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The Ultimate Travel Guide to Stewart Island, New Zealand

🖐 In this travel guide we’ll share all our experience travelling to Stewart Island, located on the southern end of New Zealand. If this is your first time on Dronemade, we're a community of drone pilots around the world and thus like to share our travel experiences and how we see things from up there. Give a 👍 at the end of this post & feel free to share your experience or any updates you might have in the New Zealand Discussion Group. Keep in mind that the content below is updated to the best of our knowledge & does not replace official sources & your research.

👏 This travel experience is shared by Sam Apauca'Lips Rolling-Stone, a member of Dronemade's community; "Our world, seen from above"

Aerial Drone Photo of Stewart Island

Stewart island, or Rakiura, is New Zealand's third biggest island. The island is an underrated jewel of freedom, remoteness, and sheer adventure. Rakiura covers an area of 1746 square meters. While most of the area is set aside for Rakiura National Park, and the little more than 400 inhabitants are settled around the one and only village on the island: Oban. Getting there is a bit of an adventure, but you might not find a place like this elsewhere.

Where is Stewart Island and how to get there?

⛴️ You can reach Stewart Island by ferry which departs from Bluff heading to Oban. It will take you about an hour before arriving at Oban's wharf where you will find a visitor centre that will help you plan your stay on Oban if you haven't had a chance to do so before. The crossing costs about $100 per person and each passenger can have up to two bags (1 stowed and 1 carry-on). 🚌 To get to Bluff, you can either catch a bus from Invercargill, or drive directly to Bluff where you can park your car in the Wilson parking which is conveniently located next to the departing wharf in Bluff.

⚠️ While theft is very rare in New Zealand, Bluff has been known for minor car robberies. I would advise against leaving the car parked in the street while you are away on Stewart Island and pay the $5 per day and leave your car in the secured Wilson parking.

💡If you are after an authentic adventure, real smiles and advice based on locals' knowledge, you can spend a night at the Bluff Lodge where you will be warmly welcomed in what used to be a post office. The price is more than reasonable, the owner will tell you where to get the best oysters and fish & chips in town, and best of all, they have a little back court where you can leave your vehicle parked while you are away on Stewart Island. A great way to catch a good sleep and spend quality time before and after Stewart Island.

What to do on Stewart Island?

Hiking Stewart Island is the perfect place to get far from everything and lose yourself into one of the wildest places New Zealand has to offer. You can do one of New Zealand's 10 Great Walks: Rakiura Track 🥾. This walk takes 3 days and will take you to untold beautiful places across Rakiura National Park. You can start the walk from Oban's DOC visitor centre directly. About an-hour stroll will take you to the official start of the walk. At nights, you will have the option to either stay at the campground or in the hut. Whichever you choose, you will always be able to warm-up next to the hut's fire 🔥and cook a nice meal discussing your day with fellow hikers. Make sure to pack up an extra day of food, just in case something happens on the walk you'll be ready.

Stargazing If you are lucky, you may happen to have a clear sky, if that is the case, you are in for an amazing treat. Stewart Island's sky is one of the best places in the world to stargaze. Just lie on the floor, open your eyes, dive into the immensity of our universe and just relax there.

Stargazing Stewart Island

Bird Watching at Ulva Island Did someone say birds? Yes, birds! While you are on Stewart Island, we strongly recommend taking a ferry to an even smaller island: Ulva Island. The island is accessible only from Stewart Island and for $25, you get a return ticket which is actually... A leaf. How cool is that?

Ulva Island Ferry Leaf Ticket
Ulva Island Ferry Leaf Ticket

Ulva Island is one of the few sanctuaries which is open to visitors. The island is predator-free, which means you need to make sure you are not carrying any possums or rats... Should be easy enough to verify that. 💡 A great idea would be to bring a book about birds of New Zealand, as you will see and hear birds you have never seen before.

🥾 On Ulva island, you will have the opportunity to walk several tracks. We recommend taking an early ferry and catching a late one back to Stewart Island as there are many bays and sidetracks for you to explore in Ulva island.

Kiwi Spotting 🥝

Kiwi gif

Stewart Island is renowned for having kiwis roaming about in total freedom. You can book tours with local guides who will take you at night to spots known by them only where you will most likely see that shy bird. You will need to have a red headlight, and be patient as they start coming out around 10pm.

💡If on a budget, a place commonly known to have kiwis is the rugby field just a few hundred meters away from the village centre.

Where to stay and eat on Stewart Island?

🛎️ After a few days hiking, you might be thinking about a nice hot shower, a nice meal and a comfy bed to recover. We get you. A nice place to stay is at Stewart Island Backpacker which is conveniently close to the village centre, has nice hot showers and nice warm beds that your back will thank you for.

🐟&🍟 Fancy getting one of the best fish & chips in New Zealand, which also happens to be the furthest south you can get in New Zealand? Kai Kart is there for you! The blue cod is fished in the morning and the fries are cooked to perfection. Do not miss their coleslaw and tartare sauce, you will not regret it.

🛒 There is a FourSquare shop nearby the village centre, however if you are on a budget, make sure to bring food from Bluff as prices on the island reflect the fact that everything is imported through the ferry from Bluff.

Can I fly my drone in Stewart Island?

✅ Currently, there isn't any restrictions on bringing drones within New Zealand as long as your import is considered as legitimate (generally one drone per person). The entire West Coast is suitable for drones (aside from town and city centres).

🌳 This said, Stewart Island is a little different as its basically covered by Rakiura National Park and is dedicated to conservation. New Zealand's National Parks are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

⏰ To fly over Stewart Island, you must first apply for a concession from DOC which can take up to 5 days to be approved, so you need to plan ahead. You will have to contact the Rakiura office to get a permit. Each region you apply to fly a drone in costs $74.75 and takes about 10 days to be processed.

Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre contact details:


✅ Please leave a comment or update the New Zeland Drone Forum when you receive news and/or gain experience in Stewart Island! Have fun over there and make a lot of good memories!

Disclaimer: Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information researched, we take no responsibility for any loss, harm or damage caused as a direct or indirect consequence of relying on this information. It is your responsibility to seek advice from qualified local & relevant authorities for needed information about local drone regulations

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Apr 21, 2023
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Thanks for sharing this beautiful travel experience @Sam Apauca'Lips Rolling-Stone 😍

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