Every six weeks or so in summer I head out to Matiu (aka Somes Island) in the middle of Wellington Harbour as a volunteer with the Eastbourne Forest Rangers. For a volunteer job, it’s pretty cruisy – most of the time. Supplementing the work of the full-time Department of Conservation rangers, our most important task is welcoming people ashore and making sure they don’t bring un-welcome guests with them – such as rats, mice (unlikely), Argentine ants (they will eat live birds, skinks and tuatara – not kidding) and weed seeds (enough on the island already, thanks). Then it’s just a matter of roaming the island keeping an eye out: checking people aren’t wandering off track or lighting up, making sure boaties and kayakers don’t make illegal landings, and pointing out the odd tuatara or two (my favourite part of the job).
But recently, I journeyed over for a Whakawhanuangatanga Day (building relationships), hosted by the Kaitiaki Board for Matiu – a joint management Board between the owners Taranaki Whanui, and DoC who looks after the island on a day-to-day basis. This was a day to celebrate recent achievements and progress and say thanks to the various groups and people who are nurturing the island back into fullness of life – EFR, Forest and Bird (planting out since 1981), the Matiu-Somes Charitable Trust and others.
Special tribute was paid to the Karobusters, with the unveiling of the mural above – celebrating their 10 years on the island eradicating karo (a native, but not here thank you) and other unwanted pest plants that make life hard for those natural to the area. The mural may be the first of many similar artistic endeavours on the island, as the Kaitiaki Board would like to use different spaces around the island to acknowledge the various contributions made.
As I’ve said before on this blog, Matiu is a microcosm of Aotearoa New Zealand for me. It’s story reflects and touches on our land’s geological history, Maori settlement, European colonisation, agricultural and industrial development, two World Wars and the ongoing migrations of people and wildlife. The island has been returned to the tangata whenua, is co-managed between iwi and government, and now powered almost solely by sustainable energy – wind and solar supplemented for some cooking and heating needs by an experimental hydrogen-from-water unit.
Matiu was a popular place for picnics shortly after European arrival in Wellington in 1840, then became closed to ‘normal human traffic’ when it became first an animal quarantine station, then one for humans: to prevent unwanted diseases entering the mainland. However, in 1995, the animal quarantine station closed and the island was opened to the public again – revealing its chequered history and new-found place as a sanctuary. It is now a safe place for kakariki, native skinks, tuatara, etc – and for people: to find out how our land used to be, and could be again.