Some of the members of the Russley Probus Club in Christchurch wanted to go
travelling together. Where would they go? They decided on Stewart Island,
the small island south of the South Island of New Zealand. The Maori name
for the island is Rakiura which means "land of the glowing skies" and
visitors to the island see many beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
Sunrise at Port Adventure, Stewart Island
Photo source Ken Laing
The population of the Island is under four hundred and many of the people
are involved in serving the tourists. Interesting conversations can be had
with a great variety of people attracted to work on the Island.
Why did the Probus group choose Stewart Island?
How to get there
Those who had been there before were enthusiastic about their visit. They
loved the scenery, the walks, the birdlife and the way of life on the
island, totally different from life on the Mainland. Hearing their
enthusiastic comments the others wanted to go there too, making a total of
twenty two travellers. They asked Roger to gather information and after
consultation to make the necessary bookings.
The boat that takes visitors across Foveaux Strait leaves from Bluff, the
southernmost port in the South Island. If you are touring the South Island
you can travel by public transport or drive your own car and garage it
inexpensively under cover in Bluff while you visit Stewart Island. On your
return if you ring your number across from Stewart Island they will have
your car waiting by the wharf for you to drive north.
Roger recommends that if you are driving south you consider taking the
eco-tourism road along the east coast through the Catlins, an area famous
for its beautiful bush and beaches and break your travel to take some of
the short walks to see sights like the Purakaunui Falls or Jack's
Once you have reached the southernmost South Island city of Invercargill
you may wish to stay the night there and drive to Bluff in the morning to
catch the morning ferry, but you have the alternative of catching the
alternative afternoon sailing.
Foveaux Strait has a reputation for stormy weather and rough crossings, but
many travellers have a smooth crossing, and even in rough conditions the
one hour trip on the catamaran, Foveaux Express, is not like it was years
ago on the Wairau. The Probus Group chose to travel by the Foveaux Express
catamaran and had a moderately smooth trip to the Island and perfectly calm
conditions on the trip back.
The other option is to take the twenty minute flight on the ski plane with
Southern Air across to Halfmoon Bay Wharf at Stewart Island.
Roger's next task was to find out about the types of accommodation and the
dates when bookings were available. He made his inquiries in August and
found that there was only one week left for a group summer booking in the
accommodation of their choice, so be aware that you need to book well ahead
The accommodation on the Island ranges from an expensive luxury lodge, to a
hotel and motels, to bed and breakfast establishments and houses to rent,
to Backpackers and a camping ground.
Roger's group chose to stay at the South Sea Hotel and booked the fairly
new studio units behind the hotel. They were delighted with these as they
proved to be generous in size and well equipped with an ensuite,
comfortable chairs, and even with some kitchen equipment and a microwave.
This meant greater flexibility for the group. People could cook their own
breakfast or lunch or go to the hotel or one of the restaurants.
The studio units at the South Sea Hotel
The group found that food on the Island was one of the delights of the
holiday. There is a choice of places to eat.
There is a good restaurant at the South Sea Hotel serving a mixed menu
including sea food.
The Church Hill Cafe Bar has an upmarket restaurant where the group enjoyed
a delicious evening meal.
The Kai Cart just back from the waterfront serves interesting food and the
group recommends the paua patties which can be eaten on the site or bought
as a takeaway.
The Lettuce Inn sells fruit, vegetables, meat and sandwiches. You'll find
it set back from the road behind a curtain of plastic strips.
The Muffin Bar, in summer, serves great muffins and members of the group
enjoyed conversing with the owner, an American woman with a Ph.D. from an
A special delicacy at a festive meal
The studio units were so spacious that the whole group could meet in one
unit for drinks before dinner. On the last day some of the group had
caught blue cod - a valued delicacy, and it was cooked in several units and
served with extra food purchased at the local store.
Oban a compact little village
The waterfront at Oban showing the South Sea Hotel and the local store
Roger was impressed with the compactness of the village with everything
close at hand.
The local store called "Ship to Shore" sells a great variety of stock - a
needle to anchor store - and its prices are the same as the mainland.
The Empress Pearls selling paua pearls, Southern Air Depot incorporating
the Postal Delivery Centre, open seven days a week, The Fernery, selling
arts and crafts related to the Island scene, and the Department of
Conservation Visitor Centre are all within easy walking distance.
Building the programme for the days on the Island
"I had very clear guidelines," Roger said. "We had discussed the programme
before leaving and planned to have a mix of activities done as a group and
time for people to do 'their own thing'. It sounds basic, but it was
important to resist the temptation to overfill the programme.
"As a group we had the evening meal together each day, went on a trip to
Ulva Island, and took a bus trip, necessarily short as there are few roads
on the Island. On the trip the bus stopped at Harrold Bay for us to see
Acker's house, built in stone in the 1830s, the oldest building on the
Island. Acker was involved in the whaling industry and at one time owned
the peninsula which forms the southern promontory of Halfmoon Bay. The
eastern extremity of the peninsula is called Ackers Point.
"For the rest of the time people followed their own inclinations, with a
number of small groups walking to places like Observation Rock behind the
village or Horseshoe Bay, visiting the interesting local history museum, or
playing golf on the Island's rather quaint golf course, or going on fishing
Some of the group at Harrolds Bay
The view from Observation Rock looking across Paterson Inlet towards Ulva
Ulva Island is an offshore island which is a Department of Conservation
"open sanctuary". This term is used for a place where visitors can see at
close quarters native birds some of which are now rare but which used to be
common in many places in New Zealand. It has been cleared of rats and
other introduced predators. At the points where boats are likely to land
there are rat-kill traps set up to counter a re-invasion by these pests.
Camping on the island is prohibited. Only the owners of a house on the
island are allowed to stay there overnight.
Ngai Tahu Maori used to visit Ulva Island to strip bark from totara trees
to use in storing harvested titi/muttonbirds. Some sites where totara
trees have been stripped are estimated to be as old as 100 - 200 years.
The first post office in the Stewart Island area was established in 1872 by
Charles Traill. The old post office can still be seen behind the houses
near the landing. Charles Traill and his brother Walter came from the
Orkney Islands, and lived on Ulva from about 1870 to the 1890s. Charles
became well-known as a botanist and conchologist. Walter Traill assisted
by his wife taught the Maori children in the area from 1875 to 1888 and
became the first Justice of the Peace in 1884.
The Probus group was impressed with their interesting guide, Furhana Ahmad.
She grew up in England, gained a degree from Aberystwyth in Wales and is now a New Zealand citizen. She
has set up an Ecotourism Business, a guiding service called Ruggedy Range
Wilderness Experience, and offers half day, full day and overnight trips -
guided walks, tramps, kiwi spotting trips and nature tours for small
Her email address is
"We left on the boat at 8.30 am, arrived at Ulva Island at 9.30, left at
1.00 and arrived back at Oban at 2.00," Roger explained. "This gave us
three and a half hours to walk through the bush and look at the birds, the
trees and the plants and talk with our guide. We took the track to Boulder
Bay. It was easy walking, up gentle slopes. Sensible shoes and rainproof
clothing are recommended, but we were lucky enough to have all fine
Birds that can be seen on Ulva Island include the inquisitive weka (native
woodhen), kaka (forest parrot), kakariki (parakeet), kereru (wood pigeon),
korimako (bellbird), pipipi (brown creeper) ngirungiru (tomtit), piwakawaka
(fantail), moreporks and tui.
Seeing the birds was the memorable part of the day on Ulva. "I was the
first to see a morepork, no more than two arms length away," said Roger
with real excitement in his voice. "We were also very impressed by the
extraordinary clarity of the water around Ulva Island and Stewart
The forest on the island is southern New Zealand podocarp mix with rimu,
southern rata, kamahi, totara and miro.
Stewart Island now a National Park
The island was made a National Park in 2001.
The Department of Conservation headquarters offers information to visitors
and presents instructive evening lectures about different aspects of the
This is a popular activity on Stewart Island itself and night trips are
organised every second night. It is necessary to book in advance. The
Probus group, not being young tourists, decided not to include this in
their programme as it involved several hours in the bush at night.
To quote Roger, "We left the pristine waters, beautiful bush and wonderful
bird life of Stewart Island with some reluctance. And, yes, the weather
Most of the photos for this article were taken by Roger Murdoch - hence
no photo of Roger.
Read about Ken Laing's experience on a cruise to Stewart Island.