- We started on the North Island (population 3.4 million).
- Flew in an airplane (not a jet) to the South Island (population 1 million).
- Took a 9-passenger plane to Stewart Island (population 402).
- And made the crossing to Ulva Island (population 2) in a 9-seat motorboat.
Each move transported us to a more remote setting. The smallest island on our trip, Ulva Island, is an important part of the Rakiura National Park as a protected haven for plants and birds. Rats and stoats plagued New Zealand for years. Rats made their way on ships arriving from foreign ports and stoats were brought over in the mid-1800’s to take care of the growing rabbit population in the country. Within a short time the stoats and rats had turned their attention to the easier-to-catch and eat bird population. New Zealand has undertaken an ambitious program to rid the country, and particularly many of its islands, of the pests. Ulva Island has been (mostly) pest-free since 1997 allowing plants and birds to flourish.
We boarded the boat for the ride to Ulva island with an older couple. He said he’d been coming to the island for 70 years. His grandfather purchased the only cottage remaining on the island and family members still continue to use it. They were the only residents on the island that week.
Hiking trails wove back and forth over the north end of Ulva Island. The old forest looked very healthy, but we recognized few of the many tree and plant species we passed. A very foreign place indeed! Well, not actually, because we are the foreigners in this place.
We heard many birds calling, but we took some time to start spotting them. A kindly guide passed with her small group saw that we were floundering. She told us to look straight up. Voila! Several red-crowned parakeets flitted from branch to branch. We soon discovered how she knew to look there. A crack in a tree by the trail served these birds as a nest, and the guide knew it.
Many of the birds are monitored, including the little Stewart Island New Zealand robin that came to check us out. We thought his little bird bands added color and flair to his otherwise staid sartorial appearance.
We saw twelve different bird species on our visit to Ulva Island – a rather low number, but we were all happy.
As we hiked, we noted little wooden box traps for rats just off the trail. We saw few people but did pass a park employee with a muzzled dog on a leash and in the lead. They were on patrol since a rat had been caught in a trap the week before.
We’ve never been anywhere quite like Ulva Island. Gorgeous, and remote – it was worth the airplane trips and boat ride to get there.