. Another time!
Tiakina nga manu
Ka ora te ngahere
Ka ora te ngahere
Ka ora nga manu
Look after the birds
and the forest flourishes
If the forest flourishes
The birds flourish
In 2022 92% of the land is managed by the Department of Conservation, 6% remains in Maori hands and just 2% is freehold land mostly between Half Moon Bay and Paterson inlet where the township of Oban (pop 400) has grown up.
Strong efforts to eradicate pests means that the birdlife is slowly returning. We are not long in our accommodation before we see and hear kaka and tui. The inquisitive kaka come back most days to visit, sitting on our deck when we go outside or on my ebike!
Te Wharawhara – Ulva Island
If there is only one thing you do on Rakiura, it should be Ulva Island. You can join various guided tours on Ulva, or just catch a ferry or water taxi over for a self guided trip. Rakiura Ulva Island Water Taxi was our choice 027 289 8292. His recommendation was to spend 3-4 hours on the island which is criss crossed by very good gravel paths. At the shelter on arrival there is a small booklet about the island for $2 – definitely worth it, with great information about what you are seeing.
Ulva is one of New Zealand’s few open island sanctuaries, enabling us to see what a difference full predator eradication makes to the birdlife and forest. The forest floor is lush with abundant life, we quickly spot Saddlebacks and Kakariki and various Stewart Island Robin follow us for most of our walk. An area is cleared of undergrowth as a result of a sea lion pushing through it to give birth the day before. No visual sign of it, but we could smell it. Kaka called to each other in the tree tops, and we spotted the mohua/yellowhead toward the end of our walk.
The thrill of the day spotting a kiwi – one of the rare treats in Stewart Island. The tokoeka or Stewart Island kiwi is the largest of the kiwi. Mostly nocturnal, they can sometimes be spotted during the day on Rakiura. Various groups offer trips to see kiwi – the one that was recommended to us was Beaks and Feathers. The secret is to keep your eye out – they are everywhere, though they probably see you more than you see them
Paterson’s Inlet Discovery Tour Rakiura Charters and Water Taxi
WOW – on our last day we decide to join this 3.5 hour tour by water around Paterson’s inlet and loved it. It was a perfect day – with little wind, and sun appearing in the afternoon. Time for a coffee a the South Sea Hotel before our 10.30 start.
We headed out to Bench Island for seal and penguin spotting. Returning we stopped in the open water where our guide threw out some fish scraps and we were soon surrounded by various types of albatross – it was great to have such a knowledgable guide who was able to help us identify the different birds.
Then it was into Paterson’s inlet (te whaka o te wera) – past current habitation and safe ancorages of Golden Bay, into some barely touched wilderness, touching on historical site of former Norwegian whaling station and onto some present day salmon and mussel farms.
Walks around Oban
As well as the 3 day Great Walk, there are lots of shorter walks around Oban, or you can catch a water taxi to the start of a longer walk back to Oban. For the super keen there is a 12 day walk around the island. The beaches are stunning – beautiful golden beaches, with crystal clear water. Around the rocks there are abundant healthy kelp forests.
- Catch a water taxi (Rakiura Charters and Water Taxi) to Port William and enjoy the 4-5 hour walk back to Oban
- Cycle to Horse Shoe Bay and over the hill to Lee Bay and the start of the Rakiura Track
- Walk the Ryan Creek Track round to Golden Bay
- Walk around the Horseshoe Point Track around the peninsula to the left of Oban
- Remember Rakiura is a Dark Sky reserve – go out on a clear night and enjoy the stars, you might even see the southern aurora.
- Pub Quiz Sunday nights at South Sea Hotel
Getting to Rakiura
An hours boat journey from Bluff – this can be a rough crossing on Foveaux Strait, but not for us. We loaded our bags and ebikes (and panniers) on the Ferry ( $20 per ebike). This meant we were able to easily get to the shop for supplies and to some of the walks. You can fly in on a small plane from Invercargill.
Warning – there are some steep hills! We were glad to have our electric bikes, though you can hire ebikes and scooters – but pretty expensive. Some holiday lets come with a car, and you can hire a car. While there is only about 30 kms (check) of roads, it is handy to have some way of getting around.
There is a great land taxi Aurora Taxis Stewart Island and lots of water taxi options too which is great for getting dropped off for one of the walks heading back to Oban.
On one of the steep hills my chain came off, and as I was struggling to sort it a car stopped and offered to help. I said I was ok, but he stopped anyway and I was grateful. Turned out his name was Pete and he ran the shop hiring out ebikes on the island. He suggested I come in the next day and he would adjust the gears. Sorted. Thanks Pete – hire a bike from him
Our accommodation included complementary pick up from the airport or ferry by Aurora Taxis. Greg was our driver, and what a helpful mine of local information
We booked a lovely new home overlooking the water about 15 min walk along a coastal road from the main settlement or 5 mins on our bikes. Perfect for the six of us, with sound of tui and a daily visit from a friendly kaka.
A small but well stocked Four Square supermarket has all we need to keep us fed and watered. South Sea Hotel is definitely worth trying for the extremely fresh Blue Cod fish and chips, local mussels and salmon and good coffee. Around the corner the Kai Kart is also good for fish and chips and local fare. Though it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays – check their hours before planning a visit, and perhaps phone your order in – we had a 45 minute wait 🙂