Stewart Island offers unparalleled walking and tramping opportunities. Trampers will go through undisturbed native vegetation and see hundreds of birds. It is important to remember that rain falls on Stewart Island about 275 days of the year, so bring good waterproof clothing. The weather is very changeable, often swinging from rain to warm sun in the space of an hour. Track surfaces are varied and include long sections of boardwalk, which protects the native vegetation. Some tracks also include long stretches of deep mud, so wear sturdy boots. Contact the DOC for more information.
Anyone staying in huts on Stewart Island must pay hut fees. You need to purchase a Great Walks Pass, hut tickets, or an annual hut pass from the DOC. Comfortable huts are conveniently spaced along the tracks (ranging in size from 6 to 24 bunks), but they're packed in summer. There's a 2-night maximum stay in any one hut, and you can use tents as well. You will be fined a surcharge if you are found using the huts without a Great Walks Pass.
The Rakiura Track is one of the DOC's eight identified Great Walks of New Zealand. The 36km (22-mile) track requires a moderate fitness level and can be comfortably hiked in 3 days, year-round. The circuit follows the open coast, climbs over a 300m (980-ft.) forested ridge, and traverses the sheltered shores of Paterson Inlet. Huts cost NZ$15 per person per night, campsites NZ$5 per person per night.
The North West Circuit requires a much greater level of fitness and is recommended for experienced trampers, who need to be completely self-sufficient and prepared for 7 hours of tramping a day for 10 days. This track has long stretches of mud and is dangerous once snow falls. It takes in the northern third of the island and the island's highest peak, Mount Anglem (980m/3,200 ft.). A North West Circuit Pass costs NZ$50 and allows 1 night in each hut on the North West Circuit Track, including the Great Walks huts at Port William and North Arm. Backcountry hut tickets (NZ$5 per night), or a Backcountry Pass (NZ$90), may be used on the North West and the Southern Circuit Tracks, but separate passes must be purchased for the Great Walks huts (NZ$15 per night).
The Southern Circuit, which can be added to the above or done separately, is more of a wilderness experience that requires 6 to 7 days of tramping. It requires a much higher level of fitness and some orientation skills.
Stewart Island Day Walks range from 15 minutes to 7 hours and spread out in a number of directions from Oban. They include comfortable walks to Observation Rock, Golden Bay, Lonneckers Bay, Lee Bay, and Ringaringa Beach (a great spot for shell hounds when the tide is right), and longer walks to Maori Beach (7-hr. round-trip) and Garden Mound (5-hr. round-trip).
Ulva Island is one of the best soft-core walking experiences of all. The Department of Conservation recognizes Ulva Island as the "Showcase Project" for its Southland Conservancy, and you can see the results of successful pest-eradication and endangered-species enhancement projects at close quarters. Catch a water taxi to the island (NZ$25) per person round-trip for two or more people from Golden Bay, which is a 20-minute walk over the hill from Oban. It's a short boat trip to somewhere close to paradise - a protected place where you can see rare birds and plants up close without harming them. The island has an 11km (6 3/4-mile) coastline, and there are walks from 20 minutes to 3 hours. You can spend several hours on the island - and if you're a keen photographer or naturalist, you'll want to - and arrange your return pickup with the water taxi when you land.
Walking -- Three companies offer excellent trekking options in various parts of Stewart Island. Ruggedy Range Wilderness Experience (tel. 03/219-1066; www.ruggedyrange.com) has trips to Ulva Island for NZ$110 to NZ$190, a kiwi-spotting adventure in Mason Bay for NZ$435 to NZ$835, and a 1-day coastal highlights hike on the Rakiura Great Walk for NZ$210 per person. Ulva's Guided Walks (tel. 03/219-1216; www.ulva.co.nz) has half-day guided walks on Ulva Island for NZ$110, which includes the water-taxi fare. Ulva has a terrific sense of humor and an incredible local knowledge, and she'll give you a rare insight into the birds and Maori history of the area. She also offers a half-day Port William guided walk for NZ$120. Kiwi Wilderness Walks (tel. 021/359-592; www.nzwalk.com) has 5-day walks that depart from Riverton (near Invercargill) for Mason Bay on Stewart Island, including sea kayaking and kiwi spotting, from NZ$1,500 per person.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.