Many people think of New Zealand as two islands, when it is actually three. Subantarctic Stewart Island lies 30 kilometres south of the South Island.
Stewart Island or Rakiura has a land area of nearly 2000 square kilometres, and 85% of it is included within the boundaries of Rakiura National Park.
The most recent addition to New Zealand's national park portfolio, Rakiura is an enchanted world of unmodified ecosystems and habitats. From dense coastal rainforests and freshwater wetlands to vast sand dunes and granite mountain ranges, the park provides an exceptional opportunity to see native wildlife and primeval landscapes.
Rakiura translates to 'the Land of Glowing Skies', a name that refers to both the beautiful night-sky phenomenon called the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) and the breathtaking sunsets that burn on the western horizon.
Night time is very special in this park for other reasons too. While you''re tucked up inside a Department of Conservation hut, nocturnal bird life provides an unforgettable chorus. You''ll hear the calls of ruru (the native owl), weka and kiwi. On Stewart Island, you have an excellent chance of seeing kiwi in the wild.
During daylight, the serenade continues. Along with tui, bellbirds, tomtits, grey warblers and fantails, you''ll hear red-crowned parakeets, bush parrots and Stewart Island robins. The coastal fringes of the island are home to three species of penguin, fernbirds, banded rails, weka and many kinds of seabird.
The Department of Conservation provides more than 25 hikers huts within the park, including a few 'Great Walk' huts that offer a higher-than-usual standard of accommodation. In the island's only town, Oban, there is motel, hotel, B & B and lodge accommodation.
Rakiura National Park is a one-hour ferry ride away from the South Island town of Bluff, where a full range of accommodation can be found. The nearest city is Invercargill, a ferry ride and 20 minute drive from Bluff on the mainland.
With only 25km of roads, Stewart Island is a paradise for hikers. There are 245 kilometres of walking tracks, and they can all be accessed from the town of Oban. The ''Great Walk'' on the island is the Rakiura Track, a circuit that takes three days to complete. For day-trippers, there''s a range of short walks to enjoy - Fern Gully (2 hours return), (Ryan''s Creek 3 hours return), Horseshoe Point (3 hours return) and Moturau Moana (1 hour return), to name just a few.
A water taxi can take you to Ulva Island, an open sanctuary managed by the Department of Conservation. Its restored forest and lack of predators make it a safe environment for many rare bird and plant species. Two of three times a week, guided trips to Masons Bay provide the chance to watch kiwis eating sandhoppers at the beach.