Stewart Island/Rakiura

Stewart Island/Rakiura

Stewart Island/Rakiura
NameStewart Island/Rakiura
Population402 (2006)
Land area1,746 km²

Stewart Island"/"Rakiura is the third-largest island of New Zealand. It lies convert|30|km south of South Island, across Foveaux Strait. Its permanent population is slightly fewer than 400 people, most of whom live in the settlement of Oban.

History and naming

Captain Cook was the first European to sight the island in 1770, but he thought it was part of the South Island so he named it South Cape.

The island was named for William W. Stewart who was first officer on the ship "Pegasus", which visited from Port Jackson (Sydney), Australia, in 1809 on a sealing expedition. Stewart charted the large south eastern harbour which now bears the ship's name (Port Pegasus), and determined the northern points of the island, proving that it was an island. He made three further visits to the island from the 1820s to the 1840s. [Foster, Bernard John. " [ Stewart, Captain William W.] ", "An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand", 1966.]

The original Maori name, "Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui", positions Stewart Island/Rakiura firmly at the heart of Maori mythology. Translated as "The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe", it refers to the part played by the island in the legend of Maui and his crew, who from their canoe, the South Island, caught and raised the great fish, North Island.

Rakiura is the more commonly known and used Maori name. It is usually translated as "Glowing Skies", possibly a reference to the sunsets for which it is famous or for the Aurora Australis, the southern lights that are a phenomenon of southern latitudes.

For some, Rakiura is the abbreviated version of Te Rakiura a Te Rakitamau, translated as "great blush of Rakitamau", in reference to the latter's embarrassment when refused the hand in marriage of not one, but two daughters, of an island chief. [cite web|url=|title=Rakiura Track - History|publisher=Department of Conservation|accessdate=2008-06-16] According to Maori legend, a chief on the island named Te Rakitamau was married to a young woman who became terminally ill and implored him to marry her cousin after she died. Te Rakitamau paddled across Te Moana Tapokopoko a Tawhiki (Foveaux Strait) to South Island where the cousin lived, only to discover she was recently married. He blushed with embarrassment so the island was called Te Ura o Te Rakitamau.

In 1841, the island was established as one of the three Provinces of New Zealand, and was named New Leinster. However, the province existed on paper only and was abolished after only five years, and with the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1846 the province became part of New Munster, which entirely included South Island. [cite encyclopedia|url=|title=New Leinster, New Munster, and New Ulster|encyclopedia=Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1966)] When New Munster was abolished in 1853, Stewart Island became part of Otago Province until 1861 when Southland Province split from Otago. In 1876 the provinces were abolished altogether.


The island has an area of 1,746 km². The north is dominated by the swampy valley of the Freshwater River. The river rises close to the northwestern coast and flows southeastwards into the large indentation of Paterson Inlet. The highest peak is Mt. Anglem, close to the northern coast, at a height of convert|979|m. It is one of the peaks in a rim of ridges that surround the Freshwater Valley.

The southern half 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 convert|750|m. In the southeast the land is somewhat lower, and is drained by the valleys of the Toitoi, Lords and Heron rivers. South West Cape in the southwest, is the southernmost point of the main islands of New Zealand.

Mason Bay, on the west side, is notable as a long sandy beach on an island where beaches are typically far more rugged. 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. Notable among these are Ruapuke Island, in Foveaux Strait convert|32|km northeast of Oban; Codfish Island, close to the northwest shore; and Big South Cape Island, off the southwestern tip. The Titi (Muttonbird) Island groups are between Stewart Island/Rakiura and Ruapuke Island, around Big South Cape Island, and off the 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 the southwest.

Two groups of tiny above-water rocks south of Stewart Island/Rakiura are still on the continental shelf: North Trap, a reef of above and below-water rocks at coord|47|22|S|167|55|E fronts the southern shore, about convert|28.2|km southwest by south of the mouth of the Lords River. A convert|1.5|m high rock near the western end and a convert|0.9|m high rock near the eastern end give it the appearance of an overturned boat. South Trap, a reef of above-water rocks convert|1.2|m to convert|1.8|m high and below-water rocks at coord|47|32|S|167|50|E, lies about convert|16.9|km south by west of North Trap.

Geo-magnetic anomaly

Owing to an anomaly in the magnetic latitude contours, this location is well placed for observing Aurora australis.


The only town is Oban, on Half Moon Bay.

A previous settlement, Port 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 accessible only by boat or by an arduous hike through the island. Another site of former settlement is at Port William, a four hour walk around the north coast from Oban, where immigrants from the Shetland Islands settled in the early 1870s. This was unsuccessful, and the settlers left within 1-2 years, most for sawmilling villages elsewhere on the island.

Stewart Island generates its own electricity via a diesel generator and so power is upwards of 5 times more expensive than on mainland New Zealand.

Communications and economy

Fishing was historically the most important industry to the economy of Stewart Island, and while still important, tourism has taken over as the main income for islanders.

A regular passenger ferry service runs between Bluff and Oban.

There is an air link by Stewart Island Flights from Ryan's Creek Aerodrome to Invercargill Airport. Planes also land on the sand at Mason Bay, Doughboy Bay and West Ruggedy Beach.

Although some tourism, forestry, and farming takes place on Stewart Island/Rakiura, 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/Rakiura is exempt from Transport Act 1962, the requirement for commercial drivers to maintain a driving-hours logbook, but they must keep a 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 an April Fool's Day hoax.

From 1841 to 1853 the island was governed as New Leinster, then as part of New Munster. From 1853 it was part of Otago Province.


There are many species of birds on Stewart Island/Rakiura that thrive because of the isolation and protection from predators. These include the Weka, Kākā, Albatrosses, Penguins, Tokoeka, Silvereyes, Fantails, and kereru. The large colonies of Sooty Shearwaters, or muttonbirds on the offshore Muttonbird Islands, are subject to a sustainable harvesting programme managed by Rakiura Maori.

Stewart Island/Rakiura supports a large population of whitetail (Virginia) deer in coastal areas, which are hunted for meat and sport. There is also a small population of red deer confined to the inland parts.


The residents of Stewart Island have held a number of promotional fundraising mock events regarding a Declaration of Independence for the island and to have it renamed by its original name of "RAKIURA".

In the late 1950’s or even the early 1960’s they had a local printer overprint “INDEPENDENT RAKIURA” on 8 values of some earlier New Zealand postage and health stamps. There were also 8 different values from 1d to £1 overprinted on these stamps and they also had their original values blotted out with small black circles. These were sold to collectors with the proceeds helping to refurbish the Rakiura Museum.

Also there was another fundraising effort to raise $6000 for a new swimming pool for the island’s school, by selling 50 cent passports for the newly "independent" island. There was even a mock ceremony featuring the new republic’s flag and a Declaration of Independence on the 31st July 1970.

Obviously these efforts were not serious attempts for independence as Stewart Island remains an integral part of New Zealand. [ [ Stewart Island (New Zealand) ] ]


External links

* [ Stewart Island Promotion Association]
* [ Rakiura National Park]
* [ Stewart Island News]
* [ Stewart Island Flights]
* [ Stewart Island Ferry Services]

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