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Cruises to Stewart Island

6 Reviews
Stewart Island (Photo:Greg Brave/Shutterstock)

About Stewart Island

At the very bottom of New Zealand's South Island is Stewart Island (known as Rakiura in the Maori language), renowned for lush rainforest and crystal-clear waters surrounded by sweeping sands, rare flora, fauna and natural beauty. New Zealand's third largest island is connected to the South Island by a one-hour ferry ride between Bluff and the island's only settlement at Oban (also called Halfmoon Bay).

Occupied as early as the 13th century by Maori who were drawn to the bountiful resources of seafood and mutton birds (Sooty Shearwaters), the island was later settled by sealers, missionaries and explorers who arrived with saw-millers and boat-builders during the 19th century. Like much of southern New Zealand, the island has a distinctly Scottish feel with streets and Oban itself named after Scottish towns. Several little islands dot Paterson Inlet, where cruise ships anchor, while the Mutton Bird Islands (or Titi Islands in Maori) lie a few kilometres to the east.

Cruise lines only visit occasionally, so there are no large wharves or ports for big ships to tie up. Instead there's a sturdy jetty at Halfmoon Bay used by the inter-island ferry from the South Island and another at Golden Bay that are perfect for tenders bringing guests ashore from ships anchored in the bay for a comfortable dry landing.

There are about 10 cruise ship visits a year and these are mostly by small-ship lines including Silversea, Seabourn, Hapag Lloyd and Azamara. Both landing sites are an easy stroll into Oban township, although when walking from Golden Bay it's uphill for a couple of hundred metres, which may prove difficult for some people.

In Oban you will find a small supermarket, a community hall (the lifeblood of the town), a cafe or two, restaurant and pub, gift shop, post office, ATM, Internet cafe and The Red Shed (visitor information centre). Free Wi-Fi can be accessed in the village, with passwords posted on the doors of the community centre and outside the supermarket.

Beyond the quaint village of Oban, Stewart Island and its surrounding islets are treasured for their bird life, largely untouched forests and walking trails that weave through woodlands and along sandy beaches. Island walks offer a chance to see some of these forest birds up close while scenic cruises take passengers to the Mutton Bird Islands further afield to view pelagic birds (seabirds), and also to remote bays steeped in history.

Almost 90 per cent of Stewart Island's 1570 square kilometres is given over to Rakiura National Park, which was created in 2002. Ships offer walking tours, kayaking and scenic cruises, while independent visitors can do all these (as well as go fishing) or just relax.

  • More about Stewart Island

  • Why go to Stewart Island?

  • Stewart Island Cruise Port Facilities?


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More about Stewart Island

Why go to Stewart Island?


Stewart Island's lush, unspoiled landscape alone makes for an other-worldly experience


Not many cruises stop here, so if you want to visit via the sea, your options will be limited

Bottom Line:

If you revel in nature and wildlife, and enjoy the simple pleasures of a tiny little community, stuck in a time-warp, it doesn't get much better than Stewart Island

Stewart Island Cruise Port Facilities?

Your ship will be anchored in the sheltered waters of Paterson Inset, half-way down the east coast of Stewart Island. From this safe anchorage, cruise ships send their tenders into Golden Bay or to Halfmoon Bay, both of which have jetties. Passengers can then connect with ship-organised tour operators who will be waiting nearby, or perhaps go on an independent tour if there are still places left on Stewart Island's walking and nature tours. Apart from the wharf, there is little development in Golden Bay. From here, independent passengers can walk up a relatively steep hill and then down the hill to the township of Oban; it's about a 1 km walk. If coming ashore at Halfmoon Bay, Oban is right at the wharf.

Good to Know?

The island's national park is crisscrossed by walking trails, so pull on the hiking boots and go for a walk (or a tramp as New Zealanders call a hike). If walking around Oban after dark or on the road that connects the village with Golden Bay, it's best to use your mobile phone torch (or a flashlight) as few roads have street lights and/or wear a jacket with reflective strips if you have one.

Getting Around?

On Foot: The village of Oban only has a few streets so it's an infinitely walkable place. Once in the village you can walk to the museum, general store/supermarket, the community centre, restaurants and the little Presbyterian church on the hill.

There are several trails that leave from Halfmoon Bay if you want to go hiking including the 30-minute walk to Bathing Beach to the west, the Fuchsia Walk and Raroa Reserve Track to peaceful Thule Bay to see its quaint boat sheds (30 minutes each way) and the Golden Bay-Deep Bay Track, which goes over Peterson Hill and is a 90-minute to two-hour return walk. Before setting off, ask for directions and maps at the Oban Visitor Centre, known as the Red Shed (19 Elgin Terrace; +64 3 219 0056)

By Bicycle, Motor Scooter or Car: Tour company Stewart Island Experience seems to have the island covered when it comes to hiring mountain bikes, scooters and small cars. Rentals are available for as little as an hour to a full day. As there are only a handful of roads on Stewart Island and they are located in and around Oban, it's best to hire a car or scooter for just half a day.

You'll be able to drive from the village to Horseshoe Bay to the west, and to a variety of lovely deserted bays to the east and west of the township and also over the hill to Golden and Thule bays. Mountain bikes and scooters aren't allowed on walking trails. Make inquiries and reservations in advance to avoid disappointment. (+64 3 212 7660; email: info@sie.co.nz; or visit www.stewartislandexperience.co.nz/

Taxi and Water Taxis: One taxi company, Aurora Cab Co, will pick up passengers from Golden Bay or Halfmoon Bay wharfs and also organise tailor-made tours (auroracabco.co.nz). Water taxis are operated by Aihe Water Taxi (www.aihe.co.nz) and Rakiura Charters & Water Taxi (www.rakiuracharters.co.nz), which offer point-to-point connections from Stewart Island to nearby scenic spots such as Ulva Island as well as tours and scenic cruises of Paterson Inlet. Once again it's advisable to book in advance.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money?

Currency in Stewart Island is the New Zealand dollar. Take cash if you want to shop in Oban as most businesses only accept cash; some operators do have Eftpos and credit card facilities but cash is your best option. There's an ATM in the Four Square Supermarket but it only takes New Zealand bank cards. Ask one of the shopkeepers at the supermarket before using it, as the ATM is known to have a few idiosyncrasies.


English is the main language spoken on Stewart Island. Some locals speak Maori.

Stewart Island Cruise Reviews
We took two excursions on Stewart Island and they were both fantastic. It was a great port!!Read More
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Relaxing on the waves
Not a lot to see at Stewart Island and we had been there befoe but the girl host did a good job to make the tour as interesting as possible, and she thoroughly knew all the information and was able to answer virtuallRead More
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This is a place where you'll run into alot of "day trippers". Just a walk around townRead More
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FantasticRead More
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