The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Stewart Island

Stewart Island is the third largest island of New Zealand. It lies 30 km south of the South Island, and is separated from the mainland by Foveaux Strait. Its permanent population is 236 people, most of whom live in the settlement of Oban.

The Maori name for the island is Rakiura, the southern dialect form of Rangiora, meaning glowing skies. Two explanations have been proposed for this name. The evenings at these southerly latitudes have long twilights, which could be the name's explanation. It is also possible it refers to the Aurora australis, which can frequently be seen from the island.



The island has an area of 1746 km2. The north of the island is dominated by the swampy valley of the Freshwater River . The river rises close to the island's northwestern coast and flows southeast into the large indentation of Paterson Inlet. The highest peak on the island is Mt. Anglem, close to the northern coast, at a height of 979 metres. It is one of the peaks in a rim of ridges which surround the Freshwater valley.

The southern half of the island is more uniformly undulating, rising to a ridge that runs south from the valley of the Rakeahua River , which also flows into Paterson Inlet. The southernmost point in this ridge is Mt. Allen , at 750 metres. In the southeast, the land is somewhat lower, and is drained by the valleys of the Toitoi , Lords and Heron Rivers . South Cape in Stewart Island's southwest, is the southern most point of the main islands of New Zealand.

Mason Bay, on the east side of Stewart Island, is notable as a long sandy beach on an island where beaches are typically far more ruggedy. One suggestion is that the Bay was formed in the aftershock of a meteoric impact in the Tasman Sea.

Three large and numerous small islands lie around the coast of Stewart Island. Notable among these are Ruapuke Island, which lies in Foveaux Strait 32 kilometres to the northeast of Oban, Codfish Island, which lies close to Stewart Island's northwest shore, and Big South Cape Island , located off the southwestern tip of Stewart Island. The Titi (Muttonbird) Island groups are located between Stewart Island and Ruapuke Island, around Big South Cape Island, and off Stewart Island's southeastern coast. Other islands of interest include Bench , Native , and Ulva Island, all close to the mouth of Paterson Inlet, and Pearl , Anchorage , and Noble Island , close to Port Pegasus in Stewart Island's southwest.


Captain Cook was the first European to sight the island, but he thought it was attached to the South Island so named it South Cape in 1770. Europeans realised it was an island at the beginning of the 19th century. It was named after Captain William Stewart, who in 1809 was the first to chart it.


The only town is Oban, which is located at Half Moon Bay.

A previous settlement, Point Pegasus , once boasted several stores and a post office, and was located on the southern coast of the island. It is now uninhabited, and is only accessible by boat or by an arduous hike across the island.

Communications and economy

A regular passenger ferry service runs between Bluff and Oban. There is an air link with Invercargill Airport. Planes also land on the sand at Mason Bay.

Although some tourism, forestry, and farming takes place on Stewart Island, the main industry is fishing. Over 80% of the island is set aside as Rakiura National Park, New Zealand's newest national park.


In local government terms, the island is part of Southland District. However, it shares with some other islands a certain relaxation in some of the rules governing daily activities. For example, every transport service operated solely on Great Barrier Island, the Chatham Islands, or Stewart Island is exempt from section 70C of the Transport Act 1962 (the requirements for drivers to maintain driving-hours logbooks). Drivers subject to section 70B must nevertheless keep record of their driving hours in some form. See New Zealand Gazette 14 August 2003.

On 1 April 2005 TV3's Campbell Live show reported that the New Zealand government planned to sell a large part of the island to the United States, to host an air base supporting their operations in Antarctica. In the following show, the presenter John Campbell said that confused staff at the Prime Minister's office had contacted them after receiving several complaints from the public about these plans. Campbell confirmed that the story was actually an April Fool's Day hoax.

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Last updated: 08-18-2005 23:33:35