Ulva Island as seen by English Guests at Sails Ashore
Don’t tread on the birds
Our Captain Birdseye lookalike, Peter, dropped us off on the jetty and went to park the boat.
We walked a few steps into the forest and stopped. A hen sized brown bird calmly ambled across the path in front of us. A songbird came and landed on a branch within touching distance of my shoulder. We knew that we were in a magical place.
We had traveled from Oban on Stewart Island to a small island called Ulva. Stewart Island is the closest to Antarctica of New Zealand’s 3 main islands.
Peter, our guide is a native New Zealander and had a job 40 years ago as Forest Ranger on Ulva when the island was plagued by rats.
We love the Isle of Ulva in the Hebrides but this island is so different. It is covered by forest, whereas the Scottish one is traditional West of Scotland, bleak and beautiful but virtually treeless.
As you walk along amongst similar looking trees to ones we know, you come across a clump of tree ferns towering above you, which immediately tells you this is different from anything we know in Europe.
If you crouch down you can see the sumptuous ferns, lichens and tiny orchids which thrive in the warm, damp conditions.
When New Zealand separated from the old continent it didn’t take any ground living mammals with it. Some birds gave up the hassle of building nests in trees as there was no one to eat them and some, like the Kiwi became flightless.
The introduction of rats by settlers meant the eggs of ground nesting birds and seeds of trees were a ready food source.
So, to regenerate the wildlife the rats were gradually eliminated from Ulva. This has meant that the trees can grow from seed again and has allowed the successful reintroduction of 4 native birds. We saw 3 heard the song of the 4th.
But the rats can still swim over to the island and there is a rigorous programme of trapping, fortunately this happens rarely, but they keep alert to maintain this oasis of wildlife.
The track to the bay on the other side of the island is rated at 30 minutes if you don’t stop, but it took us 3 hours as Peter kept finding things to interest us interspersed with his philosophy of the world.
At home our Robin redbreast joins me when I am digging; the native version is black with a grey breast, hops around your feet as you scuff the ground. You can’t rush past, you have to stop, watch and photograph.
We only saw evidence of the activity of the iconic New Zealand symbol, the Kiwi, but no actual bird as they sleep when I am awake and vice versa.
As we walked along the track we disturbed a sleeping owl from its nest hole in a tree. It flew about 10 metres and sat on a branch. As it did so an increasing chorus of alarm calls rippled through the forest from the songbirds that were not used to seeing it in daylight. We watched it for about 10 minutes then, almost as if it had yawned, it took off and glided back to its nest hole to return to sleep. The alarm calls went out again as it moved, and then gradually returned to normal and the forest quietened back down.
We returned to Oban on Peter’s lovely old ketch, seeing some of the relatively common seals and dolphins in these waters but the final highlight was a rare viewing of a yellow eyed penguin swimming through the sound back to the safety of its home on Ulva. A great end to a wonderful day.
Sue & John, …………. UK
The above was written by a recent guest at Sails Ashore, Stewart Island. We always like to see the Island through our guests eyes, and so often they show us things we see each day in a completely different light.
We package the Ulva Tour with accommodation at Sails Ashore . And although we normally have a 2 person minimum number for our tour, we waive this for our own guests, thus guaranteeing a singleton the Ulva Island Experience.