Backgrounder: Ulva Island

A pristine forested jewel, Ulva Island lies within Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island.

A pristine forested jewel, Ulva Island lies within Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island. It is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and supported by the Ulva Island Charitable Trust as an open island sanctuary that anyone can visit.  

Ulva Island is an outstanding example of the contribution that conservation makes to New Zealand’s economy as 75% of tourists who visit Stewart Island also make the boat trip over to Ulva Island during their stay. About 40,000 tourists visit Stewart Island each year.

Open bird sanctuary

Ulva Island’s 270-hectares of protected unspoiled rainforest is a living example of how New Zealand once was. 

One of a few pest-free open bird sanctuaries in New Zealand, Ulva’s forest offers close encounters with rare birds and plants in a safe environment little changed by human activity and free of introduced predators. 

Ulva Island’s forest was never milled for timber as it was made a reserve in 1892 and has been free of introduced predators since 1997, thanks to the conservation efforts of DOC (Department of Conservation). This relatively unmodified environment makes Ulva Island important for the conservation of threatened species. 

Threatened native species that are now flourishing in this safe haven include populations of birds such as saddleback/tieke and yellowhead/mohua – species now rarely seen on mainland New Zealand due to predation by introduced mammals.

In 1992, DOC instigated a pest eradication programme to remove possums, rats, feral cats and deer and in 1997 the island was declared pest-free. Biosecurity is strict on the island – the arrival of a single pregnant rat could undo 23 years of work.

Ulva Island is significant as an example of leading edge island conservation management. This pest eradication project has been an invaluable advance of knowledge and skills that is now used to remove pest species from other offshore islands around New Zealand.

Marine reserve

Ulva Island is surrounded by the Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara marine reserve. Within this reserve, all marine life is fully protected, providing an ideal sanctuary for species to flourish. It teems with life and is home to 70% of the seaweed species found in New Zealand. The crystal clear water is popular for snorkelling and kayaking.

Rakiura National Park

Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island is one of 14 National Parks managed by DOC throughout New Zealand. It covers 157,000 ha or 85% of Stewart Island. Tramping (hiking), hunting, fishing, boating, diving and snorkelling are the main activities within the park. The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s nine great walks. 

Kiwis & bird watching

Stewart Island’s birds, and especially its kiwi, attract bird watchers from all over the world. With an absence of mustelids (ferrets, stoats and weasels), it is an ideal place to bird watch. Visitors are more likely to see birds at close proximity because of the conservation efforts.

The island is home to about 16,000 Stewart Island/Rakiura tokoeka, the only kiwi known to forage for food during the day. The Rakiura tokoeka differ from those in other parts of New Zealand (Fiordland and Haast) in that they live in close family groups for an extended period and are protective of one another.