New Zealand’s third largest island doesn’t always make it onto every traveller’s itinerary but, here at Stray, we’re here to change that. Travel blogger, Krysti Jaims, jumped on the Stray bus in search of adventure on Stewart Island and, boy, did she find it!
Please note: Stewart Island isn’t included in our current range of Stray Tours, but was covered on one of our previous tours.
I chose my Stray tour because it included the very deep south – perfect for exploring Stewart Island. If you are travelling with Stray on a similar tour, you’ll have the option to overnight in Invercargill or to catch the ferry over to Stewart Island – I would highly recommend the latter.
Yes, the ferry from Bluff across the Foveaux Strait is a tad pricey but it is 100% worth budgeting for. Oh, and don’t forget to ask your Stray driver about the Milford Sound combo package!
Despite being a kiwi myself, I had never met anyone who had ever been to Stewart Island. I knew very little about it, other than the fact that you could go cage-diving with Great White Sharks. Now, I’ve witnessed the magic of this island for myself and I know that there’s so much more to it than that!
The island is a nature lover’s dream – 85% of the island is a National Park, bursting with lush greenery, beautiful, clean beaches with crystal clear water and an abundance of native wildlife, including penguins, seals and the Southern Brown Kiwi.
Being so isolated and having a population of fewer than 400 people, it feels as though you’ve stepped back in time. I loved soaking up the peace and quiet and it it was a joy to explore the island with my fellow Stray mates. If you’re short on time (like I was) and can only spend one night there, you can still do your visit justice.
Here’s how to spend the perfect 24 hours in New Zealand’s most Southern inhabited island:
4:00 PM – When travelling with Stray, you’ll be catching the 4:30 pm ferry from Bluff. Your Stray driver will drop you off at the ferry terminal to check in – easy peasy!
4:30 PM – The ferry departs and will take approximately one hour. The water can be very choppy so take preventative care if you get seasick. There is a cash-only bar on board available to enjoy some refreshments.
5:30 PM – Welcome to Stewart Island! Grab your luggage and head to your hostel Stewart Island Backpackers, which is just a ten-minute walk away. Check in, kick back, relax.
6:00 PM – Head to the southernmost pub in New Zealand, South Sea Hotel, for a pint with the locals and a pub meal if you feel like treating yourself and taking a break from instant noodles.
8:00 PM – It should be nice and dark outside to head out and go kiwi spotting! Our group was unfortunately unsuccessful but the locals say they are everywhere, even in their own backyards. Try to be as quiet as possible and apparently, they are very sensitive to smell.
10:00 AM – Rise and shine! Time to check out and begin a fun day of exploring. You can store your luggage for free in the hostel’s own luggage shed. Get a group together and head to the Oban Visitor Centre located next to the ferry terminal to hire a rental car or bike to explore the island (Note that there are some very steep hills!)
10:30 AM – Great places to start for the morning are Lee Bay (the entrance to Raikiura National Park where you can go for a hike) and Horseshoe Bay. Free maps are available to take at the visitor centre to help guide you.
12:00 PM – Head back to the centre township to grab a quick bite for lunch. There aren’t many food places (besides the pub) but there is a small Four Square that has affordable coffee, fresh sandwiches, fruit and other supermarket essentials.
12:30 PM – Drive/cycle or walk around past Leask Bay to the end of Leask Bay Road. Park the car and go for a 45-minute return walk to Ackers Point to see the lighthouse and great panoramic views out over the islands and Foveaux Strait. The lighthouse is quite small but the hike through the native bush past Harold Bay is stunning.
1:15 PM – It’s the final hour, make the most of it! Head back towards the township (stopping in Leask Bay if you fancy a go on the rope swing) and head for a quick look at Golden Bay. Keep heading along Main Road which turns into Ryans Creek Road right to the end for more beautiful views.
2:15 PM – Stop by the hostel to pick up your luggage before checking in to the ferry by 2:30 pm. There is a lounge upstairs at the terminal where you can chill until the boat departs.
3:00 PM – Haere Rā, time to say goodbye to Stewart Island, a place that will leave you with fond memories and a lasting impression.
4:00 PM – At Bluff, the Stray bus will be waiting for you to continue your journey back to Queenstown. The next adventure awaits!
So, that’s my guide to spending a whole day on Stewart Island. If you have spare time then you should 100% hop off the Stray bus and spend a few days there – go fishing, visit Ulva Island or complete the 3-day Rakiura track, one of NZ’s great walks. Whatever you do, you won’t be disappointed.
You can’t do Stewart Island on your Stray Tour at the moment, but take a look at our current tours for more NZ travel inspiration.