The Island is named for William Stewart. In 1809 he was aboard the “Pegasus”, sailing from Port Jackson, Australia, on a sealing expedition. While the boat was in the large south eastern harbour which now bears it’s name (Pegasus), William Stewart began charting the southern coasts, and his work is acknowledged by the Island’s name. The National park is known by one of the Maori names given to the Island. Rakiura recalls glowing sunrises, sunsets, and the aurora australis, or Southern Lights, and comprises 85% of the island.
Stewart Island, the southern-most island of New Zealand, shows as a dot on the map (if it appears at all). Don’t be fooled. Stewart Island is large, 64 km long, and 40 km across (at its widest point). It has a 700 km coastline, but there are only 20 km of roads!
Stewart Island is made of granite, some of the oldest rock in New Zealand. A wide range of minerals are present, though not in commercial quantities. Tin was mined at Port Pegasus for a few years in the 1890’s. There’s black iron sand on some beaches, others are white with quartz or red with garnet. Most beaches are gold, sparkling in the sun. Don’t bother bring a gold-pan though – it’s mainly “fool’s gold”!
Climate is mild, and a trifle damp. Not to worry, without rain, there wouldn’t be rain-forest! The eastern lowlands are forest, right to the water’s edge. A canopy of Kamahi is pierced by majestic Rimu and Miro. Lianes and lush fern growth adorn the bush interior.
The forest is a haven for bird-life, as there are fewer predators than on the mainland. Kaka, Parakeets, Tui, and Bellbird give a wonderful dawn chorus in spring. New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi is found all round the Island.