Stewart Island wears two suits, and when it’s not fishing, it’s tourism. The seafood’s superb, but people don’t make the trip just for the fish and chips.
Getting out in the wilderness makes the flight or ferry worthwhile. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation documents five wilderness tracks, from one that takes nine days or more of serious tramping, to Ulva Island, listed as “Easy”, three hours for the loop.
Guess which one we did?
Ulva Island, it turns out, is named after Ulva, an island in Scotland. (Now there’s a surprise!) It is a bird sanctuary and pretty much mammal-free. An occasional rat finds its way across the choppy waters of Paterson Inlet – and is caught by a network of traps – and seals may take their ease on the shore.
Oh, yes, and parties of humans. There are two private homes on the island – usually empty – but the vast bulk is a conservation area, with tourists brought over by the water taxi for tours along the beautifully-maintained paths through the pristine rainforest.
Options vary, from the bare bones $20 return fare on the water taxi and look around by yourself, to full day walks guided by a local expert.
- Ulva’s Guided Tours – a personal operation headed by Ulva Goodwillie, named after the island.
- Real Journeys – the same group that led our bus tour on Friday. They also run their own cruise around Paterson Inlet, giving the chance to see the island in context.
- Ruggedy Range – Ecotours, promising personal attention from passionate guides. They had a wealth of experiences available, including full and half day tours of Ulva.
After due consideration, we chose Ruggedy, possibly by name alone. We were given a time to meet our guide at Golden Bay Wharf, which turned out to be ten minutes walk over the hill from Oban itself. Our cost for the four-hour tour was $NZ145 each, but this included the water taxi cost, and we really wanted someone knowledgeable to show us the good bits.
Naturally, we filled in the time doing BookCrossing stuff – leaving free books around the waiting area, posing in BookCroosing.com t-shirts, and telling a local reporter what it was all about. There were eight of us, and perhaps we were a little too enthusiastic about our hobby.
Albert had, once again, elected to stay at the backpackers. He was dead tired after the previous evening’s activities.
After a bit, the water taxi appeared from one direction, our guide from another, and we were off, bouncing across Paterson Inlet on the seven-minute crossing.
I have about a thousand photographs from the three cameras I took with me, so perhaps it’s best if I divide the story up into reasonable chunks. Stay tuned; it’s well worth the telling!