THE STEWART ISLAND REGION
Maori name for Stewart Island, Rakiura, (land of the glowing skies) refers to the islands spectacular sunsets as well as the night time displays of aurora australis, the southern lights. Separated from the mainland by the 30 km wide windswept Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island is largely a wilderness area. Oban is its only settlement, near the entrance to Paterson Inlet, a drowned river valley that extends southwest almost halfway across the island. At the head of Patterson Inlet are the swampy flats of Freshwater River while on the western coast is the long sandy stretch of Mason Bay with its prominent sand dunes. A central lowland divides the two mountainous areas of the island. The barren granite summit of Mt Anglem looks across the northern coast and is one of a rim of peaks and ridges that surround the Freshwater Valley. The abandoned settlement at Port Pegasus once boasted a post office and a number of stores on the southern coast of the island but is now accessible only by boat or by hiking across the island. Port William, north along the coast from Oban, was settled by immigrants from the Shetland Islands in the early 1870s, but most had left after a year or two.
Today fishing and tourism are the main industries on Stewart Island/Rakiura. Over 80 per cent of the island has been protected as part of the Rakiura National Park. A regular ferry service carrys passengers from Bluff to Oban and there is also an air link run by Southern Air from Invercargill Airport to Ryan's Creek Aerodrome on the island. Light aircraft also land on the sand at Mason Bay, Doughboy Bay and at West Ruggedy Beach. The island generates its own electricity with a diesel generator, so electric power is expensive for the small number of local residents, who in the past have raised money for local projects by making declarations of independence for the island, selling overprinted postage and health stamps and passports for the newly independent island. There are a number of short walks around the area and you can arrange bus and boat trips as well as scenic flights around the island. The best way to experience Stewart Island is to tramp around the island. The Northern Circuit covers the top half of the island requiring about 10 days to walk the 125 km loop. The track will take you into remote wilderness areas, to golden sandy beaches and through unspoiled forests, but you need to be fit and well equipped to make the journey. It rains on average for about 275 days a year on Stewart Island so the track can get very wet and muddy and it can sometimes be a long slog between the huts which are spaced about a day apart. These tracks are suitable for well equipped and experienced trampers. You can also continue on the Southern Circuit from the Northern Circuit. The circuit can be reached by following the last two stages of the northern circuit or you can use boat transport to take you in to the track on Paterson Inlet. There is also a shorter Rakiura Track which is designed to be walked in three days
Stewart Island/Rakiura is rich in wildlife, especially native bird species, due to the isolation of the island and the absence of predators. You are likely to see the Southern brown kiwi (tokoeka) on the Northern Circuit and you may also come across weka, kaka, albatross, penguins, silvereyes, fantails, and kereru. The endangered yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho) has breeding sites on Stewart Island and its smaller neighbouring islands. There are also large colonies of Sooty Shearwaters (muttonbirds) on the offshore islands. You can arrange to visit Ulva Island which is a Department of Conservation open sanctuary, allowing visitors to experience New Zealand’s native birds in their natural environment. Native birds on the island include the inquisitive weka, kaka, kakariki, kereru, korimako, pipipi, ngirungiru, piwakawaka, morepork and tui.