Stewart Island Seabirds – Pelagic Tour

If you have a keen interest in wildlife then this is the tour to get you acquainted with the real Stewart Island locals.

Situated in the unique convergence zone of the Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean and bordering the Southern Ocean, Stewart Island offers great potential to encounter a huge variety of ocean going bird species. Many these species could only be found elsewhere by making a trek to the very remote and restricted Subantarctic Islands.

The seas of Stewart Island are home to penguins, albatross, mollymawks, petrels, cormorants, gulls, terns, skua, and wading birds. Check out the rest of this page to get an idea of what you could encounter on a pelagic tour.

Depending on the day, the weather and your particular interests we might explore the Ulva Island coastline, the Bravo Island group, the Neck, Whero rock, Bench Island and other areas of interest in and around Paterson Inlet/Stewart Island.

Duration: 1.5 hrs (minimum recommended)    Departure: Golden Bay or arranged to suit
Price: from $75pp, per hour           Passengers: minimum 2, maximum 6


Yellow Eyed Penguin
Yellow Eyed Penguin

Yellow Eyed penguins are the largest of the penguins breeding on the New Zealand mainland, being 5kg’s and 65cm tall. They are listed as nationally endangered, with only an estimated 1,700 breeding pairs – 180 of which can be found on Stewart Island. They are deep divers, feeding on species at depths of 40-100m.

Fiordland Crested Penguin
Fiordland Crested Penguin

Firordland Crested penguins are only found in New Zealand,  breeding only on inaccessible areas of Stewart Island and Southland/Fiordland. On average they weigh 4kg’s and are 60cm tall. Successful breeders are known to return to their colonies each year. 

Little Blue Penguin
Little Blue penguin Image © Paul Le Roy by Paul Le Roy

Little Blue’s are the most common penguin living in Stewart Island waters – and as the name suggests, also the smallest variety of penguin in the world.
Little Blue’s forage at sea during the day – either alone or in small groups (rafts) – and return to nesting areas at dusk, congregating rafts comprised of the same individuals who come ashore together each night. They can be spotted on most days within Paterson Inlet.

Albatross & Mollymawks

Several different types of Mollymawks & Albatross can be found skimming Stewart Island’s waters, including – The Wandering/Antipodean Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed/Campbell Island Mollymawk, Buller’s Mollymawk, Shy/White-capped Mollymawk, & Salvin’s/Bounty Island Mollymawk.


An abundant variety of petrels call these waters home, including the Sooty Shearwater/Muttonbird, Buller’s ShearwaterNorthern & Southern Giant Petrel, Antarctic Fulmar, Mottled Petrel, Cook’s Petrel, Cape Petrel, Fairy Prion, Broad-billed Prion, Common Diving Petrel, White-faced Storm PetrelSouth Georgian Diving Petrel, & the Australasian Gannet.


Little Cormorant, Pied Cormorant, Stewart Island/Foveaux Cormorant, & Spotted Cormorants are regularly spotted on pelagic tours. Spending some time watching them swimming and fishing in the beautifully clear water is highly recommended!



Subantarctic Skua

In a category of it’s own, and often spotted alone perched on the highest lookout points, keep your eyes peeled for this oceangoing bird of prey.

Subantarctic Suka - Image © Colin Miskelly
Subantarctic Skua – Image © Colin Miskelly


The coastline and estuaries of the Island are home to two types of Oyster Catcher – the Variable and the South Island Pied, two types of Dotterel – Banded and NZ South Island, a resident population of Royal Spoonbills, White-face Heron, White Heron, and migrating Godwits and Ruddy Turnstones (during the New Zealand summer months).