Danny Yee >> Bushwalking & Travel >> Otago, Southland, Fiordland (New Zealand)

Ulva Island (Stewart Island)

Tuesday 4th February

We drove to Bluff (27km from Invercargill), left the car in storage, and caught the ferry across Foveaux Straight. Neither of us were sick, but it was rough enough that I thought I might be.

a strangler fig
We had barely more than 48 hours on Stewart Island - we arrived on the 9.30am ferry from Bluff, and were leaving on the 3pm ferry two days later. So on arrival in Half Moon Bay we went straight to the DOC office and bought our hut tickets for the Rakiura Track, then booked a water taxi to take us to Ulva Island and pick us up three and a half hours later.

Ulva Island is really lovely - worth spending a whole day on, if you have the time. It's cool under the podocarp forest, and 4km or so of well-formed tracks make for easy walking. The flora is fascinating, with all kinds of mosses and ferns and trees and epiphytes, and there are great views from the beaches, especially of the little islets just off-shore. But it is as a bird sanctuary kept free of predators - one of the few in New Zealand open to the public - that Ulva Island is unique.

one of the little islets off Ulva Island

a weka (cropped)

a weka walks fearlessly between me and Camilla

The most obvious, and certainly the cutest, of the birds are the weka Gallirallus australis, flightless ground birds sometimes mistaken for kiwi but smaller. These were totally fearless, pretty much ignoring us completely, and it's easy to see why they wouldn't cope well with dogs or mustelids. They liked the beaches, but were also rooting in the mulch in the forest.

a Stewart Island robin (cropped)
A New Zealand pigeon (Kereru) made a dramatic appearance, startled from beside the path and perching overhead. Another notable bird was a saddleback (Tieko), seen circling a tree trunk probing for insects. We didn't identify this until two weeks later, when we saw a stuffed one in Canterbury Museum on our last day in New Zealand.

There were also bellbirds, red- and yellow-crowned parakeets, fantails, and a Stewart Island Robin (Touttouwai) which happily investigated when we scratched up some soil. Sitting eating lunch, there were bird noises everywhere and birds flitting through the canopy. We didn't see any Kaka (or kiwi) and only heard many birds - and the 3x zoom on my little camera wasn't enough to get decent photographs of most of those we did see.

a sleeping sea lion
Coming back to the main island, we were pointed at a sea lion on the beach only a hundred metres or so away from the jetty, so we walked over and took a close look from the track just above. Presumably it was a juvenile male not yet ready to challenge for control of females, but he was still pretty damn big. Apparently he hadn't moved at all for a couple of days, probably because he was digesting several hundred kilograms of fish. I couldn't see this one going anywhere in a hurry, but sea lions can apparently run at up to 20km/hour, so I was careful when I ventured onto the beach, staying behind a fallen tree.

Next: Rakiura Track (Stewart Island)
Previous: the Catlins

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