36 Hours on Stewart Island during off-season

posted in: General, Hiking, New Zealand, Oceania, Travel | 1

Brief stay on Stewart Island and making the most of 36 hours.


Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go to Stewart Island
Should I stay or should I go to Stewart Island

It was the second time that I am in New Zealand. Therefore, I wished to visit some new places, amongst those places was Stewart Island. My journey did not turn out as smooth as anticipated and I ran into various troubles. In the end, my scheduled week on Stewart Island was reduced to a brief two-days visit. Hence, I was contemplating whether it was even worth paying NZD 150.- for the ferry to stay less than 36 hours on the island.


View Larger Topographic Map

Stewart Island in a Rush

Here is my schedule for Stewart Island while doing as much as I could in a rush. Clearly, you are advised to spend more time there because it is such a wonderful place. In the unlucky event that you find yourself in the same situation where time is scarce, here’s what you could do in 36 hours on Stewart Island.

Map by Stewart Island backpackers
Map by Stewart Island backpackers

DIY Kiwi watching

Arriving in the evening by ferry after a smooth ride during sunset, I landed in Oban in the dark. Oban is a very small community nestled among the densely forested hills and beautiful bays. After checking in to the (only) backpackers and meeting four other solo travellers, we went Kiwi watching all together by ourselves.

The rugby field in Oban is a hot spot for kiwi spotting
The rugby field in Oban is a hot spot for kiwi spotting

A short walk to the nearby rugby field and a brief turn around to some bays should do the trick. It seems, as if not only people, but also real kiwis like rugby. There is a good chance you will spot some Kiwis when doing this small circuit in the dark. Yet, we were not lucky that night. Nonetheless, by exploring Stewart Island around Oban at night allowed for some interesting views.

Kiwi spotting in the dark with red torches
Kiwi spotting in the dark with red torches

Ulva Island

The following morning, I left with two fellow travellers to Ulva Island, which is a bird sanctuary a couple of minutes boat ride from the coast. It is one of the few predator-free sanctuaries in New Zealand and features vegetation and fauna as it used to be all over Aotearoa. There are well maintained tracks which can be done within a couple hours. The water taxi costs NZD 25.- and will drop you off at 10 am and pick-up is at 1 pm.

Ulva Island outlook towards Stewart Island
Ulva Island outlook towards Stewart Island

Even on Ulva Island, I did not manage to spot a kiwi. However, the abundant bird life made it worth while though. Perhaps we should have walked less and observed more…? Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience that I do not want to miss.

Explore Oban and Hike nearby Trails

Skyline Oban
Skyline Oban

After visiting Ulva Island, I seized the opportunity to hike around Oban. There are several small hikes apart from the Great Walk, which takes several days. I opted to walk towards horseshoe bay, where the track follows the coastline. There were some stunning views, as well as the annoying sand flies. Before returning to the backpackers, I took a day-to-night time-lapse, which will be eventually published on my photography website: Shuttertom. Even though the moon was full, which made it difficult to see the stars, I feel like it gave the scenery a befitting atmosphere.

Magnificent bays looking like a tropical Island
Magnificent bays looking like a tropical Island
Tropical island flare on Stewart Island  aerial view
Tropical island flare on Stewart Island

Night Sky Observation

I returned in the dark to the backpackers and met my fellow travellers. Given it was my birthday, we cheered to life and had a really good time. Had it not been for the bad weather, I would have gone outside again to shoot some milky way shots.

While editing some images at home, I came across a faint green color at the horizon. Given the direction to the south, I must assume that those were faint illuminations by an Aurora Australis. If anyone can shed more light (lol) on this matter, I would be very curious to hear your thoughts.

I did not recognize this aurora australis in Oban Stewart Island due to the full moon. Yet, I got so excited at home when I sa the green light.
Aurora Australis – not sure if it truly is a display of a faint southern light.

Stewart Island in a rush Summary

I paid a fortune to get to New Zealand, so there was truly no point of being considerate of another NZD 150.- for seeing something new, which I have already missed out on the first time. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish. Although I was on a budget in New Zealand, I would rather cut down on the expenses for food and accommodation, than missing out on experiences. Admittingly, there is so much to do in NZ that you cannot do it all. Chose the activities that appeal to you and enjoy them. There was another instance, where I was not sure whether it is worth doing a whale watching tour in Kaikoura. Yet, I am glad I did it in both instances.

Morning ferry return towards Bluff with amazing sunrise
Morning ferry return towards Bluff with amazing sunrise

Off-Season?

I would also totally go to Stewart Island again during off-season: There are almost no tourists, which means you do not have to book accommodation months in advance. The weather was fine and between 7 to 15 degrees Celcius. Moreover, in August is the best chance for seeing the Aurora Australis. The only hostel in Oban gave every backpacker (4) a separate dorm, which means I got a private room for dormitory prizes – hell yeah!

All in all, I am glad that I took the plunge and spent the NZD 150.- to go to Stewart Island.

One Response

  1. […] some struggles in the beginning, attending a duck hunt close to Invercargill and visiting Stewart Island on a rush, I reached the southern terminus of New Zealand. There was not much of a chance of getting any […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.