Fishing and Diving in Stewart Island

Rakiura Stewart Island offers great fishing and diving amongst beautiful scenery...

Stewart Island, or Rakiura, should be a top bucket list destination for anyone in Aotearoa. It is New Zealand’s third biggest island, located 30km south of Bluff, on the country’s southernmost tip. To get there, you must cross the infamous roaring Foveaux Strait. This wild, untamed island is one of the last frontiers before you reach Antarctica. A truly untouched paradise, with only 400-odd residents living there, as soon as you step foot on the island you feel as if you have travelled back in time. The wilderness of Stewart Island offers you a glimpse of what New Zealand would have looked like before the development and encroachment of civilisation.

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Lush ancient rainforests, long white sandy beaches, and the turquoise-blue crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life can give this place a tropical feel on a nice sunny day. Don’t be fooled though; the water temp can vary from a frigid 14°C to an extra-frigid 7°C. When the sun is not out, the weather conditions can be extremely harsh. Gale-force winds, extremely rough seas, and wet, cold, stormy weather is all part of the Stewart Island experience. A sense of adventure is required when planning a trip to this untamed southern paradise.

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Fishing is a huge part of island life down on Stewart Island. The nutrient-rich cold waters surrounding the island are thriving with marine life, making this one of the most productive fishing grounds in the country. I was lucky enough to spend a few days onboard Gravity Fishing with Nate Smith, a local fisherman and owner/operator of Gravity Fishing. After working in the commercial fishing industry for years and constantly being disappointed with the unsustainability of the industry and the disconnection he felt from nature, Nate ventured off on his own to develop the Gravity Experience and Gravity Model. He piloted one of New Zealand’s first fish-to-order fishery supply chains, cutting out the middlemen and processing centres to provide higher quality whole fish caught sustainably, direct from his boat to his customers. With a mission to reconnect people back to their food sources, he then went on to develop the Gravity Experience, providing one of the best ocean-to-plate experiences in the country, centred around the wild seas of Stewart Island.

Days onboard the Gravity were spent cruising around the island fishing, diving, cooking, and eating. I was fortunate enough to catch my first hāpuku in one of the deep spots on the outskirt of the Island. Some days were calm and sunny, while others were quite the opposite. The topography of Stewart Island provides several safe havens from bad weather – there is always a sheltered spot to anchor up when needed.

I was constantly blown away by the abundance of life in the shallows. There were pāua everywhere, as well as scallops, crayfish, swarms of large blue cod, XL butterfish (also known as greenbone), trumpeters and moki. The sheer biomass of delicious and easily-harvestable seafood is incredible. The kelp forests are stunning and quite literally took my breath away as I dove through them in search of mussels, crays and pāua. Stewart Island is home to more species of seaweed than anywhere else in NZ. These underwater forests are thriving ecosystems of life. Magnificent strands of kelp over 10m tall sway in the waves and currents. Occasionally, a fur seal or even a sea lion will come and check you out underwater; they can be quite cheeky though, so it’s best to be mentally prepared for an inquisitive interaction. There is also a good chance that a seven-gill shark might be lurking somewhere nearby.

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We cooked up our daily bounty onboard the Gravity alongside a chef who masterminded the whole process. We would anchor up in a peaceful inlet at sunset, often watching whitetail deer as they fed on the grassy slopes, listening to the sounds of the native wilderness, and feeling totally disconnected from the hustle and bustle of life back on the mainland.

The fresh scallop, hāpuku, mussel and crayfish chowder we cooked will go down as one of the best eating experiences I have ever had. The opportunity to immerse yourself in an environment like this, to hand-harvest incredible, healthy food while also learning about the local biodiversity and conservation, is so rewarding and powerful.

Rakiura is as wild as it gets.

December 2022 - Davie Du Pavillon
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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