International travel may be off the cards but 'overseas' adventures can still be had right here in Southland by visiting Rakiura/Stewart Island. The island is as close as you can get before heading in to Sub Antarctic waters and you can get here either by plane or ferry. This is no sleepy, seaside town but a place of adventure, of endurance and of spirited personalities. Rakiura means "Glowing Skies" and no surprise the experience of watching the sun rise and set over Halfmoon Bay is very special.
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Kiwis outnumber the locals by a massive 50:1, which means there’s a good chance of seeing this mystical bird at night (and on the odd occasion, during the day!). There are plenty of local guides to show you some exclusive spots and to teach you all about our national bird’s quirky personality and habits a must-do activity on the island. Jump on a water taxi and head over to Ulva Island to explore this predator-free sanctuary and experience the birdsong and flora that is thriving without the threat of predators. The Rakiura Track (a Great Walk track) is three days of tough terrain but rewarding views.
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There is only 20km of roads on Stewart Island so grab an e-bike and pedal your way around the bays to see some unique icons of the Island. For a bit more of a challenge, hike up to Observation Rock which rewards visitors with inspiring panoramic views over Paterson Inlet.
Stewart Island is also one of only two International Dark Sky Sanctuary and if you take the opportunity to go stargazing on the island it’s not hard to understand why. With virtually no light pollution, the island's spectacular skyline and bustling nightlife of its wilderness makes for a truly magical experience.
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After a big day exploring make the most of indulging in some fresh southern kaimoana and local produce at one of the many amazing eating spots on the island. If you prefer to earn your supper, why not have a go at fishing for Blue Cod on a charter boat.
The local watering hole, the South Sea Hotel, is renowned for its cold beer, mouth-watering meals and lively Sunday quiz nights where you might be lucky enough to be treated to a tale of adventure from one of the friendly locals. The Kai Kart is a perfect takeaway option to grab some blue cod & chips and watch the sun set over the bay. For a more refined experience Church Hill Lodge & Restaurant offers fully hosted and homemade dining featuring homegrown produce, local Paua, mussels, titi (muttonbird) and a range of Southland beef & lamb.
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After an active day of exploration nothing will seem better than resting your head on the pillow, and there a number of backpacker, serviced apartments, motel units and private homes to recharge the batteries. The Kaka Retreat is renowned for its feathery visitors that find no fear in approaching visitors on the balcony; and many of the properties on the island feature the trill of birdsong from the nearby treelines. Stewart Island Backpackers offer shared facilities for the budget conscious traveller or for an experience fit for royalty, stay at Stewart Island Lodge that offers a peaceful lookout over Halfmoon Bay.
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