Oban, Stewart Island
PHOTO: Vincent Zintzen © 

Introduction

Stewart Island/Rakiura's main settlement of Oban in Halfmoon Bay offers visitor services and recreation opportunities.

Highlights

From Halfmoon Bay, various facilities, walks and excursions are available, including visits to beautiful Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara Open Sanctuary and access to Rakiura Track Great Walk.

Take time to relax and explore the history and natural features of this southern paradise or take part in the hunting, fishing or diving opportunites available.

Place overview

Activities

  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Walking and tramping

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Bird and wildlife watching

There are many types of birds in the area.

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    Plants

    Kamahi.
    Kamahi

    The tall forest trees around Halfmoon Bay are mainly kāmahi and rimu. Rimu, miro and tōtara provided timber for the early settlers. Kāmahi is the most common tree, with its spreading trunk blotched a whitish colour, and its leaves toothed and slightly waved. Rata is also widespread and in summer it is readily identified by its bright red flowers.

    Mollymawk.
    Mollymawk off the Stewart Island coast

    The forest understorey is composed of lancewood, coprosmas, tree ferns and broadleaf. Fuchsia is common around Halfmoon Bay and is one of New Zealand's few deciduous trees. It has pale, loose, papery bark and handsome, pendulous purple flowers. The nectar is a favourite food for tūī and bellbirds, and pigeons feed on the purple fleshy berry, known as konini.

    Ferns are an attractive and prominent feature of the forest. Many varieties can be found growing on the ground or hanging from trees.

    Birds

    Kiwi. Photo: Leon Berard.
    Kiwi. More common than people!

    For visitors arriving by boat their introduction to Stewart Island's birdlife is often the sight of sooty shearwaters, gulls, Buller's mollymawks, cape pigeons and little penguins.

    Not far from Halfmoon Bay it is easy to see bellbirds, tūī and parakeets. Most island residents boast having these birds, as well as fantails and pigeons in their gardens. Summer evenings resound with the liquid melody of kākā high in the trees or calling across the waters of Paterson Inlet.

    Grey warblers sing in the forest, particularly after rain, and tomtits are commonly encountered on the tracks.

    The tidal areas of Paterson Inlet host a variety of wading birds including New Zealand dotterels, oyster catchers, herons and godwits. Around the seashores close to Halfmoon Bay, particularly at Ringaringa, there is much intertidal life to be discovered in the rock pools.

    There are more kiwi on Stewart Island than people!

    History and culture

    The people

    Halfmoon Bay from Ackers Point track.
    Halfmoon Bay from Ackers Point track

    People here are a little less hurried, much more friendly and a great deal more self-reliant than people in most other places. Many residents are direct descendants of the whalers and early Rakiura Māori, with combined family histories reaching back almost 200 years. Some of the houses built by the early Norwegian whalers are still lived in today, their distinctive alpine architecture somehow no longer out of place in the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean.

    Lewis Acker's stone house.
    Lewis Acker's 1835 stone house

    History

    Oban's Halfmoon Bay has long been the focus of activity on Stewart Island/Rakiura. Visitors to Harrold Bay will see one of the oldest buildings in New Zealand, a stone house built by Lewis Acker in 1835. This was once the scene of ship building activity while Lonnekers Beach and Leask Bay are associated with early whaling and fishing industries.

    Logging tramline, Maori Beach, early 1900s.
    Early 1900s logging tramline at Maori Beach 

    In 1875 the island's first licensed hotel opened at Lonnekers Beach and the giant bluegums seen today were planted.

    The Neck, the narrow peninsula of land at the eastern extremity of Paterson Inlet/Whaka a Te Wera, was also the scene of early activity. A site of Māori habitation, sealers and whalers joined the community early in the 19th Century. In 1864, when the island was sold to the crown The Neck was set aside as land for "half-castes", and grew to become the largest Māori settlement in the area. The Reverend JFH Wohlers, whose memorial at Ringaringa today overlooks his Southland coast parish, served The Neck settlement between 1844 and 1885.

    By 1870 Halfmoon Bay was a small but active township, forming a residential base for fishing and timber industries. Communication and education improved with the establishment of a post office, school and several road links. A telephone cable was laid across Foveaux Strait in 1902 and in 1920 a refrigerator plant provided an important boost to the fishing industry.

    Today blue cod, crayfish and paua fishing, salmon and mussel farming and tourism comprise the island's main industries.

    Getting there

    Visitors arrive in Halfmoon Bay by ferry or, for people who fly, by shuttle from the Ryan's Creek airstrip. The ferry leaves from Bluff and takes one hour while flights to the island leave from Invercargill airport and take 20 minutes.

    Contacts

    Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 219 0009
    Email:   stewartisland@doc.govt.nz
    Address:   15 Main Road
    Stewart Island
    Full office details
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