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Destinations - Stewart Island

Paterson Inlet at dusk Stewart IslandStewart Island is the southern-most island of New Zealand and a ruggedly beautiful island of granite, rainforest, crystal clear waters and magnificent landscapes. Its appeal lies in its unspoilt and peaceful environment, its township is a laidback haven for visitors who will almost step back in time to a less frenetic and hectic era. With a small selection of good quality holiday accommodation available, visitors are advised to organise their holiday rentals for Stewart Island in advance.

A cultural icon

Stewart Island has been inhabited since the 13th century and its original Māori name is "Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui", demonstrating the island's importance to Māori mythology. The name translates as "the anchor stone of Maui's canoe" and refers to the legend of Māori God, Maui who from his "canoe" (South Island) hooked and raised the giant "fish" (North Island). However the more commonly used and known name is Rakiura.

European settlers landed in the early 19th century to harvest the seals and whales found in the abundant waters off the island, and the plentiful forests were then plundered to help build the main towns on South Island in the 1860s, bringing more settlers. Its rich minerals also sparked a brief tin mining boom in the 1890s but today, fishing and tourism remain the island's main economic drivers, together with some farming and forestry.

Much of the island remains untouched by human development with nature reserves established a century ago demonstrating even then the island's appeal to visitors, also reflected in the available holiday accommodation that is often linked to eco adventures. In 2002 85% of Stewart Island's land area became Rakiura National Park. The reserves have preserved the native flora, fauna and wildlife such as the sooty shearwater, more commonly known as the muttonbird that continues to be a big source of food for islanders.

An island idyllOban Stewart Island
The only town on Stewart Island is Oban, located in the sheltered Halfmoon Bay, and is at the heart of a series of picturesque bays and coves. Those travelling here by ferry will dock in Oban and many holiday rentals can be found close to the town. The visitor centre can provide information on getting around and on tours and activities.

Stewart Island is 64km long and 40km across at its widest point with some 700km of coastline, so there's a lot to explore. Travellers will definitely be going off-road to do much of the exploring as the island only has 20km of roads, and the terrain is particularly rugged - the rock here is granite and some of the oldest in New Zealand.

Walking and hiking is a great way to see the best of the island, and regardless of your fitness levels or ability, there's bound to be a trail that appeals, particularly around Oban with its diverse bush and bird life. Head for Observation Rock with its stunning views of Paterson Inlet, a large expanse of water that almost splits the island in half, and enjoy magnificent sunrises and sunsets from this setting.

Head down to Paterson Inlet and take to the water on a boat trip or to try your hand at sea fishing and diving - there are more than 50 species of fish and 170 species of seaweed in these rich waters.

Catch the kiwiKiwi
The kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand, is found all over Stewart Island - the whole island is, in fact, a bird watcher's paradise. The canopy of the dense rainforest that carpets the island is brimming with kaka, parakeets, tui, kakariki, grey warbler and bellbird, and the birdsong is an exquisite dawn chorus in springtime. Birds unique to the region include the weak, robin and fernbird. Offshore, seabirds are also plentiful, including albatross, prion, petrel, cormorants and blue penguins.

The pristine forested island of Ulva, in Paterson Inlet, is a conservation area and one of the few predator-free sanctuaries in New Zealand. A 10-minute trip by boat, Ulva is a wonderful day out for visitors of all ages - pack a picnic at your Stewart Island holiday accommodation and enjoy a day out to remember surrounded by magnificent wildlife.

Mason Bay Stewart IslandOn the island's west coast is Mason Bay, a 12-mile crescent of sandy beach where waves crash dramatically on to the shore, providing marvellous photo opportunities. Back at Oban is Rakiura Museum where artefacts and photographs tell the evocative story of Stewart Island from Māori settlement through whaling, timber and mining to the present day.

The Roaring Forties
Stewart Island is located within the "Roaring Forties", the Southern Hemisphere latitudes that cause great wind speeds, and so the weather here can be unpredictable. The climate is a temperate one and in summer daily temperatures often reach the mid-20s C. Rain is never far away, hence the luxuriant rainforests, and visitors should make sure they take a light jacket when leaving their holiday accommodation, even in summertime, as the locals often expect four seasons in one day. Winter days are mild and calm with occasional cold snaps.

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