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Birds and Beaches: A Trip to Ulva Island

Birds and Beaches: A Trip to Ulva Island

A trip to Ulva Island is a cornerstone of many a Stewart Island holiday, and it’s easy to see why. This tiny island is a predator-free sanctuary for a wide-range of native New Zealand birds and is also home to some great beaches. It’s a short boat ride from Golden Bay and you’ll likely spend a few hours there – keep reading for all the details.

Boat Ride to Ulva Island

We organised a boat to take us over to Ulva Island on a crisp winter morning. The boats leave from Golden Bay, which is a short walk from downtown Oban – it took us around 10-minutes to walk there. Leave a little earlier and stop off at Observation Rock for a sweeping view of Patterson Inlet, Ulva Island and beyond.

It’s a short 7-minute ride to Ulva Island. There are a few different boat options — I’ll explain more at the end of this post. It was calm when we did and we got some great views from the back of the boat. It can get rough though.  

I remember doing this trip as a kid in a small dinghy with my family. It was like glass on the way over, but it got really rough on the way back and my dad had almost no boating experience. We all thought we were going to die. A bit traumatic, but you won’t have issues like that if you book a proper boat!

Post Office Bay

You’ll arrive at Post Office Bay, the sight of an historic post office and a cute little bit of beach. You can’t visit the post office as it’s on private land now. The tracks branch off in various directions from Post Office Bay.

Ulva Island Beaches

I won’t go into too much detail about the tracks on Ulva Island, as it’s such an easy place to explore and there isn’t really a “right” way to go about it. There are tracks heading to the three main beaches – Sydney Cove, West Beach and Boulder Beach. Our favourite was West End Beach – it was such a calm, quiet morning and the sun came out properly just as we arrived at the beach.

Boulder Beach was the next best. The beach itself was a bit rough but the surroundings were stunning and there were a few weka roaming around the sand.

Sydney Cove was nice too and it’s the closest to where the boats drop you off. If you’re only after a short walk this is a good option.

Flagstaff Point Lookout

Just up the hill from Sydney Cove, Flagstaff Point Lookout is the only place you’ll get a proper elevated view on Ulva Island.

Ulva Island Birds

The main reason for visiting Ulva Island is to see native New Zealand birds in a predator-free environment. Ulva Island has been a haven for birds for a while now, becoming predator-free in 1997. Wandering the forest tracks of the interior will yield great bird-watching results. We saw heaps of birds, including weka, tomtits, robins, parakeets and a South Island Saddleback (the only one of them we’ve seen in New Zealand).

By far the most entertaining birds were the robins. They aren’t scared of people at all and will often come right up to you. I was sitting down eating a snack and one jumped onto my hiking boot. It stayed there for a little while before trying to jump onto my knee, which gave me a fright!

A Trip to Ulva Island: The Details

  • The Boats: Boats leave from Golden Bay and there are a few different options. There’s a ferry (it stops in winter) and water taxis which cost around $25 return. You organise a time to come back – I’d say you’d want to spend around three hours on the island, assuming you want to see everything.
  • What about a tour? You can also take tours to Ulva Island, which is probably a good idea if you want the best chance of seeing birds. It’ll obviously cost a bit more though (around $100).
  • Are there kiwis? There are kiwis on Ulva Island, but apparently it’s quite rare to see them. You’ll see plenty of weka though, which look a bit like kiwis.
  • Predator-free environment: Make sure to check your bags for rodents – apparently some have arrived there this way.

Are you planning a trip to Stewart Island? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.

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