Botanists and naturalists have delighted in visiting Stewart Island since the early arrival of Europeans.
Amongst them, in the early 1900's an eminent botanist, Dr Leonard Cockayne carried out a botanical survey of Stewart Island. In his report of 1909, he elaborated on Stewart Island's significance:
"The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon, in temperate regions at any rate, there will be little of primitive Nature left. In the Old World it is practically gone forever. Here then is Stewart Island's prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world..."
Much of the Island is still relatively unmodified and is one of the few areas in New Zealand containing remnants of near pristine native forest abounding in treasures. Our temperate rainforest, is predominantly a southern mixed-hardwood podocarp forest. A variety of tree ferns and ground ferns are readily seen. There are alpine, wetland, dune plants and tussock fields. Delightful little orchids are seen mainly during spring and summer months.
Stewart Island is home to many species of birdlife, some rare, some endangered. For an extensive list of birds see Bird Seen list.
The Stewart Island kiwi, known as the Stewart Island Tokoeka, Apteryx australis lawyri - is one of several varieties of kiwi in New Zealand, all are fully protected. Kiwi are flightless and largely nocturnal. However, the Stewart Island Tokoeka is known to be active during the day and night. A unique bird, that was considered an hoax in the 19th Century and referred to as an "honorary mammal" in the 20th Century, has been adopted as New Zealand's national bird, not surprising for a country unique in itself.
Codfish Island/Whenua Hou is a special nature reserve on the northwest coast of Stewart Island and an important breeding site for critically endangered kakapo, that number about 141. In order to protect kakapo, there is no public access. There are no known kakapo in Stewart Island.
Other Land Birds
Other land birds often seen in Stewart Island include native, endemic and introduced species. More commonly seen are: tui, bellbird, kaka, wood pigeon, grey warbler, fantail, tomtit, red crowned parakeet. Fernbirds are locally common in the wetland areas.
Shore and Wading Birds
The most notable wading bird is the rare Southern New Zealand dotterel, with approximately 200 in existence. It only breeds on the alpine tops of Stewart Island and feeds along our estuaries. During the non-breeding season some migrate to the South Island.
Several species of cormorants, in particular the Stewart Island shag, spotted shag, pied shag, little shag are regularly seen. Variable and pied oystercatchers and white faced heron make their home along our shoreline. Royal spoonbills are also breeding here.
Stewart Island's extensive coastline is an important feeding ground for many sea birds especially albatross both royal and smaller mollymawks. Sooty shearwater visit during the breeding season in large numbers, skua, petrels, prions and terns are also seen.
A variety of penguins live and breed around and in Stewart Island. Closer to Oban, there are common little blue penguin, yellow-eyed penguin and Fiordland crested penguin.
Our clean, nutrient rich waters allow a variety of marine life to exist. New Zealand sea lions and fur seals exist in good numbers, especially where they are not easily disturbed. Whales visit our shores, though sightings are infrequent. A myriad of fish, shellfish and crustaceans live around our shores and amongst the large variety of seaweed.
The Harlequin gecko is only found on Stewart Island. South Island short tailed bats and long tailed bats, and a variety of insects are also found in the area, some of which are endemic.