Ulva Island is one of only a few open, pest-free sanctuaries in New Zealand. Located in Patterson Inlet on Stewart Island, it has been pest-free since 1997 which has enabled native bird species to flourish.
The first visitors to Ulva Island were members of the Ngāi Tahu tribe who often visited the area as part of their food gathering trips. They also used to strip bark from Totara Trees for use in storing harvested muttonbirds. In fact, some sites where tōtara trees are stripped are dated to be nearly 200 years old.
The walk from Oban on Stewart Island to Golden Bay is worth the effort. As Stewart Island isn’t that big, you can walk most places if you’re feeling energetic. Located on the eastern side of the Island, water taxi’s leave Golden Bay for Ulva Island which is another remarkable place worth visiting.
This is the view from Lewis Acker’s stone cottage on Stewart Island looking out to Harrolds Bay. Acker lived quite an amazing life which started in New England, America, around 1815. He then went to sea which brought him to the shores of Aotearoa as a 16 year old. He returned several years later as part of the sealing and whaling industry before purchasing 600 acres of land on Stewart Island from local Maori. It was here in a small bay on Stewart Island that Acker built a remarkable stone, one room, two windowed house where he lived with his wife Mary Pi and eight children until they moved back to the mainland in 1856.
It seems that Acker was a particularly skilled person as not only did he spend time working in the sealing and whaling industry, but he built boats, ran a sawmill, was a river boat pilot and spent time running a farm. At the time of his death in 1885, aged around 70 he had been married twice and was father to 14 children, having outlived six of them.
If you ever find your way to Stewart Island and staying the night in Oban, then the following day you should put some time aside to do the following.
In the morning, from Oban, walk through the village and over the hill to Golden Bay. From there, take a water taxi across Paterson Inlet to Ulva Island, a predator free, wildlife sanctuary. Once you’re at Ulva Island, take the walking track to the West End Beach where you’ll find lots of Weka along with many other bird species and not much else. If you’re lucky, everyone who is walking the island will be off exploring other tracks so I’ll have the whole place to yourself.
When I was there, I was reminded of the Gaelic phrase quietness without loneliness. I knew I wanted to photograph the scene in front of me, I just couldn’t see the finished product. So, I decided to sit and watch until I could see the image I was looking for. 1 minute turned into 2, 2 minutes turned into 10 minutes, 10 minutes turned into 15 minutes when suddenly an idea started forming in my head. Today’s image is the finished result.
If there is one thing I would recommend doing, it’s visiting Stewart Island and staying the night in Oban. While there, you can hike the Rakiura Track, dive with Great White Sharks, visit Ulva Island or get some of the country’s best fish and chips and eat them over looking Halfmoon Bay.
It was late in the day and I had set myself the task of making it up to Observation Rock above the Stewart Island town of Oban before sunset. When I first read the title of Observation Rock, I’d imagined it being the end point of a long, mountain hike in a remote part of the wilderness. Instead, I discovered it was a short 20 minute walk from the town that resulted in magnificent views over Thule and Golden Bay and out to Paterson Inlet. The only issue being the short but steep walk to get there!
Before dawn, The Stewart Island town of Oban must be one of the quietest, inhabited places on earth. It’s a wonderful place and walking the streets in the early hours as the dawn light is starting to appear, it feels like you have the whole place to yourself.
As a settlement, local Maori who often visited the island named it Rakiura, meaning “Land of the Glowing Skies”. After European arrival, the town grew due to the demands of the sealing, whaling, saw-milling and fishing industries.
When I was on Stewart Island I came across this bus that had been parked for some time, yet it held a deep fascination. Maybe it was the advertised ‘Sam and Billy the Bus – take a scenic tour (03) 219 1269’ that was painted on the side. Or, it could have been that you simply don’t see many Ford buses of that vintage anymore. On some level, I think it was a combination of both.
Recently, I discovered ‘Sam’ was a much loved figure and local icon on the Island who spent 20+ years taking people on sight-seeing tours around the Island in his much loved bus, Billy.
At first glance the low cloud that was covering the city in the morning looked like it could clear. However, several hours later it was apparent that the gray rain clouds weren’t going to move anywhere soon, so with that, I decided a trip to the library was in order. Also, just like the large pile of books by the front door, somewhat overdue!
When I got to the library car park it was hard not to notice a 2017 Suzki Swift that seemed to be having a little trouble with steering, reversing, braking, finding the accelerator, doing three point turns and generally not blocking traffic! Parking with caution, I took some time to admire one of the many scaffolding features that seem to be a permanent feature of the inner city before heading for the depth of the library.
If you ever go to Stewart Island, here’s a tip. Leave Oban by walking along the coast road of Elgin Terrace and continue into Leask Bay Road until you reach the very end. There you will find the Ackers Point Track Trailhead which takes you down into the remote Harrold Bay. In the Bay you’ll find the earliest stone house on the island, a small cottage that was built by former American whaler Captain Lewis Acker in 1834-5. It really is a delightful place and well worth a visit. I liked it very much.
On the beach at Lee Bay in Stewart Island, after considerable thought, I came to a single conclusion. I like Stewart Island, and here’s the reason why. Stewart Island has a sum total of around 20 kilometers of roading compared to 245 kilometers of walking tracks. Now, there aren’t many places in the world where you can say that!
I have no idea who made this paua shell sculpture in Oban on Stewart Island or even if it is still there. It sat right beside a large, outdoor chess set that is a popular activity for tourists who are waiting for the ferry. Wanting to find out more about this sculpture I did an online search but drew a blank. So, now I’m left with a photo of a paua shell sculpture but have no other details! Either way, it was very nice and paua shells are always a delight to look at.
Here’s another sculpture, this one’s by artist Russell Beck and was made in 2002. It marks the entrance to Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island. This chain link sculpture symbolises the mythological link between the waka (canoe) of Maui and the anchor stone. According to the legend, Maui fished up Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island) and anchored it with Rakiura (Stewart Island). I also believe they’ve made a matching chain link sculpture on the mainland at Bluff.