Island Life

So I’ve been on Stewart Island long enough now to get a good feel for how things work here, and I’ve been here little enough time to still find it all very novel!  Scraping out a comfortable existence on an unforgiving, remote, yet incredibly beautiful paradise located at the bottom of the world is not without it’s challenges .






There are two ways to get to Stewart Island.  It being an island, it’s not too difficult to work out what they are:

  • Stewart Island Ferry:  The ferry travels between the Oban township and Bluff on the mainland several times a day.  It’s a small vessel, with a capacity of around 70 people (no freight or cars).  The crossing can be notoriously rough and takes around an hour.
  • Stewart Island flights: Stewart Island flights are a local company who operate light aircraft flights to Invercargill.  I’ve yet to take a flight but I have heard that on a bad weather day, these flights aren’t for the faint hearted!  Although the views on a clear day can be incredible.  The flight company also offer scenic flights around the Southland and to the more remote parts of Stewart Island.  Until 1988, the flight service was a float plane which pulled up on the beach right in front of the pub.

Both modes of transport are expensive (although locals do get discount), at around $150-200 for a return trip.


  • Cars, tractors, vans, building materials and pretty much everything large and heavy are brought across on the freight ferry which arrives 2-3 times per week.
  • There is a petrol station on the island (it is home to one lonely petrol pump!), but from what I can gather, it’s pretty expensive and exists mostly as a back up as most islanders will have their fuel brought over from the mainland by the drum and decant it themselves.  A lot of islanders own boats as well as vehicles and so this does them for both.
  • There is no public transport or taxi service on the island.  Although the town is relatively small, it’s still a 40-45 minute walk to get from one side to the other.  There are lots of shuttle services around that can be pre-booked, including a tuk tuk if you feel so inclined.  The pub also offer a ‘courtesy car’ service for those who might find the walk home a struggle following on from an afternoon session. There are also a few water taxi services for exploring further afield.
  • There are a lot of hills on Stewart Island, so cycling as mode of transport isn’t all that common.  You can hire an electric bike though, which I plan on doing within the next few weeks.


  • All water on the island comes from recycled rain water.  Each home has a tank which collects the water from the gutters and then recycles it back into the home via a water pump.  I haven’t enquired yet, but from what I’ve witnessed so far, I don’t think that rain shortage is ever an issue.
  • The whole island runs from a diesel powered generator, maintained by ‘the two fellas’ at the power station.  Apparently this is a fairly recent development – until the mid-80s each home was powered by it’s own generator.
  • Gas is provided via gas bottles (fairly common in New Zealand in general), sent across to the mainland for refilling when needed.


  • There is one nurse on the island who operates clinic hours.  The closest hospital is Invercargill.
  • There is a voluntary St John’s ambulance service on the island, staffed by locals.
  • There is also a voluntary fire service.
  • There is one policeman with a lot of free time on his hands.  Stewart Island is a very, very safe place.  And this is not me being complacent.  Small town New Zealand is still a bit like small town UK in the 60s, where no one locks their doors and everyone is very trusting.  Well on Stewart Island, it’s almost considered an insult if you lock your car or your house, as it’s seen as though you don’t trust the community.  The other side is that if anyone did commit a crime of any kind, there’s nowhere for them to go – and the whole community would know about it and have them hunted down within about 20 minutes anyway!


  • There is a pub.  The only pub.  They have a quiz night every Sunday and the odd live music night.  Wander in for a refreshing pint after a hike and you’ll always find someone to chat to.  Hang around in beer garden on a nice evening and you’ll be able to watch the sun set across the harbour – it’s a good a pub as any other.
  • There are two restaurants – the South Sea Hotel restaurant (same venue as the pub) and Churchills.  Both are known for their seafood, and Churchills is the one reserved for special occasions.
  • If you want to be naughty and eat out, other than the hotel and Churchills, there are really only two other options:  Kai Kart fish and chip stand  (which is excellent!) and Kiwi Crepe Cafe (a coffee shop/cafe specialising in crepes and omelettes – also very good but closes at 5pm).
Classic NZ Fish & Chips with a cheeky can of L&P 😉
  • There is a cinema!  But before you get too excited, it does show the same film three times a day…which is actually a lovely little film.  It’s a movie about Stewart Island told from the perspective of a wee dog.  And then after the film is finished, you can meet, Lola, the star of the show.  The theatre does show a selected independent movie for a few nights each month.  It’s a beautiful little movie theatre – it would just be great if I could visit more than once a month!
  • There is also a gym.  When you join the gym, instead of a membership card you get a key for the building.  It’s a pretty basic gym but does the job.
  • There is also a golf course, a rugby pitch and an indoor gymnasium, if you are interested in such things.


  • There is one small but well stocked shop.  It is possible to order from one of the bigger supermarkets on the mainland, however the delivery charges are pretty steep.
  • Unlike the majority of the rest of New Zealand, some shops are cash only and can’t take EFTPOS (chip and pin).  There is one very temperamental ATM and it only accepts New Zealand bank cards, so money can be an issue for tourists.
  • In terms of shops, there is an outdoor shop (where I work), a gift shop and specialist boutique clothes shop – and that’s it.
  • There is no postman – all mail gets delivered to the Post Office (which is also the flight depot) where it needs to be picked up, or to the ferry wharf if it’s a package.
  • There is a phonebook – a real life phonebook that people still use and are listed in!
Public phone booth complete with directory
  • There are two mobile networks that cover Stewart Island (Spark and Vodafone) and you can actually get 3G.
  • The internet is pretty slow as to be expected – however after living in a flat with possibly the slowest internet in Europe whilst I was in London, it’s not too bad. However I don’t have internet in my house, so the lovely people at Stewart Island backpackers let me come and use theirs.

In my own little house, I have a wood and coal fired burner for my hot water – so do feel very traditional when I come in from work in the evening a have to light a fire.  My fire making skills have improved tenfold since being here – so at least I’ve gained one life skill.  As well as having no internet, my house doesn’t have a TV…so I’m definitely getting the chance to catch up on my reading!




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