Why October is a great time to visit Stewart Island

By Ziggy Dukes

5 minute read

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Twenty miles of the southern coast of Te Waipounamu (New Zealand’s South Island) lies the untouched paradise of Rakiura, commonly known in English as Stewart Island. The third largest of the 600 islands that make up New Zealand, Rakiura is a nature lovers paradise, offering visitors a chance to step back in time to a pre-colonial New Zealand without the farming and industry which is common the in the rest of the country. Almost entirely protected as a National Park, it is also home to one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, the Rakiura Track.

Marking the beginning of the hiking season in New Zealand, October is a wonderful time to visit Rakiura before the summer crowds arrive. Being Spring, the song of new birdlife fills the air, and the few flowering native plants and trees stand out against the outstanding green backdrop. Local fishermen are back in full swing after waiting out the cold winter meaning fresh seafood is abundant through the main settlement of Oban, where friendly faces are excited to welcome back visitors after several quiet months. All these factors help make October a favourite time to visit this island paradise. 

What to expect on your journey to Rakiura 

Weather Conditions on Stewart Island

After winter temperatures in Rakiura generally warm up faster than the lower South Island due to its temperate climate near the ocean. October sees average daily highs of around 15°C (62F) with evening temperatures dropping to around 6°C (45F). Rainfall for the month is generally around 90mm total (3.5inches), but due to its island location in what’s known as the “Roaring Forties”, it is more common for brief heavy showers. 

Sea temperatures are still cold after the winter months, at around 13°C (60F), although due to the southern location sea temperatures are mild all year round reaching a high of around 18°C (70F) even in the peak of summer. These cooler temperatures are ideal for marine life, with creatures like seals, sea lions and penguins all making the island home during this time while waiting for the sea ice to melt in their regular feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean. 

Golden Stewart Island beach

We love exploring the Golden beaches of Stewart Island in October without the summer crowds.

Crowd Levels on Stewart Island

As October is the beginning of the visitor season in Stewart Island, it is generally a lot quieter than the busy summer months, an ideal time to enjoy this special place. With a permanent population of less than 500 people, the island's infrastructure is ideally suited to these quieter months. It offers much more flexibility when booking accommodation, day trips and a table at the famous South Seas Hotel. Also, after several months with next to no visitors, the locals are excited to welcome people back, and relish in showcasing their slice of paradise to the world. By the peak of summer visitors to the island can outnumber locals by four to one. 

While it is still recommended to book accommodation especially in advance to avoid missing out, October offers more options and better rates than later in the season, with added flexibility to plan around the weather forecast if required. 

Best things to do in Steward Island

Luckily for visitors almost all of the best things to do around Rakiura are within easy reach of the township of Oban, where most people stay. This allows people on a short visit to experience a taste of island life and the natural treasures it offers, while those with time can slow down and immerse themselves in the local lifestyle Rakiura is famous for. 

The best place to get a real snapshot of the people who call Stewart Island home is to visit the South Seas Hotel. Accommodation, restaurant, cafe and a bar, it is the hub for the community and a must visit for anyone staying in Oban. Its picturesque seaside location with outdoor seating is a perfect place to relax after a day exploring the island's trails, while watching the ferries and fishing boats going about their daily schedules. If you are lucky enough to be there on a Sunday night, then get in early and secure a table for the famous South Sea’s Hotel Quiz night. Where seemingly the whole island turns out to test their general knowledge and catch up on the week that was. 

Guests enjoying a well deserved beer on Stewart Island

Guests enjoying a well deserved beer on Stewart Island.

Another must do for anyone visiting Rakiura is to take a tour or catch a water taxi over the nature sanctuary of Te Wharawhara/Ulva Island. Located a short 15-minute boat ride from Oban, the island has been completely cleared of any foreign pests and predators, making it a paradise for our native bird and plant species that had almost gone extinct since colonization. The island is a testament to conservation efforts and something locals are very proud of, with plans to try and recreate the same conditions across the whole of Rakiura.

Tracks around the island allow visitors to experience what life was like before people arrived. Many rare native birds can be heard and even spotted, particularly in Spring when numbers are at their highest. Local guides offer guided walks sharing the history of the island and help guests spot the unique species that call Te Wharawhara/Ulva Island home. You are also welcome to explore it at your own pace with a helpful guidebook available at the wharf. 

Native Kākā bird sighting in Stewart Island

Native Kākā bird sighting in Stewart Island.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, Rakiura is also home to one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks. Walking all or even a section of this magical trail is a real highlight of any visit to the island. At 32km (20 miles) in length, many hikers do the trail over 2 or 3 days, staying at huts built along the way which are bookable for a small fee. For those on a short visit, walking part of the first day section along the coast from Lee Bay to Port William is a great option, offering some of the best scenery of the trail. Despite following the coast, the trail is mainly in a canopy of lush native rainforest, with birdlife the only sound as it meanders from beach to beach.

Relics of old settlements can be found covered in the forest slowly reclaiming the landscape. The trail can be walked out and back from Lee Bay which is a short 10-minute drive or hour long walk from Oban. Water taxis can also be arranged to drop guests at Port William before walking back to the beginning. The trail is very popular over summer with huts and boats booking out weeks in advance, although this is generally not the case in October. It is common to have the trail and huts almost to yourself when visiting this time of the year, only adding to the peaceful isolation the trail offers. 

While a great place to visit and escape the hustle and bustle of modern life all year round, for those wanting to experience island life at the pace the locals are used to. October is a perfect time to head to Rakiura/Stewart Island. With days getting warmer and longer, crowd levels still low, and locals ready to welcome visitors after winter. It allows guests to get an authentic taste of why Rakiura is such a special place and a unique glimpse into the past of New Zealand. 

October in Stewart Island with New Zealand Trails

We love to use our local knowledge to avoid the main crowds in summertime with our flexible itineraries, October gives us all the tools to showcase New Zealand at its best. If quiet leafy, peaceful towns and long mild days sound like your idea of paradise too, then get in touch today and let us show you why we love this time of year! 

Grab a copy of your FREE BROCHURE HERE or get in touch with Jodi today. She’s the friendly Kiwi accent on the other end of the line and an expert in pairing you up with your perfect New Zealand adventure!


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