Foveaux Strait separates the South Island from New Zealand’s third main island, STEWART ISLAND, a genuinely special place of rare birds, bountiful seas and straight-talking people.
Most of Stewart Island is uninhabited and characterized by bush-fringed bays, sandy coves, windswept beaches and a rugged interior of tall rimu forest and granite outcrops. It is known in Maori as Rakiura (“The Land of Glowing Skies”), although the jury is still out on whether this refers to the aurora australis – a.k.a. southern lights – occasionally seen in the night sky throughout the year, or the fabulous sunsets. With the creation of Rakiura National Park in 2002 a full 85 percent of the island is now protected.
Almost the entire population of 400 lives in the sole town, Oban, where boats dock, planes land and the parrot-shriek of kaka provides the soundtrack. There’s not much to do in town, but the slow island ways can quickly get into your blood and you may well want to stay longer than you had planned, especially if you’re drawn to serious wilderness tramping, abundant wildlife in unspoilt surroundings and sea kayaking around the flooded valley of Paterson Inlet.
Maori had been here for centuries before Captain Cook came by in 1770 and erroneously marked Rakiura as a peninsula on his charts. The island was later named after William Stewart, the first officer on a sealing vessel that visited in 1809. With the arrival of Europeans, felling rimu became the island’s economic mainstay, supporting three thousand people in the 1930s. Now almost all of Stewart Island’s residents live from conservation work, fishing (crayfish, blue cod and paua), fish farming (salmon and mussels) and tourism.