Only the Twittering of Birds

By Ulva Goodwillie (Ulva’s Guided Walks)

“The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon there will be little of the primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here, then, is Stewart Island’s prime advantage and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.”
Leonard Cockayne, 1909

From my Mãori ancestors I know that our environment owes its existence to Papatuanuku, our earth mother. She was, in many ways, more visually sophisticated than we, crafting her existence in verdant green ngahere (forests) and swirling blues of the oceans and waters. She not only supplied an abundant resource for our material wants, but food and medicinal values of her creation were readily available.

My European ancestor Charlie Goodwillie came from the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, five generations ago and married into the Waitaha/Katimoemoe community. He was among the teams of sealers and whalers that escaped the dreadful lives they were living to try and find a better life on the other side of the world. I don’t think they were particularly good men – pretty rough would probably be a generous description, but they were closely connected to the environment in which they were forced to work and live. There was trading with Australia and around New Zealand with timber and seal skins, long before settlers arrived in the rest of the country.

I carry with me the lessons handed down to me by both sides of my family.
The memories passed on by our elders have been inspired by inward images of times past; our generations have been gifted the understanding, responsibility of protection, care and safeguarding of our precious given environment. A universal and familiar term used today is Kaitiakitanga which is a word capable of covering all of the above.

Our commitment to protection and care of Papatuanuku is an intrinsic part of our being. Ulva’s Guided Walks on Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary on Stewart Island is the loveliest way that I and my team of dedicated local guides could possibly dream of to ensure visitors share our delight in rare and endangered endemic and native flora and fauna.

We have been so incredibly fortunate in having Rakiura/Land of the Glowing Skies or Stewart Island gifted to us by Papatuanuku as the least modified island in the Aotearoa archipelago. Only two percent of the Island is inhabited in the township of Oban or Halfmoon Bay, the remainder is made up of Rakiura Mãori Land which is the Department of Conservation’s biggest neighbour next to Rakiura National Park.
A renaissance in eco-tourism has seen a global movement towards sustainability for our environment, and a huge effort in trying to save what we have left after lifetimes of trying to destroy what was willingly given to us. In our own case, the process has been painstaking. It took about six years to rid Ulva Island of rats; the island was grid-marked and a bait station was located every 50m. Each bait station had an egg and peanut butter; the trap placed in front so the rat had to get over the trap to get to the egg. Even after the success of the initial eradication programme there is still at least one rat caught every year from a passing vessel; rats can swim up to 500m. We have bait stations very close all around the perimeter of the island just because of boats that moor, or pass by.

An old saying but true (from the Scottish side of my heritage!), is that:
‘if everyone their own front step sweeps, the village will be clean.’

We take this to heart, believing that by taking responsibility for our own environmental quality we can also set an example that others may see the wisdom in following. Stewart Island seems to attract visitors that are aware and interested in our environment – and if we can pass on our Kaitiakitanga ethics to them, minimal impact on nature and sustainability for future generations will be passed on, along with the sustainable world that it provides.

The successful efforts on Ulva Island are the result of a joint concern between the larger community and the Department of Conservation. Without the Rakiura Department of Conservation, Stewart Island would not be the ecologically friendly tourism destination it is today. Without their commitment, much of our rugged grandeur would be too huge for us to protect on our own. We have a community-based Stewart Island/Rakiura Community and Environment Trust (SIRCET) (www.sircet.org.nz). The Trust has a number of ongoing environmental projects which are very well supported by the local community and businesses. These include:

• The Halfmoon Bay Habitat Restoration Project

A trapping and restoration programme in which volunteers of all types, from retirees to hunters, mothers and business owners are working together to create an open sanctuary in our backyards and gardens, along our local walks and on the beaches around our main township of Halfmoon Bay to extend the pest-free environment and to reintroduce threatened native species. The process involves the voluntary removal of private property boundary fences. The intent is to produce a future town in which the inhabitants can live amongst abundant populations of currently threatened species.

• Rakiura Environment Centre

An unmanned information centre providing visitor information on conservation projects, walks and environmental pointers.

• Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Native Plant Nursery

A native plant nursery providing an avenue for replacing unwanted plants with suitable native species. The Department of Conservation, offer native plants to re-landscape areas where weed control has removed existing plants in gardens. The nursery is well supported by the community with an increase in native gardens a direct result of the easy availability of the plants.

• Scoping Study to eradicate rats and feral cats from Stewart Island

A project started in July 2007 which aims to involve the community in the decision-making process on the feasibility of eradicating rats and feral cats, then possibly possums from Stewart Island/Rakiura in its entirety.
Already the elimination of introduced predators has made Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary an icon in the bird-lover world. Our manu (birdlife) is part of what sustains us as a tourism destination, and the existence of the Stewart Island Restoration Trust is at the forefront of regaining the modified areas of Stewart Island into a predator-free environment even in the village of Oban.

“Stewart Island anchors more than Maui’s canoe. It anchors in its rocks, rivers and rugged shores, and in its garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist.”
Neville Peat, 1992

Rakiura has a granite base – which strengthens and fortifies the story of our superhero, Maui. He put down the anchor (Rakiura) to hold his waka in place (South Island) while he fished up the fish (North Island). It would be an unfortunate day indeed if the remainder of Aotearoa disregarded our status in her archipelago; if we were ever cut off from the rest of New Zealand which is mainly volcanic rock, they would merely float away ...