Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura the isle of the glowing skies, is growing in prominence as an eco-tourism destination providing a safe haven for animals and birds and an unrivalled experience for nature lovers.
Southern tourism company Real Journeys has played a pivotal role in tourism on the island in recent years, running a regular ferry service from Bluff to Halfmoon Bay and return, along with boat and coach tours for island visitors under the Stewart Island Experience banner.
“People can visit for just a day or stay over on the island and get the feel of what is one of the country’s most unique holiday places. We also operate our contemporary Stewart Island Lodge which is close to Halfmoon Bay village and has stunning views of the bay, Foveaux Strait and the beautiful night skies,” says general manager Paul Norris.
Stewart Island is probably best known for its Ulva island sanctuary which is set in the Rakiura National Park in Paterson Inlet and is today pest free, allowing native birds such as the forest parrot, the South Island kākā , parakeets and weka to live in harmony on the reserve.
“Visitors to Ulva Island can also expect to see the endangered mohua/yellowhead and tieke/saddleback and hopefully even a southern brown kiwi/ tokoeka,” says Paul. “Real Journeys has had a close association with the development of the predator free sanctuary with the Les Hutchins Conservation Fund, set up by our founder, partnering with the Department of Conservation to help achieve its current status.”
“Our vessel the Ulva Island Explorer provides a cruise of the spectacular Paterson Inlet, where it is often possible to spot fur seals and penguins on the shore, before taking visitors to Ulva for a guided bush walk in this very special part of New Zealand.”
The Village and Bays Tour provides an insight into many of the island’s attractions including Lee and Horseshoe Bays and the famous Observation Rock.
“Our well-informed local guides provide a personal introduction to the island’s background and environment,” says Paul. “It is such a fascinating place with its Maori and European history, its stories of whaling, sawmilling and fishing. There is so much to take in and our aim is to encourage people to stay longer when they visit to make the most of this beautifully unspoilt island destination.”
Dark Sky Sanctuary
Stewart Island was officially recognised in 2019 as the world’s fifth international Dark Sky sanctuary and only the second island sanctuary in the world.
The International Dark Sky Association claimed Stewart Island/ Rakiura’s pristine skies were a “rare treasure” and the area will remain a significant resource in the world where access to the night sky is becoming increasingly scarce.
Real Journeys general manager Paul Norris says the Dark Sky sanctuary is an increasing attraction and yet another reason for people to visit Stewart Island.
“It is certainly complementary to the other environmental opportunities on the island and we see night sky viewing becoming part of people’s itineraries more and more.”