Rakiura National Park - Queenstown
Once here, the main pastime is walking, and the well-laid out Rakiura Track is by far the most popular route
New Zealand's newest national park, on the rough and ruggedly beautiful Stewart Island. Majestic forests, scenic nature reserves and the world's best place to find wild kiwi.
Rakiura National Park covers almost 85% of Stewart Island, at the southernmost tip of the country, 30km from the mainland town of Bluff. It's a magical place of incredible sunrises and sunsets, 245km of walking tracks, and a real haven for some unique wildlife. This is where you stand the best chance of seeing wild kiwi, who seem less shy here, secure in their island hideaway, than on the mainland, so make sure your camera is poised to catch them as they wander the bush.
Around the coast, there are hundreds of inlets and sea caves, where you'll spot seals, penguins and plenty of seabirds, and there are some great boating trips to take you out and about around the hard-to-reach places you'd never normally get to see. Take advantage, too, of the scenic flights, which are the best way to get a real bird's eye view of this stunning natural, almost unspoilt island.
"Rakiura" is what the Maori call Stewart Island, and means "The Land of Glowing Skies". It's no wonder, then, that people flock here to experience the amazing Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights. Although this can be witnessed from many places in New Zealand, standing in the wilds of Stewart Island as nature performs its most spectacular light show, is something a bit special. Oban is the main settlement here and, although not officially part of the national park (and nor is any of the Maori-owned land), it is the obvious destination for those who want to spend more than just a day on Rakiura, and the town has a hotel, a visitor centre, churches, shops and basic facilities to accommodate tourists.
Getting to Rakiura takes just an hour on the ferry from Bluff, or 20 minutes from Invercargill by plane. Once here, the main pastime is walking, and the well-laid out Rakiura Track is by far the most popular route, an all-year-round, moderate-level tramping track, 37km long, and a great way to get your bearings on the island. Other, more challenging tracks, include the North West Circuit, 125km of varying terrain, and the Southern Circuit, the most remote and wild track, which can be combined with the North West Circuit via a short boat hop across the beautiful Paterson Inlet.