Ulva Island, in Stewart Island Rakiura’s Paterson Inlet, is one of the country’s southernmost marine reserves.
It has crystal clear waters teeming with fish, penguins and a variety of marine flora, and offers snorkelling and kayaking opportunities.
Paterson Inlet Whaka a Te Wera is a shallow ria – an ancient river valley that has been submerged – and provides one of the largest sheltered harbours in southern New Zealand. Because the rivers that flow into it drain from pristine, undeveloped land, they carry little sediment or nutrient run-off. As a result, the inlet’s waters nurture a prolific range of plants and animals.
Paterson Inlet is also an important habitat and nursery for at least 56 species of marine fish. The mixing of warm, subtropical and cool waters in the currents around Stewart Island Rakiura has created an environment adds to the diversity of species found within the inlet.
The inlet is home to brachiopod species that live both on rock and sediment, thriving at depths of less than 20 metres. This makes it one of the richest and most accessible brachiopod habitats in the world. Brachiopods (lamp shells) are the most ancient of filter-feeding shellfish. They were abundant in prehistoric oceans 300 to 550 million years ago. Today their fossils are common but living examples are comparatively rare.
Stewart Island Rakiura has more varieties of seaweed than anywhere else in New Zealand.
Paterson Inlet is home to 70 percent of them, including 56 brown, 31 green and 174 red species. Meadows of small red seaweed grow on the sand. They help to stabilise sediment as well as providing an important shelter for scallops, and a surface for spat to settle on.
There are guided snorkelling and diving tours available from Oban. The best snorkelling is found at a depth of five–12m off the north end of Sydney Cove beach on Ulva Island. However, you will need to wear a wetsuit: the average water temperature in February is 12 degrees, dropping to eight degrees in July!
The southern coast of Ulva Island is best for kayaking and canoeing. Visitors will often see fur seals, sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins.