Stewart Island proving a hit with domestic travellers

A tourism operator believes Stewart Island is having its best summer in 30 years.

Rakiura Adventure owner Manfred Herzhoff has been overwhelmed with the number of visitors to the island and said it was one of few businesses benefiting from border closures.

This month, visitor numbers increased by 150 per cent compared with the past six months, and 200% compared with the past two months.

“It is definitely having a rebound of tourism …

“In my 30 years that I have been living here, I have never experienced something like that — it was totally the opposite of my expectation.”

Herzhoff believed the tourism sector had previously dismissed the importance of the domestic market.

“It is awesome but not without some reservation.

“We need to manage the island resources and find a strategy and a balance of lifestyle, income, activities, visitors and residents.”

He said the islanders had created a network to help each other.

When someone was booked out, they referred the visitor to another business.

“We are not competing . . . we are having a co-operative approach.”

Stewart Island Backpackers manager Carol Joy agreed.

She had been referring customers to other accommodation as her 72-bed and tent site was fully booked throughout the holiday period.

“We have so many emails, so many phone calls [from people] wanting accommodation and we have to send them away.

“I would say that we probably have 100 people trying to get here this year.”

This time of the year was usually busy, but this year it had surpassed expectations, she said; operators had had to turn down visitors weeks before the holidays.

Joy said that during the lockdown she was worried about the impact on her business and the others on the island.

“We thought this year would be closed doors.

“This fear is now gone but we still acknowledge that things can change quickly — either can be another lockdown or if all the Kiwis finish their trips around the country.”

This summer she had seen more New Zealand families with children, and elderly couples than before.

“Compared with other places in the world and New Zealand, we are quite fortunate because 70% of people had Stewart Island on their bucket list.”

The numbers were strong elsewhere on the island, too.

The new Rakiura Museum had had more than 800 visitors since its opening on December 1, while Real Journeys, since Boxing Day, had added another daily ferry service to and from the island.

General manager Paul Norris said the company always presented strong numbers this time of the year, but due to a high demand had decided to raise its capacity 30% so more people could enjoy the island.

The extra service would be running daily until February when the company would reassess the services, he said.

“Stewart Island has — no doubt — been busier than probably everyone expected.

“I think we had a lot of people who would like to visit Stewart Island/Rakiura once in their lifetime, so they are finally taking this opportunity.”

That was the case for Irish national Deirdre Kelly, who lives in Wellington.

After having Stewart Island on her list of places to go, she decided to travel south with friends to explore its nature and beauties.

As she had left things to the last minute, she was unable to book any huts during her stay.

However, the hiccup did not spoil her enthusiasm.

“New Zealand is so beautiful and I believe Stewart Island will be no different. I’m expecting a highlight.”

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