For New Zealanders, Stewart Island has always been a land of myth and wonder. It is the mythological birthplace for Arawa, Maori’s magical canoe, and the enchanting places visited by Leeward settlers. It has been a haven for naturalists, fishermen, captains, and writers. And now, it is being rediscovered thanks to the efforts of local entrepreneurs and backpackers who are opening up the rugged terrain to visitors eager to rediscover Stewart Island’s mystique.
The original wooden buildings of the Stewart Island was settled in 1894. In 1896, Captain Robert McClure and Gather Wood signed a 31-year lease on crown land at the southern tip of Stewart Island to provide accommodation for sailors visiting Russell, who then moved their facilities onto their leased property called “McClure’s House”.
In 1909 Ross Fisher (1903–1984) bought an island block off Smith Street converting it into farm stead ings and home of his family. Ross Fisher named it “Yacht Island” after the yachts that hauled ice over from South America during Antarctic expeditions in 1938-39 and 1946–48, however the name was changed to ‘Stewart Island’ before New Zealand Geographic Board permission no 3276 on August 6th 1975.
The climate is temperate, with cold winters and warm summers and fully polar influenced calm conditions for most of the year. Average January temperatures range from : dry (cold) to 4 °C, wet days around -8°C on average but rarely below freezing point in winter and only occasionally above 0 celsius when temperatures are higher because this island has a very high rainfall due to its cool mountain tops producing snow which sustains it throughout the storm.
Many artists have called the island home over recent years as well including John Martyn, who wrote a song entitled “Overhead Over Pissed” after living there in 1983. It has also played host to writers Samuel Beckett and Evelyn Waugh; actors Aaron Takahata (Garfield the Cat in Garfield: The Movie) and Maureen Garrett (The Flying Nun); singer Don McGlashan, playwright Geoff Hunt. The island is also home to a campaign shop called ‘Stewart Island”.
Stewart Island attracts many tourists from New Zealand and overseas, however the high cost of flights means that only a small percentage can afford to visit. As well as attracting flora and fauna fans there is also an active sailing fraternity who love the island for its unspoilt natural beauty making it popular with outdoor enthusiasts. There are several really good dinghies (cooler weather days) available all over Stewart Island including at two locations easily linked by a high quality marine trial paddling the Rakiura Marine Camp south of Invercargill, and at a marina in Picton on Stewart Island’s West Coast. ( A number of dinghies are also available for hire at the Wellington based Holidays by Peter Ltd.)
Water Sport activities like surfing, windsurfing etc – friendly conditions prevailing all year round with bracing southerly breezes.(See Rockpool.
New Zealand’s main international airport, located in Auckland is only 80 minutes south of Stewart Island. Flights are readily available to Picton with any large airline flying daily New Zealand wide and links being possible direct from small cities throughout the country including Little River where you can fly via Blenheim or other places. The capital city Christchurch may be reached by Air New Zealand ZK-NZC on the southern half hour flights – based at Christchurch’s Airport.
Stewart Island’s airport also handles a number of scheduled domestic flights operated by Tokelau Aircraft Services, operating chartered aircraft (operated via New Zealand operators) to Invercargill, Molyneux Aerodrome and Dunedin taking passengers over Stewart Island in one-hour scenic flights. Many islands are served with planes such as Banks Peninsula where they can fly into the small local city administered.
Stewart Island’s cuisine is strongly influenced by European settlers who settled the island in 1855. The traditional cooked meats were beef, venison and sheep meat with pork being relatively cheap common meat for everyone to enjoy. These days both modern techniques from mainland New Zealand such as raised beds food forest gardens together with imported Australian foods that show a mix of local Maori (Polynesian) and European flavours are widely popular throughout Stewart Island.
Stewart Island’s wildlife, famously with many fur seals, notable puffins and short-tailed albatrosses is important for the tourism industry. Wildlife management policy on Stewart Island includes an appeal to improve vegetation so that wildflowers can thrive after decades of heavy petrol exploration harvesting effects from Pamphylia fire ant mounds has been implemented along with slow releasing poison baiting almond (native) fox control New Zealand tahr which favourably reflects on Stewart Island’s landscape. Out of concern for both the ecological environment as well as its effect on tourism, New Zealand has moved towards banning all hunting and trapping in national parks on February 11 2007 after a campaign led by Otaki local Park Ranger Robert Corbin who proposed that large cat introduction could be critical
The Lake Hawea Baiting Station which sits beside Queenstown is more popularly known to locals just south from Dun.
The main island continues to grow and attract many new visitors and tourists both from New Zealand as well as the rest of the world. In 2006 Lonely Planet’s budget travel guide listed it amongst their top 3 places in the Pacific Islands along with Fiji, Hawaii (United States) on “The World”s most exotic islands”. With all this occurring since 1981 Stewart Island is continuing to grow rapidly into a thriving tourism destination for New Zealand with over 1 million visitors every year and growing.
Is Stewart Island Worth Visiting?
There is a lot to see and do on Stewart Island. It is New Zealand’s southernmost island so you can camp in the high country, skiing at Dunedin peak or hiking within Fiordland National Park including over 30 named waterfalls.
Following natural selection for animal dormancy there was no native tree flora introduced by man (dating back 10,000 years to sea level) thus exposing this tightly hugged coastline of roughly cut limestone boulders through.
Does Anyone Live On Stewart Island?
There is a small population of NZ fur seals (200-250+) and 500 New Zealand sea lions listed as threatened on Stewart Island. Yes, there are an estimated 250 people farming sheep with the main centre being in Muirs at the north end of channel southwest from Dunedin. The island also has 3 dwellings; maintained by staff working for DOC who maintain both Fiordland National Park, conservation.
How Much Does It Cost To Go To Stewart Island?
Ferry from Auckland to Duntarvie High season is usually October – May and costs around NZ$650 for a 16-20day cruise with midweek departures available at an extra cost. From June onward a very limited number of sailings are operated, some daily in peak season as part of the Cruises Clock island/garden program but mainly these days on request only. Children under 15 not allowed unless accompanying parents or guardian paying.
What Is Stewart Island Known For?
Mainly sheep farming, while the early history of its development has resulted in a number of ‘before and after’ photographic shots archived at Muirs Landing. The limestone scenery with snow capped peaks against the backdrop of Fiordland’s marine blue green is stunning on both New Zealand day as well as moonlit sea/nautical twilight splendor matches private yacht cruise entertainment.
Who Owns Stewart Island?
The current private landholder is the second Auckland based Kimpton Wines Ltd. They lease over 5000ha of mostly bush, some pastures and a few blocks of native forest (some now leased to Lorde Falls Historic Park Trust). Since April 2008 Nelson City Council has been holding a 25% shareholding in Stewart Island as an ecotrust trust, with DOC continuing to hold 26%, Te Awamutu-Taupo District Council.