Stewart Island Was The Gateway to Ulva Island
Spending time on Ulva Island was our key reason for going to Stewart Island.
STEWART & ULVA ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND
The day was bright and sunny and the water calm; even so, the ocean swells on the crossing were sufficient enough for Sherrie to keep her eyes trained on the horizon (a trick to ward off her predisposition to sea sickness).
Some time was spent at Stewart Island Information Center, in Oban, looking through their accommodation book; the ones we had considered were booked. We finally settled on a little cottage at the top of a hill, on the north side of the harbor, overlooking Halfmoon Bay.
The cottage had some definite drawbacks but it was within walking distance of town and a phone line to which we could connect our lap-top. We dubbed our ‘digs’ “our little hippie hide-a-way”.
Off to Halfmoon Bay’s grocery store to stock up for a three day stay.
Ulva Island is one of several small islands in Paterson Inlet off Stewart Island. The island’s 250 plus hectares is encompassed by 11 kilometers of coastline. The majority of the island is a scenic reserve while several hectares between Flagstaff Point and Sydney Cove, are privately owned. The island is managed by the Department of Conservation as an ‘open sanctuary’. Once common native birds and plants can be observed in natural habitat, at close quarters, by the public, with the understanding visitors do so without inflicting harm on the environment.
Ulva Island is open for day walks only; you are not required to have a guide. No pets allowed and what you bring onto the island you must take from the island; including garbage. As it is a sanctuary for endangered species, visitors are responsible for keeping it safe. Read the Department of Conservation’s webpage as to how to help keep it rat and foreign plant free. Access is by boat, from either Halfmoon Bay or Golden Bay, on Stewart Island/Rakiura. Water taxis, guides and charter boats are available for hire.
Ulva Island’s relatively unmodified state makes it an important island for conservation of threatened species. It is currently free of rats (a dangerous predator in such a delicate environment) but rat traps are still very much a part of the ongoing vigilance. There have never been possums on Ulva or bird-eating stoats and ferrets. With no deer or rats, nature is free to function the way it has for millennia.
A number of the country’s native birds, which have disappeared from much of the mainland regions, can be found on Ulva. The inquisitive weka, New Zealand’s native woodhen, has little fear of people and will approach visitors quite closely. The nocturnal kiwi was a no-show, but we did see numerous birds which, regrettably we failed to capture by camera. [Several shown here are courtesy of others through Creative Commons and Public Domain.]
A cacophony of unfamiliar sounds. Parakeets were particularly ‘chatty’, but we also heard what is best described as construction noise; a Kaka, a large parrot, stripping bark from a tree to expose sap, grubs and insects, while other Kaka were busy gnawing at ferns. Stewart Island robins, released to safety on Ulva in 2000, made an appearance. Our bird identification pamphlet indicated the Bellbird sings ‘If You Knew Susie’; we recognized their song immediately. Kukupa, a very large wood pigeon, swooped through the trees with a whoosh and a few wing flaps. So many species of birds we had never seen before; it would take umpteen afternoons to see the majority of them.
The Saddleback was one we hoped to see. As it nests near the ground and fledglings have an easy time hopping in and out of the nest making noise, as children do in their backyard, they were easy targets for predator rats (who came to the islands via boats). As a result their numbers were decimated. Through the efforts of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, Saddlebacks did not join the list of extinct birds; but it was close. Our booklet indicated the Saddleback was reintroduced to Ulva in 2000 from nearby safe islands, after an absence of about 140 years. Total country number in 2000 was about 700.
The well maintained trails on the island are superb, making the whole walking and gawking experience most pleasurable. Each intersection of pathways is signed; not only with direction indicators but normal walking times as well. We were able to do all tracks within the three hours we were scheduled to be on the island and still had some good “stop-look-and-listen” bird watching time.
Since getting off the water taxi we had only seen two other people until we met a young fellow who also had the Ulva Island bird pamphlet. Like us he too wished to catch a glimpse of a Saddleback. As we stood chatting a bird swooped down and alighted on the trunk of a tree; much like a woodpecker. It was a Saddleback. Not daring to move we stood silently like statues and watched, for perhaps fifteen seconds, and then it was gone. Wonderful. The three of us grinned; quite satisfied with ourselves.
From 1872 to 1923 the local post office (run by the island’s only residents – the Traill family) served the saw-milling, boat building fishing settlements which dotted the inlet. Whenever the irregular mail boat arrived at Ulva, the Traills would raise a flag at Flagstaff Point to alert islanders. With best clothes donned, picking up the mail was very much a social occasion.
We squeezed every little bit of the time on Ulva into our memories ~ the birds, the sounds, the rare and endangered plants – plants such as the rhubarb-looking punui whose seeds are tasty to rats and delicate plants that are now uncommon in the rest of New Zealand because they’re favored by deer. Free from predators Ulva’s vegetation is better able to thrive.
At 4:00 out prearranged water taxi arrived back at Post Office Bay. We returned to our “hippie-hide-away” on the hill and made ourselves a lovely dinner of local blue cod accompanied by steamed vegetables.
Stewart Island seemed like the perfect place to take a vacation from our travels. During extended travel we schedule ‘down time’; time to sleep-in, time to be quiet, time to rest the brain and body and time for some alone-time. Terry went for a morning run on the beach and came across a gorgeous shell nestled in the wet sand.
When he returned he presented it to Sherrie; a thoughtful gesture, a beautiful shell and lovely token of our time on the island. Then he presented her with a second. She was amazed he had found two such beautiful shells, then a third and another and another. “Choose,” he smiled, pleased with her delight.
Stewart Island, with its 400 residents, offers a slower, tranquil pace to visitors. They are rightfully proud of their island, neighboring islands and the connection they have to the sea and to the wildlife which share these lands and waters. Give yourself some ‘island time’; stay awhile.
SIGHTSEEING IN AND AROUND STEWART AND ULVA ISLANDS
DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION – ULVA ISLAND
Webpage: Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara
STEWART ISLAND PROMOTION ASSOCIATION
Check out their website for ‘Things to Do’, ‘Places to Stay’, ‘Eating and Drinking’, plus history and more of what Stewart Island offers; including a direct link to the water taxi/Ulva Island ferry page.
Please note: There is a range of visitor information and booking offices on Stewart Island and mainland New Zealand; there is NOT a government I-SITE on the island, therefore each business promotes their own catalogue of offerings.
Web page: Water Taxis / Ulva Island Ferry / Charters