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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several boat operators are able to take you to Ulva Island and around Paterson Inlet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The island forest is a typical southern New Zealand podocarp mix dominated by rimu, southern rātā and kāmahi, with associated stands of Hall’s tōtara and miro. Southern rātā is the southern equivalent of pohutukawa. Its bright scarlet flowers present a distinctive splash of colour on the island during the summer of good flowering years. The flaky bark and gnarled trunks are distinctive rata features.
Rimu is the tallest of the island’s native trees emerging high above the forest canopy. Around the coastal fringe areas of the forest, smaller shrubs form a buffer with the sea. In the more sheltered areas inside the forest there is a diverse understorey of broadleaf species, as well as a number of tree and ground ferns.
On the beaches, you may come across:
Usually these marine mammals come ashore to rest. Don’t approach them. Keep at least 20 metres away from these animals.
The long Ngāi Tahu presence in Paterson Inlet and Ulva Island is seen by the number of archaeological sites, named features and urupa (burial grounds) in the area. Settlements such as The Neck/Te Wehe a Te Wera were important places for the local pre-European Māori community, and later in the development of the integrated Māori/European communities.
It was visited by Ngāi Tahu Māori as part of their food gathering trips and later housed the first Stewart Island Post Office. It was declared a reserve in 1899.
It was also visited periodically by Ngāi Tahu to strip bark from totara trees for use in storing harvested muttonbirds/titi. Some sites where tōtara trees have been stripped are probably 100 – 200 years old.
In 1872 Charles Traill established a post office in Post Office Bay which was operated until 1923. The old post office, the first in the Stewart Island/Rakiura region, can still be seen behind the privately owned houses near the landing.
Charles Traill and his brother Walter, both Orkney Islanders, established an extensive garden which included radiata pine and other exotic tree species. Some large survivors of their garden are still growing alongside the native forest trees on the island.
In the 1880s the Tourist Department provided funding for the island's tracks. The island became one of New Zealand's first reserves in 1899, when it was officially declared a reserve for the 'Preservation of Native Game and Flora'.
Ulva Island is a predator-free Island off Stewart Island. Find out how the community has worked with DOC to halt the decline of our native birds.
When you walk through the bush alive with birds, you'll begin to understand just what's possible without pests.
From 15 December 2021 eligible people must be fully vaccinated to use DOC accommodation.