Awoke at anchor in Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island, to calm seas and a gloriously fine day.
The Maori called the island Te-Punga-o-te Waka-a-Maui, the anchor stone that held the other islands of New Zealand together. The most commonly used name, however, is the Maori name Rakiura, meaning glowing skies, which derives from the sunsets and the effects of the Aurora australis. Metaphorically it serves as one of the great foundation stones of New Zealand’s environmental program, acting as it does as a safe haven for many kinds of wildlife which otherwise would struggle to survive.
Today 90% of the land area is a national park, a place of few people, home to the Maori people from the 13th century. It’s an island of rich resources, native flora, fauna, and seafood. In early 18th century sealers and whalers arrived, and the population peaked in the 1920’s with ‘Rosshavet,’ the Norwegian whaling company, having its southern ocean station in Paterson’s Inlet. Today the island has a small fishing industry but is building an international reputation as an eco-tourism destination with some of New Zealand’s best birding both on land and sea.
With much expectation this morning’s excursion had us ashore on Ulva Island, an open sanctuary managed by the Department of Conservation, which has been cleared of introduced mammals. The practice of re-introducing endangered species to offshore islands such as Ulva, where rats were eradicated in 1996, not only serves as an important management tool, but allows the public to experience what New Zealand’s forest ecosystems must have been like before humans arrived. Unfortunately Norwegian rats found their way ashore again in late 2010 (they are able to swim at least a mile) but now, after an extensive program again by the Department of Conservation (New Zealand’s national park service) the island is again predator free.
The University of Otago, in collaboration with DOC and the Ulva Island Trust, is undergoing an extensive study of the role of inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity in island re-introduction programs. The information gained through this ongoing research is of immense importance to our whole island’s re-population programs.
This afternoon many took the opportunity for a bus tour of the islands, 17 miles of road, stopping off at the small township of Oban along the way.
The ship lifted anchor at 1600 for our steam north to Dunedin.