Southern Limits

Nature and History Guiding

Rakiura/Stewart Island is as far south in the Pacific region as scheduled travel services will allow. Regular ferry and flight services from South Island mean that we are not as isolated as it may appear.

Inhabited by Māori from the 13th century onwards, the island was appreciated as a bountiful source of food and raw materials. In particular the harvesting of tītī (sooty shearwater) chicks was at that time, and remains so to this day, an important food gathering activity for Rakiura Māori.

Since the arrival of Europeans in the early 19th century the island has supported several industries and attracted settlers of various nationalities. Americans, Shetland Islanders, Norwegians, Scots and others have given the island’s place names and surnames a multicultural flavour.

At different times settlers here have been employed in a wide range of economic activity – sealing, whaling, shipbuilding, sawmilling, farming and fishing are regarded as the traditional industries of Stewart Island’s past. Today it is the service industry, especially associated with tourism, or work associated with the administration of the Conservation Estate, or commercial fishing and fish-farming which employs most townsfolk.

Scattered small settlements have existed at various times on Stewart Island but today all people live in the settlement around Halfmoon Bay or in the bays of the immediate vicinity. All that remains of the previous settlements is the odd moss covered foundation, rusty propeller blades or tell-tale piles of ashes and pieces of broken crockery.

The human imprint on Stewart Island is minimal. The intense morning and evening bird chorus can still be enjoyed in town and within minutes of your comfortable accommodation you can be walking within pristine rainforest. Birds common in town are regarded as rare birds elsewhere in New Zealand.

Whether you are captivated by the breathtaking landscapes, the intertidal pools of crystal clear waters, the trees or birds, or mini-ecosystem of mosses, ferns and lichens, Stewart Island is a “must see” for anyone wanting to see New Zealand much as it was before human settlement.