Island abuzz with summer travellers

Stewart Island is experiencing an influx of visitors this summer. Photo: File

WHILE many New Zealand tourist destinations struggle to survive the downturn of visitors, Stewart Island is bursting at the seams.

The combination of staffing shortages and swollen visitor numbers has many island residents working extra hard.

Stewart Island Community Board chairman Jon Spraggon said it was fantastic to see the swell of visitors coming to the island but the lack of seasonal staff meant locals were having to work exceptionally long hours to accommodate visitors.

“If we keep going at this rate there will be burn out.”

He believed the population of the island had ballooned from its normal level of 400 people to close to 1000.

The seasonal labour market was traditionally filled by backpackers, but the country’s closed borders had changed that demographic.

Attempts had been made to advertise to North Islanders to attract staff to the tiny island for summer – with little success.

He was unaware of any further visitor accommodation available at any of the island’s usual spots.

Every part of the island’s industries was booming.

Additional flights had been put in place to meet the demand, the charter boats were flat out and the Foveaux Strait ferry was heavily booked, he said.

The region normally saw a large portion of international travellers, but now the visitors were mostly from the North Island.

Kai Kart owner Sue Conner said she had roped in her teenage children to help with the busy periods at her popular fish and chip caravan.

Normally there were three people working in the tiny converted caravan, but recently Mrs Conner was bringing in additional help.

Business had been steady last month, until Boxing Day – when it had become manic.

“It’s been crazy busy. We sold over 60kg of chips last night (January 6)… I would normally sell 10kg of fish (blue cod) a day and at the moment it’s double that.”

Taking scheduled breaks through the day had been part of her strategy to cope with the busy periods.

“At the moment I’m staying open seven days because I am making hay while the sun shines really.”

The domestic tourism market had been keeping the region going.

“Lots of Kiwis are getting out and about. People are coming from all over the place.

“It’s a bucket list thing to do to come to Stewart Island.”

Mr Spraggon said Department of Conservation (Doc) tracks were being well used and the demand for hut accommodation had not been affected by the reports of them having a bed bug issue.

“They were happy to come.

“People appreciated the fact that we told them they were there and took the necessary precautions.”

The bustling island had developed quite a happy buzz.

The region’s annual Great South visitor survey had been providing some invaluable feedback of how the region was performing.

There had been mainly positive feedback on the forms. The poor quality of a section on one of the Doc walking tracks was the one common constructive criticism shared.

Mr Spraggon saw the feedback as a chance to put something right rather than a criticism.