Diver at Ulva Island Marine Reserve
Image: Vincent Zintzen ©


Enjoy snorkelling and kayaking to explore the reserve’s marine wildlife. It has crystal clear waters teeming with fish, penguins and a variety of marine flora.


Place overview


  • Diving and snorkelling
  • Kayaking and canoeing
  • Marine reserves
    Protect our marine reserves

    They are special places that protect the species and habitats within them.

    • No fishing of any kind
    • Don't take or kill marine life
    • Don't remove or disturb any marine life or materials
    • Don't feed fish - it disturbs their natural behaviour
    • Take care when anchoring to avoid damaging the sea floor
    • Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) to report any illegal activity

In this section

Find things to do Ulva Island-Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve


Diving and snorkelling

The best snorkelling is found at 5-12 m depth off the north end of Sydney Cove beach on Ulva Island. You will need to wear a wetsuit as the average February temperature is 12ºC dropping to 8ºC in July.

Use a flashlight to illuminate the colourful array of life hiding below the kelp canopy, and carry a dive knife in case you become entangled in the giant kelp forest – but no catch bags or fishing spears. 

Kayaking and canoeing

The southern coast of Ulva Island is best for kayaking and canoeing. Visitors will often see fur seals, sea lions and yellow eyed penguins.

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    Paterson Inlet/Whaka ā Te Wera is a shallow ria – an ancient river valley that has been submerged – and provides one of the largest sheltered harbours in southern New Zealand.

    Because the rivers that flow into it drain from pristine, undeveloped land, they carry little sediment or nutrient run-off. As a result, inlet waters nurture a prolific range of plants and animals.

    Paterson Inlet is also an important habitat and nursery for at least 56 species of marine fish. The mixing of warm, subtropical and cool waters in the currents around Stewart Island/Rakiura has created an environment with similarities to both regions, and adds to the diversity of species found within the inlet.

    The inlet is home to brachiopod species that live both on rock and sediment, thriving at depths of less than 20 m. This makes it one of the richest and most accessible brachiopod habitats in the world. Brachiopods (lamp shells) are the most ancient of filter feeding shellfish. They were abundant in prehistoric oceans 300 to 550 million years ago. Today their fossils are common but living examples are comparatively rare.

    Stewart Island/Rakiura has more varieties of seaweed than anywhere else in New Zealand. Paterson Inlet is home to 70% of them, including 56 brown, 31 green and 174 red species. Meadows of small red seaweed grow on the sand. They help to stabilise sediment as well as providing an important shelter for scallops, and a surface for spat to settle on.

    Getting there

    Ulva Island-Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve is located in the outer portion of Paterson Inlet, on Stewart Island/Rakiura’s east coast.

    Maps and boundaries.

    Know before you go

    • No fishing or taking or disturbing anything found naturally in the reserve.
    • No feeding fish because it disturbs their natural feeding behaviour.
    • No discharging of any pollutants or ballast water in the reserve
    • No introducing of living organisms to the reserve 

    The marine reserve is surrounded by Te Whaka a Te Wera/ Paterson Inlet Mataitai Reserve. The mataitai reserve prohibits commercial fishing and manages fisheries levels to ensure the sustainability of this important Maori fishing and food gathering area. 


    Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 219 0009
    Email:   stewartisland@doc.govt.nz
    Address:   15 Main Road
    Stewart Island 9818
    Full office details
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