Stewart Island, Paradise Lost?


During the week on Stewart Island with my family it was easy to believe that the rest of the world didn't exist.  The Island never appears to change, the familiar landmarks are practically as they were when I first visited in the early 70s. The continuous calls of Kaka, Bellbird and Grey Warbler provide a melodious background that, like the music of the spheres, appear to be part of a continuous cycle of song that reaches back to the beginnings of time. When my days were determined by the weather or how captured I was by the book I was reading, politics and current events became surreal intrusions. Rather than being constantly aware of our environmental, economic and social decline I was surrounded by lush and thriving bush and clear water full of very visible darting fish.



Despite the ease of falling into the Stewart Island time warp and thinking all is well with the world I did become aware that some things weren't as they seemed. Our family spent two days walking the Rakiura Track, described as one of New Zealand's "Great Walks" (along with the Milford and Kepler tracks), a wonderful walk that combines beautiful beaches and lush bush that is unique in its diversity. However, the second day saw us negotiating a muddy quagmire and while mud is not unusual on Stewart Island tracks in this case it was quite unnecessary. Piled up at various intervals were stacks of boardwalk that had been removed for replacement, many had been placed in large bags waiting to be helicoptered out. Apparently the boardwalks had been dismantled some time ago but DoC budget cuts had meant completion had been delayed. I also heard that some DoC staff on the Island were probably going to lose their jobs even though, considering the size of the park, they are probably understaffed.



It seems that there is enough private money to drill a tunnel between the Dart and Hollyford Valleys but our government struggles to fund basic track maintenance in our newest National Park. I guess the sort of money that tramping tourists spend is negligible so that tramping infrastructure has a low priority, as does saving our rare flora and fauna. Tourists who want to experience our wilderness areas through coach and monorail windows and stay in sandfly free, air conditioned hotels have the highest priority.  All that we need to preserve is what can be seen through the coach windows, the rest can be mined and milled! I guess commerce before conservation will be the resonating theme for the next three years.

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