Native forest on Ulva Island
PHOTO:  Martin Sharman | Creative Commons

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Introduction

Visit iconic Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara, off Stewart Island/Rakiura, a beautiful island sanctuary open to the public. Walking through bush vibrant with bird life, you'll begin to understand just what's possible without predators.

Highlights

Iconic Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara is one of the few pest-free open sanctuaries in New Zealand. In this unspoiled rainforest you can see rare birds and plants at close quarters in a safe environment mostly unchanged by human activity and free of introduced animals. 

Never milled and pest-free since 1997, the island offers threatened native species a safe haven in which to flourish. Healthy populations of kiwi, saddleback and yellowhead can be found – birds which often struggle on the mainland.

Place overview

Activities

  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Boating
  • Diving and snorkelling

Facilities

  • Visitor centre
  • Pest free
    Protect our wildlife
    • Check - your gear for pests, eg. rodents, insects, skinks
    • Clean - footwear and gear, removing soil and seeds
    • Seal - ensure your gear is zipped up (no open bags)

    See island biosecurity requirements.

In this section

Find things to do Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara

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Kiwi on the track near West End beach. Photo: Leon Berard.
Kiwi on the track near West End beach

Bird watching

Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara is renowned for its diverse and abundant birdlife including weka, kākā, kākāriki, tūī, bellbirds/korimako, pigeons/kereru, fantails/piwakawaka, saddleback/tieke, rifleman/titipounamu, brown creeper/pīpipi, Stewart Island robin/toutouwai and yellowhead/mohua. Some visitors may even be lucky enough to catch a rare day-time glimpse of the Stewart Island brown kiwi/tokoeka.

Sea lion enjoying a rest.
Sea lion enjoying a rest on Ulva Island

Probably the best time of day to see native birds is early in the morning during springtime, but Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara can be visited at any time during daylight hours, and is open year-round..

Watching other wildlife

New Zealand fur seal/kekeno can sometimes be seen on the rocks round Ulva Island. On the beaches, visitors may come across sea lions/rāpoka/whakahao and occasionally elephant and leopard seals. Usually these marine mammals come ashore to rest. Don't approach them.

Common skinks were transferred to the island from The Old Neck area, across Paterson Inlet, in 2005.

Pristine lush Ulva Island forest.
Walking through pristine Ulva Island forest

The forest on Ulva Island is typical of the area, dominated by rimu, southern rātā and kamahi, but here the diverse understorey of broadleaf and fern is prolific. Visitors are able experience what Stewart Island and other forest in New Zealand would look like without the impact of browsing animals.

All tracks on the island are well formed offering families bird watching opportunities in this pest-free environment. Bring a picnic and stop at beaches to enjoy the views. Sydney Cove has a picnic table and toilet.

Boating

Several boat operators are able to take you to Ulva Island and around Paterson Inlet.

Diving

The best way to view the reserve and its inhabitants is in the water. The rivers that flow into the waters off Ulva Island drain from pristine, undeveloped land and carry little sediment or nutrient run-off, providing prefect visibility for divers.

From land the best snorkelling is found off the north end of Sydney Cove beach on Ulva Island, but wear a wetsuit as the average February temperature is 16ºC dropping to 8ºC in July.

Kayaking and canoeing

This is a great way to explore Paterson Inlet and visit Ulva Island, but there is a biosecurity risk. Check your boat carefully for rats and other stowaways such as weed seeds before setting out.

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    About this place

    Getting there

    Take a short boat ride - accessible by water taxi, Ulva Island is situated inside Paterson Inlet/Whaka a Te Wera, Stewart Island/Rakiura and has a land area of 266.6 hectares and a coastline of about 11 km.

    Most of the island is part of Rakiura National Park and the remaining 7.6 ha, between Post Office Bay and Sydney Cove, while privately owned, is mostly accessible to the public, by agreement with the Hunter family. Respect all signs and keep to paths.

    Access is by boat, from either Halfmoon Bay or Golden Bay, on Stewart Island/Rakiura. Water taxis, guides and charter boats are available.

    Miriam Ritchie and rat-detector dog Moss.
    DOC ranger Miriam Ritchie and rat-detector dog Moss after checking the island for rats

    Know before you go

    Visitors on the way to Ulva Island.
    Visitors photograph penguins on the way to Ulva Island

    • Night visits are not permitted.
    • Dogs are not allowed on Ulva Island. They can kill ground birds.
    • Don't feed the weka! Keep them friendly, not greedy.
    • Take all your rubbish with you when you leave. There are no rubbish bins.
    • There is no public accommodation on the island and camping is not permitted.

    Keep Ulva Island predator-free

    Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara was declared free of rats after a successful eradication programme that began in 1992 and was completed in 1996.

    However, in 2010 a population of Norway rats was found to have established on the island. A major rat re-eradication operation was undertaken and a subsequent extensive survey using a rodent dog in 2012 has shown the island is once again free of rats.

    Ulva Island has high natural values and its relatively unmodified state makes it an important island for the conservation of threatened species.

    Your help is needed

    Norway rat.
    Norway rat

    Rats can stowaway on a boat. Water taxis and tour boats carry poison bait stations to prevent rats getting to the island. Rats can also hitch a ride on private boats or kayaks. Weeds can be a problem too. Weed seeds are very small and can easily be introduced on footwear or in bags.

    • Check your boat/kayak, bags or packs for rats before setting out for the island.
    • Make sure there are no rats on your boat or in your gear.
    • Check your footwear, pockets and Velcro tabs for any seeds that may be hitching a ride. 
    • If you see evidence of rats on Ulva Island, report it immediately to DOC.

    The Ulva Island Charitable Trust raises and manages funds to assist DOC to upgrade tracks and visitor facilities on Ulva Island and help keep it free of introduced pests and predators. See Ulva Island Charitable Trust.

    Contacts

    Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 219 0009
    Address:   15 Main Road
    Stewart Island
    Email:   stewartisland@doc.govt.nz
    Full office details
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