Visitors numbers to island rise by 20%

Oban township on Stewart Island has experienced a bumper summer season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Oban township on Stewart Island has experienced a bumper summer season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Stewart Island is continuing to lay out the welcome mat — but this time it is foreign shoes which appear to be landing on it.

The island has just experienced a bumper summer season.

An increase of 6874 visitors was recorded for the February 2023-January 2024 period over the previous period — a 20% rise.

When borders were shut because of Covid, island tourist operators were fearful no-one would visit.

But many New Zealanders, especially from the North Island, headed south to Stewart Island for a holiday and the island enjoyed some busy times.

Now, there appears to be fewer New Zealanders making the journey across Foveaux Strait but they have been replaced by those from further afield. The increase is also a boon for the island as the visitor levy was increased from $5 to $10 last October.

That has led to a rise in levy income of more than $100,000 or a 68% increase from the previous period.

Southland District councillor Jon Spraggon, who represents the Stewart Island ward, said the influx of visitors had boosted income for the island’s hospitality industry.

"The island has certainly been busy and it has really bounced back. It’s been very hard to get accommodation even through to early May this year."

Mr Spraggon said the additional income from the visitor levy was welcome as it allowed the community to establish better infrastructure on the island which he was looking forward to seeing completed.

Establishing a safer walking track from Halfmoon Bay to Golden Bay was high on the list of priorities.

"The Golden Bay wharf is definitely high on the list ... They’re just finalising costs and things for them at the moment."

Accommodation remained heavily booked.

"It’s been a really good season, but people are just starting to get a little tired."

He believed the return of cruise ships to the island boosted the visitor numbers, however it was only disembarking passengers who paid a levy.

Those passengers also contributed to other aspects of the island’s tourist economy.

"There’s still a shortage on the island of places for meals.

"You’ve only got to look at the peak times and the numbers going into the hotel for a meal — that’s phenomenal."

South Seas Hotel owner Helen Cave said it had been a good season but declined to comment further.

Bay Motel manager Vicki Robertson had only been managing the hotel for four months but confirmed the motel had been steadily booked to capacity for this season.

Since her arrival she had frequently hosted visitors from North America, Germany and the Netherlands.

She did expect bookings to slow during the winter months.

The Old Butcher Shop Cafe and Jensen Bay House co-owner Ulrike Herzhoff said she had opened her cafe during the notably busy season last year.

More tourists had come to her cafe but it may have been due to a mixture of higher tourist numbers or because the cafe had grown and improved what it was doing, she said.

"But there was definitely more people around and we also noticed that in our accommodation."

Mrs Herzhoff has owned Jensen Bay House for the past 10 years.

"We were solidly booked until the end of March. It was certainly busy and a wee bit tiring because there’s obviously a lot happening."

She had noticed a decrease in New Zealand and Australian travellers.

"It’s been mainly Europeans, especially Germans, Swiss and North American."

She expected Ulva Island’s closure due to rodent infestation would have a significant impact on visitor numbers.

It was vital to keep Ulva Island open, she said.

By Toni McDonald