Just off the coast of Stewart Island lies Ulva Island, a pest free bird sanctuary covered in rainforest and lined with white sandy beaches. We heard a lot about this place and were told that it is supposedly the only place in the world where wild kiwi birds are occasionally spotted during the day. The idea of spotting a wild kiwi bird got us pretty excited so we had to go and check it for ourselves.
How to get to Ulva Island
Ulva Island can only be reached by boat and there are companies offering water taxi rides departing from Oban on Stewart Island. You can walk around Ulva Island by yourself, or book a guided tour to have someone show you around and tell you all about the island and it’s wildlife. We chose to explore Ulva Island by ourselves at our own pace and took the Rakiura Water Taxi there.
Even though kiwi birds have been spotted during daytime on Ulva Island, they are still nocturnal creatures, so to increase our chances of seeing one we took the early morning water taxi. The ride over only takes 7 minutes and we got to enjoy the last bits of a beautiful sunrise before we got to Post Office Bay, the only piece of shore on Ulva Island with a jetty.
From Post Office Bay the walking tracks lead you in a loop over the island. The total length of the tracks on Ulva Island is only 5 km which would normally take you no more than 1,5 hours. However, the people on Stewart Island told us that the best way to spot rare birds is to take your time and walk slow, so we allowed for 4 hours. As soon as you start walking and enter the forest you’ll hear birds singing all around you, and the song is incredible! There is such a variety of sounds, making it sound like there’s an orchestra all around you.
About half an hour in we stop by the side of the track to have a snack and as soon as we sit down a little robin starts hopping around us. This curious cheeky fella isn’t afraid at all and is just too cute not to take pictures off. 20 minutes later the photoshoot with the robin is done and we continue down the track realising that 1,5 hours on the island would indeed be way too short!
Is that a kiwi?!
Shortly after crossing Boulder Beach and getting on the second part of the track we hear some ruffling in the bushes close to the path. Staying as quiet as we can possibly be we wait for whatever is in there to come out and we see a rather big, brown bird with a round body emerge onto the path. A kiwi bird?! No… It is a weka, another flightless bird that at first sight looks a lot like a kiwi bird, but has a much shorter beak and is slightly less round than a kiwi.
We walk on and 5 minutes later we hear a weird rasping noise that almost sounds like snorting and see bushes shaking violently. We have only just enough time to pull out our camera before we see 2 kiwi birds coming straight at us! They are so busy fighting each other that they don’t see us and we literally have to jump out of their way! Before coming to Ulva Island we were hoping to maybe see a glimpse of a kiwi bird through the thick vegetation, but to see 2 of them fighting around us went waaaay above our expectations.
A rare sighting
After we calm down from the excitement we walk to the next beach where two DoC (Department of Conservation) rangers have just spotted a sea lion. We’ve ran into the same rangers a few times before on the track where they taught us the names of the birds we saw and heard as we know next to nothing about birds ourselves. We show them a video of the kiwi encounter we just had and they emphasize how extremely lucky we are to have seen this, as they haven’t had an encounter like this themselves and they are on Ulva Island almost daily!
On the way back to Post Office Bay we cross the Sydney Cove beach. There are some people swimming on one end of the cove and on the other end there’s a tree swing that Tom of course can’t resist swinging on.
As we are waiting for the water taxi to pick us up for the ride back to Oban we exchange stories about our experience on Ulva Island with other people waiting. A couple tells us that they have seen a kiwi bird as well and on the boat ride back we hear about a group of people that did a guided tour and saw two kiwi birds, possibly even the same two we saw. This leaves us convinced that if you want to see a wild kiwi bird, Ulva Island is the place to go!
Have you ever seen a wild kiwi bird yourself? Let us know about your encounter in the comments below. Curious about what else Stewart Island has to offer? Read our post on what to do on Stewart Island.