Saturday, November 27

Rakiura Stewart Island is bolstered by domestic tourism due to the pandemic

Since New Zealanders are unable to travel abroad, they have flocked to the third-largest island of Aotearoa, allowing it to counter the trend of most tourist markets.

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Rakiura Stewart Island.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Rakiura Stewart Island has benefited from a tourism boom due to the pandemic.

Locals said that when the borders were closed in March last year and the country plunged into lockdown, Rakiura faced an uncertain future as tourism, one of its biggest exports, disappeared overnight.

But as New Zealanders were soon allowed to move around the country again, many visited Rakiura for the first time.

The Great South numbers showed that in the few months between late December and mid-May, an estimated 20,000+ people visited and more than two-thirds arrived for the first time.

Stewart Island Rakiura Community Board Chairman Jon Spraggon said many wanted to cross the island off their bucket list.

“With all the New Zealand people coming to the island, we had a boom year,” he said.

“All the accommodation providers were full for months, we had a large number of tourists through the airline and ferry services. I think they all had a pretty good year.”

Stewart Island Promotions President Aaron Joy said the island benefited from two waves of tourists.

“When Covid restrictions were lifted [in May last year] There were still 350,000 international visitors in New Zealand and then New Zealanders realized that international travel was not going to be possible, so we started to see this increase in New Zealanders. “

The Delta outbreak in August and the ongoing blockade of Auckland had dampened demand, but the island was still busy, Joy said.

Operators were still trying to understand the future Covid-19 traffic light system, but hoped New Zealanders would have more freedom to travel, he said.

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Rakiura Stewart Island
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Southland District Council Rakiura District Councilor Bruce Ford said the island had a high level of vaccination and was well prepared to receive fully vaccinated visitors under the traffic light system.

“While I wouldn’t ask for a pandemic, we have the ability to cover all kinds of medical catastrophes, so that’s not a major problem,” he said.

“But people are outside in some fresh air here, they are not crammed into buildings, so I think this is a much healthier environment for visitors to come take a look.”

However, the closed borders meant that the backpacker workforce that normally served the island was gone.

But this past summer, the islanders got stuck, covering multiple jobs and making sure it was a hit.

Ulva Goodwillie, owner and operator of Ulva Guided Tours, said it showed that the community had spirit and that they were ready to welcome all visitors back.

“Our people who come to Rakiura love the whole atmosphere of Rakiura. It is a compact area that covers everything a person needs. So you could be in the ancient forest within a couple of minutes of being away from the coast.”

That was why the island had so much appeal to nature lovers, and that appeal was why Jon Spraggon was confident that a good summer awaited Rakiura, as long as people could travel south.

“If you want to have a rest and a good rest, then come south,” he said.

“You hear all these stories about how cold, bitter and wet Stewart Island is, but we don’t actually have icebergs floating in front of our front door and it’s pretty smooth.”

Spraggon said his only concern was that when the border creaked open, the kiwis would look abroad again instead of looking at what was at the gate.

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