Discovering the Enchanting Stewart Island: A Journey to a Remote Paradise

Dawn in Oban, Stewart Island by Ben Mack
Dawn in Oban, Stewart Island by Ben Mack
As the emerald-green hills and winding rivers unfold below, the flight to Stewart Island offers a breathtaking experience.

Descending toward a wide, sandy beach, the little six-seater plane seems to effortlessly glide to a stop. With the electric blue sea before us and the sun-kissed waves rolling onto the shore, it’s a landing like no other. Welcome to Stewart Island, a hidden gem of New Zealand.

Flying to Stewart Island on Stewart Island Flights sitting in co-pilot seat with Leon Bax by Ben Mack

A Slice of Fiji, South of the Equator

Pilot Leon Bax once noted that it’s easy to mistake Stewart Island for Fiji, minus the palm trees. The island’s dense vegetation gives it an aura of tropical lushness, despite its location south of the South Island, closer to the South Pole than the Equator.

The journey to this remote paradise began with Stewart Island Flights, from Oban, the island’s only town, to the wide Mason Bay. The flight is a short 10-minute ride, landing on the soft, flour-like golden sands. Armed with a map from Stewart Island Flights and a backpack filled with snacks and water, I embarked on a 5.5-hour tramp, covering about 15 kilometers. My companions were the native birds, the gentle rustling of leaves in the breeze, and the soft sound of my footsteps along the path.

A Walk Through Nature’s Bounty

The tramp offers diverse landscapes, from raised wooden walkways across reedy marshes to leafy, fern-filled forests and paths alongside meandering creeks and rivers. Occasionally, a small waterfall graces the route. What’s striking is the absence of other people, leaving you in serene communion with nature.

While immersed in nature, you may also come across historical relics. One such stop was NZ’s southernmost woolshed, abandoned around 1987 but remarkably well-preserved, still redolent of sheep after all these years.

Kai Kart on Ayr Street in Oban, Stewart Island by Ben Mack

The Heartwarming Locals

Towards evening, I reached a boat landing, where I met Rakiura Herzhoff. We traversed a clear river in his water taxi, discussing the island’s remote charm. Being in such an isolated area, locals take care of each other, creating a sense of camaraderie akin to a friendlier version of Mirkwood Forest from “The Hobbit.”

Warm Hospitality at South Sea Hotel

The island’s warmth and hospitality are palpable at the South Sea Hotel. This rustic waterfront pub and accommodation are famous for their food, with the seafood chowder being a must-try. It’s also home to the Sunday night pub quiz, where even Prince Harry had a memorable visit in 2015.

Local Delights at The Snuggery and Fin and Feather

For a taste of local delights, visit The Snuggery, a cozy café serving coffee, tea, homemade pies, and baked goods. The newly established Rakiura Museum nearby offers fascinating insights into the island’s natural and social history. Across the street, Fin and Feather serves a variety of dishes, including pāua and pork wontons.

Island Icon: Kai Kart

For classic takeaway fare, the Kai Kart, an island icon painted in various shades of blue, serves up island specialties like battered blue cod, burgers, bacon butties, popcorn shrimp, and generous portions of chips.

Fine Dining at Church Hill

One evening, I ventured to Church Hill, a fine dining restaurant perched on a ridge overlooking the bay. It’s a place where guests staying at the boutique lodge have priority. The menu changes daily, featuring delectable dishes like tender blue cod.

Exploring Ulva Island

A ferry ride to Ulva Island, just south of Oban, takes minutes. It’s a temperate rainforest sanctuary for unique birdlife such as kiwi and yellow-eyed penguins. Golden beaches and crisscrossed trails make it an enchanting destination.

Exploring Stewart Island feels like discovering a magical, hidden world. With its untouched natural beauty, friendly locals, and unique experiences, it’s a destination that continues to captivate all who venture here.



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