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On Stewart Island, the third island of New Zealand, life slows down yet another notch, as the permanent residents who live in the only small town on the island pursue a simpler and quieter lifestyle, attuned to the natural world of sea, native bush and beach.

Stewart Island is the most recent addition to New Zealand’s list of national parks, known as ‘Rakiura’, the land of glowing skies, due to the aurora australis and burning sunsets which so often grace the skies above it.

With just 15 km of road, exploration is more often on foot, with several well maintained tracks that take visitors deep into coastal forest searching out kiwis. Their calls are heard in remote areas and unlike their mainland cousins, the Stewart Island kiwi are active during daylight hours.

They’re easier to see, however, on nearby Ulva Island in Paterson Inlet. Separated from the mainland by the shallow Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island can be reached by boat from Bluff or plane from Invercargill.

Ulva Island

Ulva Island is a ten-minute boat journey from Stewart Island and is managed by the Department of Conservation as an open island sanctuary. Here rats and possums have been totally eradicated to create a perfect haven for the native birdlife.

The island reverberates with the sound of birdsong as walkers and ornithologists carefully tread the well maintained walking paths that stretch all over the island.

Visiting the island offers a rare experience for people to see a variety of wildlife in close proximity, from the Stewart Island robin to Daisy the elephant seal who often basks in the sun on one of the many sandy coves.


Elephant seal, Stewart IslandAs much of Stewart Island is uninhabited and protected, it offers an excellent habitat for native birds such as the bellbird, tui, kaka and of course New Zealand’s iconic kiwi. There are over 30 bird species that make their home in this ideal environment.

On Stewart Island the kiwi, unlike their mainland cousins, are active during daylight hours and their calls can be heard in remote areas throughout the day and night. They are easier to see, however, on nearby Ulva Island, where tours combine a pelagic cruise with a kiwi-spotting walk.

There are five species of penguin which nest in this southern sanctuary, and a trip on the water often includes encounters with dolphins, sea lions, fur seals and even the occasional elephant seal.

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Suggested itinerary featuring Stewart & Ulva Islands

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Stewart & Ulva Islands, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Stewart & Ulva Islands

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Stewart & Ulva Islands

    Accommodation choices for Stewart & Ulva Islands

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Stewart & Ulva Islands. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Stewart & Ulva Islands

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Stewart & Ulva Islands, and which use the best local guides.

    • Ulva Island Tour
      Birding Bonanza and Kiwi Spotting full day tour of Ulva and Stewart Islands, Stewart Island

      Ulva Island Tour

      Ulva Island Tour

      Ulva Goodwillie is a Māori Eco/Nature guide who is passionate about, and absolutely committed to, Ulva Island and its protection. As a predator free island, the plants and native birds have been able to flourish as nature originally intended, and a visit to the island is like stepping back in time.

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    • Birding Bonanza and Kiwi Spotting full day tour of Ulva and Stewart Islands
      Tui, Ulva Island

      Birding Bonanza and Kiwi Spotting full day tour of Ulva and Stewart Islands

      Birding Bonanza and Kiwi Spotting full day tour of Ulva and Stewart Islands

      This full-day trip is the ultimate birding and nature experience on Stewart Island. This tour also includes an opportunity to see the elusive and beautiful local kiwis, but due to their susceptibility to weather conditions the exact timing of your visit to watch them is flexible.

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