top of page

History of Stewart Island

People have lived on Stewart Island since the 13th Century, when the Maori named it Rakiura, meaning “Land of the Glowing Skies”. Although the island has a total area of 1746 square kilometres (similar in size to Singapore), its 400 inhabitants are concentrated around the township of Oban.

During the 1800s sealing, whaling, saw-milling, fishing and tin mining were the main attractions of the island. Relics of this era can be viewed at the Rakiura Museum in Oban. In the early 1900s tourism was well under way, with discerning visitors finding the island a peaceful natural haven. One hundred years on its still the case. Stewart Island draws conservationists, eco-tourists and anybody wanting to experience one of the more obscure and most special outposts of the world.


Oban, the one outpost of civilisation on this untamed island, is a town like no other. With a population of around 400, Oban is bursting with character. The locals are notoriously friendly and are more than willing to share their pride in their heritage.

Oban caters to all budgets, from shoestring backpacker fare to first-rate restaurant Church Hill.

Experience the local culture down at the pub or unwind in the tranquillity of the native forest setting. Oban is great either as a final destination or as a stepping stone to more adventurous pursuits. From Oban you can access a number of fishing charters, diving expeditions, exciting sea-kayaking around Paterson Inlet and many beautiful bush walks. The Oban experience is what you make it, but its always guaranteed to be unforgettable.

Information on accommodation can be found HERE

Ulva Island

“A place where native plants and birds can live safely and the public can enjoy them”

No trip to Stewart Island is complete without a visit to Ulva Island. As the southern-most open bird sanctuary, the Ulva experience is inimitable.

Enjoy the splendour of nature amidst the otherworldly native forest of towering rimu and totara standing among lush fernery. Because the island is completely predator free, the bird population has flourished.


Visitors to the island are greeted by the ethereal birdsong of tui and bellbirds and shortly encounter the inquisitive weka, fantails and unique Stewart Island robins. The island also boasts numerous seabirds, oystercatchers, kaka, kakariki, woodpigeon and a few kiwi.

Ulva Island is one of the remarkable gems that make a trip to Stewart Island exceptional.

North-West Circuit

Stewart Island’s North-West Circuit is one of the prime attractions for adventurers around the globe, as a unique opportunity to discover a New Zealand unlike any wilderness in the world. The circuit is a challenging 10-12 day tramp designed for experienced trampers and famed for its mud. As the longest walking track in New Zealand, the North-West Circuit exceeds other famous New Zealand tracks, such as the Routeburn and Kepler tracks, as a feat of endurance.

For more information on the North-West Circuit or its offshoot, the Rakeahua track, see North-West Info.
Stewart Island Flights can make this adventure experience more accessible by operating to Mason Bay, providing more options when selecting the parts of the track you wish to travel.

West Coast

Stewart Island Flights has made the breath-taking West Coast of Stewart Island available to the public, providing access to the secluded wonder of Mason Bay, Doughboy Bay, West Ruggedy and Little Hellfire.

These rugged stretches of beach are the ultimate in camping retreats with their unsurpassable beauty and utter isolation. Here you can enjoy nature in its pristine state, untouched by man, and appreciate the simple things in life.

Mason Bay


Mason Bay is a phenomenal beach which must be seen to be believed. Stretching 19 kilometres from end to end, Mason Bay never fails to amaze. The chance to experience its unrivalled beauty is only an exhilarating beach flight away. Flights operate at low tide landing on the beautiful sandy beach.

Mason Bay is a popular destination for adventurers because of its historical and wildlife appeal. The bay was once home to ancient Maori and is still held in great reverence by Maori. In the early 1900s Mason Bay was home to pioneer farmers trying, unsuccessfully, to tame the island’s wilderness. The original homestead and a few outbuildings still stand. Mason Bay’s main appeal lies in its significance as home to the highest population base of kiwi in the world. With some luck these shy, nocturnal birds can be viewed in their natural environment.

Hunting is one of the most popular activities on Stewart Island’s West Coast with prime hunting opportunities. Several hunters cabins are available to house hunting parties along the coast as they track the elusive whitetail and red deer roaming the island.

The whitetail deer are of particular note as the descendants of nine individuals gifted to New Zealand by Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s. Fishing is also a popular pursuit, with the availability of blue cod and trumpeter in the island’s crystal clear waters.

For information on hunting blocks contact Department of Conservation

bottom of page