Stewart Island – A Naturalist’s Eco Paradise

Stewart Island, also known as New Zealand’s third island is a haven for naturalists with its pristine beaches, dense rainforest, and rugged coastline abundant with native marine and birdlife, including the elusive kiwi.  Separated by the Foveaux Strait, and located 20 miles south of the South Island, Stewart Island is one of the most remote destinations in the world.  Approximately 85% of it’s island is a National Park, named Rakiura the Maori name for “land of glowing skies” referring to the winter Southern lights.  The Maoris arrived in 900 AD, and today the resident population is less than 500 people of which the majority lives in the small fishing and farming community of Oban.

Holland America selected Oban, Halfmoon Bay as the first destination for the New Zealand Discovery Cruise.  There were multiple options for shore excursions and here are some of them:

1.  Ackers Point Walk – from Halfmoon Bay, continue past Lennekers Beach, Leask Bay, to Harrold Bay where you’ll pass the Ackers Stone House, Stewart Island’s oldest cottage.  The trail is well-marked and as you continue towards the Ackers Point Lighthouse, enjoy the stunning views, and surroundings of dense forest and birdlife.

2.  Patterson Inlet Cruise –  cruise through the Paterson Inlet and view rock and sandy beaches, marine life with more than 200 species of red and brown seaweed, and birdlife.  There have been sightings include yellow-eyed and little blue penguins and mollymawks, as well as seals and dolphins on this cruise so keep a lookout!

3.  Ulva Island – if you visit Ulva Island, you will be welcomed by a choir of bellbirds, tui, robings, fantails, and kakas.  This island is a protected bird sanctuary where you will see diverse plants and abundant bird life.

4.  Stewart Island Highlights – if you want to enjoy the island by coach, you can choose to see the highlights of the island and drive to Lee Bay via the sandy beaches of Butterfield and Horseshoe Bays, then finish the tour from Observation Point where you will have stunning views from this high point of the island.  You can also take time to walk the main street in Halfmoon Bay and stop at the General Store or sit at one of the cafes and watch the fishing activity on the waterfront.

5.  Walks on your own – if you want to stretch your sea legs, you can select from a variety of walks and “tramp” (as they say in New Zealand) for a few hours or a few days.  There are many tracks to choose from.  We trekked for a couple hours from Halfmoon Bay to Dead Man Beach and then continued on the trail to Horseshoe Point, then onto Horseshoe Bay.  There’s another 3-4 hr loop called the Ryan’s Creek Track that takes you through coastal forest above Paterson Inlet.  If you have a few days, you can venture out on the Rakiura Track, a popular 3-day circuit.  Also, there are 10-14 day Northwest and Southern circuits.  Visit for more details.