Ulva’s Guided Walks sets standard for symbiosis with host community and environment

As in any industry, there are a number of characters in tourism who can claim they were born into it.

For few, however, is this true in quite the way it is for Ulva Goodwillie, founder and owner of Ulva’s Guided Walks on Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary off Stewart Island.

Since 2000, Stewart Islander Ms Goodwillie has leveraged her local knowledge and that of other Stewart Islanders to offer visitors 4-hour guided walking tours of the unique wildlife and flora on Ulva Island, a forested 2.7km2 island a 7-minute water-taxi ride south of Oban on Stewart Island.

But unlike her other guides, Ulva Goodwillie was not just born in the area, she was named after the very Ulva Island where she now conducts tours, and her family’s ties to the islands are about as deep as anyone’s.

“Both sides of my family are from Stewart Island and their Maori heritage goes back to the first peoples on Rakiura/Stewart Island.  The Scottish side of my family came to Stewart Island six generations ago,” says Ms Goodwillie.

The business maintains a perfect 5.0/5.0 score on TripAdvisor across 92 reviews, and has been called “unmissable” and “phenomenal” by recent visitors.

“Ulva's extensive knowledge was immediately evident with her botanical descriptions and wildlife insights. She brought everything to life,” wrote one reviewer from Auckland.

Others cited an “easy, immediate rapport guided by Ulva's generations-deep knowledge, exceptional observational skills, and warm consideration and humor” and noted that “she [Ulva] is definitely one who truly respects and appreciates nature.”

Respect and consideration of nature is a key part of the tourism vision of Ulva’s Guided Walks, as might be expected from the business’s intimate connection to its place of operation.

Ulva’s Guided Walks is one of the two sponsors of ‘Gadget’, Ulva Island’s Department of Conservation rodent detector dog, who works to ensure that Ulva Island remains the southern-most predator-free bird sanctuary.

Ms Goodwillie sees instilling “a modicum of respect in visitors to our stunning New Zealand environment” as one of the biggest challenges facing New Zealand tourism in 2018.

“Stewart Island just has to remain as pristine as we are and have been. We are serious in our eradication of invasive species, plant and animal.  We need to continue this constant, ongoing conservation activity to maintain our sterling reputation of being the least modified island of the NZ archipelago,” says Ms Goodwillie.

After a very busy summer season, Ulva’s Guided Tours is grateful, however, that their visitors tend to be people already on board with the business’s conservational ethos.

“We are incredibly lucky here – people choose to come to Stewart Island and visit Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary,” says Ms Goodwillie. 

“They aren’t just here on another passing tourism bus; our visitors are all nature lovers, conservation, environment, wildlife, hikers - as well as loving the exceptional scenery and ocean.”