Introduction

New Zealand’s southern most National Park celebrates its 10th anniversary this week. Stewart Island/Rakiura National Park was officially opened on 9 March 2002.

Date:  08 March 2012

New Zealand’s southern most National Park celebrates its 10th anniversary this week.

Stewart Island/Rakiura National Park was officially opened on 9 March 2002.  

The park covers approximately 157,000 hectares and makes up about 85 percent of Stewart Island/Rakiura. It is New Zealand’s 14th National Park.

Māui Anchor – this chain link sculpture at Lee Bay marks the entrance to Rakiura National Park.
Māui Anchor – this chain link sculpture at Lee Bay marks the entrance to Rakiura National Park

National Parks have existed in New Zealand since 1887, when Māori chief Te Heuheu Tukino gifted to the nation the summits of Tongariro and Ruapehu as our first national park - Tongariro National Park.

“Giving the land National Park status means that it is maintained and preserved in perpetuity for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. DOC’s task of preserving Rakiura National Parks’ special values has been a collaborative effort, with locals, national and international visitors, volunteers and businesses all contributing to the many outstanding conservation achievements over the past 10 years,” said Southern Islands Acting Area Manager Sue Larson.

Although the island only has about 400 permanent residents, the passion, dedication and commitment to the preservation of the island is evident in the number of active conservation groups. DOC works alongside more than 10 groups, each serving a different purpose - species monitoring and translocation, pest control, hut building and maintenance and hut wardening.

One of the groups, the Stewart Island Rakiura Community Environment Trust (SIRCET) has established a 210 ha pest control programme that includes about half of the township. With sponsorship they have organised a scoping study into the feasibility of eradicating possums, rats and cats from the whole of Stewart Island.

“This in your backyard approach has resulted in a high level of volunteerism and a real growth in understanding about the importance and benefit of conservation work”, Larson said.

DOC plans to celebrate the anniversary with a community event later in the year to coincide with the completion of the upgrade of the Rakiura Track Great Walk.

Background information

  • The park was opened by Prime Minister Helen Clark, with other dignitaries Conservation Minister Sandra Lee, Sir Edmund Hillary, Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno, and Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu Representative Edward Ellison.
  • Stewart Island has about 245kms of walking track.
  • The Rakiura Track has the highest percentage of New Zealanders walking it than any of the other Southland Great Walks tracks. (See Visitor statistics and research
  • Establishment of the Ulva Island - Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve and the Paterson Inlet - Te Whara a Te Wera Mataitai Reserve in 2004.

Achievements over the last 10 years 

Pest and weed control

  • Possum control funding was received for Rakiura at the same time as the National Park was announced. 
  • Prior to 2002 there was no possum control on the island.
  • At the time of the National Park opening, DOC was well engaged in discussions with the community about how and where to do possum control. 
  • Over the last ten years DOC has built a programme that maintains low possum numbers across 30,000ha of Rakiura.
  • The Stewart Island Animal Pest Liaison Group was created and has provided a forum for community input into the possum control programme. It has created a two way flow of information, with community concerns and ideas being heard and DOC being able to present results and discuss plans.
  • In 2005, DOC eradicated rats from Bench Island.
  • Darwins Barberry around Halfmoon Bay has been reduced thanks to an ambitious project and partnership with Environment Southland. Hard work hand cutting and pulling the weed out over the past 10 years has resulted in a large drop in density of the plant. With the Barberry seed only lasting for 2 years, DOC is confident that sustained effort will see this weed eradicated from Stewart Island.

Dune restoration project - Doughboy/Mason Bay

Over the last ten years, the dune protection programme has grown substantially on Stewart Island.  

  • A large proportion of New Zealand’s dunes of significance occur on Stewart Island and Mason Bay is considered the jewel in the crown. 
  • Mason Bay is the very last remaining of what was once a very common dune type on the West Coast of New Zealand.
  • The largest threat to the dune systems on Stewart Island has been weed invasion, particularly Marram Grass. The Stewart Island DOC team has pioneered large scale marram grass control and is slowly turning the tide on marram invasion and protecting this unique habitat.
  • Part of the success of this project has been the monitoring provided by the University of Otago. The rigour applied by the University has enabled strong learning to be applied back into the project. The long term relationship has also benefited the University in providing a raft of study opportunities for students, especially at masters and Doctorate level.

Ulva Island

Ulva Island has become a nationally significant sanctuary that is relatively easy to visit - a large asset to the local community and the tourism industry.

  • Mohua, Saddleback, Robin and Riflemen have been transferred to Ulva Island. These species have flourished on this pest free island.
  • The forest environment on the island has also shown a spectacular recovery with the understorey complex and a thick carpet of mosses and orchids.
  • The University of Otago under Dr Ian Jamieson has been running an internationally significant long term study on robins and saddleback. This programme looks at the effects of inbreeding on the long term survival of species.
  • The Ulva Island Trust was initially set up to assist in seeking funding for the purpose of upgrading the track system on Ulva.
  • The Ulva Island Trust continues to support conservation programmes on Ulva Island and actively promotes the island as a visitor destination. 
  • Some key successes of the Trust in recent years have been the release of the DVD Primeval Paradise and the creation and running of the Kakapo Encounter.

Conservation partnerships

Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) have completed five years of intensive monitoring up the Anglem coast to try to work out what was causing the a decline in penguin numbers. The initial suspicion was cats, but this was discounted and it appears that a marine based influence is affecting their food supply and reducing numbers.

The Dancing Star Foundation built a predator proof fence on their land at Bob’s Point near Lee Bay. They then removed the suite of pests that were present within the property and have managed to maintain a pest free forest environment for almost five years.  Forest recovery is rapidly occurring and all birds are on the increase. 

Riflemen and Brown Creeper have been translocated from Ulva Island into the property and have established and are increasing in number. This property will provide a "seeding" source for many of these birds to repopulate the adjoining National Park.

Stewart Island Rakiura Community and Environment Trust (SIRCET) have established a 210 ha pest control programme that includes about half of the township. This "in your backyard" approach has resulted in a high level of volunteerism and a real growth in understanding about the importance and benefit of conservation work.

SIRCET have also organised (with sponsorship from the Tindall Foundation) a scoping study into the feasibility of eradicating possums, rats and cats from the whole of Stewart Island. This work is continuing to gain momentum and people are realising that it isn't beyond the realms of possibility. In 2005, Weka were transferred from Bench Island into the project area.

The Southland Branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association (NZDA) have adopted a rat control project at Mason Bay which, combined with DOC's possum control, is seeing forest recovery and increased bird numbers.

Rakiura Maori Lands Trust (RMLT) - The Tutae-Ka-WetoWeto Forest (Lords River) Bill.

A strong relationship has developed between DOC and RMLT as two key land managers on Stewart Island. The Lords River sections of Land within the Rakiura Maori Lands Trust are subject to the implementation of a Management Plan that has been agreed to between the Trust and the Department of Conservation. This came about as part of the settlement with the Crown on agreeing to preserve this land into the future as though it was a National Park.

Winton Rotary Club - A solid relationship has been built with this group for the ongoing major maintenance of 13 Stewart Island backcountry huts. For the last 10 years, volunteers from the Club have worked alongside DOC staff to carry out painting and other maintenance. The club has also prefabricated boardwalk for use on the Sub Antarctic Islands, and recently a few of its members participated in construction of a new track loop circuit on Enderby Island.

The Rakiura Hunter Camp Trust (RHCT) has been actively involved in the construction and maintenance of purpose built huts at various hunting blocks on Stewart Island over the last 10 years.

The Department funded the first two huts to get the project underway and since then a total of 12 huts have been built in the Rakiura National Park by the Rakiura Hunters Camp Trust. A further three huts are actively maintained by the trust.

The purpose of the huts is to reduce the impacts from camping and they have been well received by the hunting fraternity throughout the country.

The cost of one of these huts is - $45,000 thus showing a very substantial contribution by hunters to the Rakiura National Park.

DOC Volunteer Programme. Through the DOC Volunteer Programme efforts by individuals have played a significant role in the maintenance of facilities on Rakiura. These include annual hut cleaning projects, maintenance of huts and historic assets.

Hut wardening is also undertaken by volunteers at Port William and Masons Bay to ensure compliance at huts, to clean and maintain facilities, to provide updated information on track conditions and to ensure appropriate behaviour around our iconic kiwi.

Volunteers are involved in the annual Motorau Moana gardens upkeep which is also greatly supported by the local community.

Contact

Sue Larson
Southern Islands Acting Area Manager
Ph: +64 3 2112 472

Sharon Pasco
Stewart Island Field Centre Supervisor
Ph: +64 3 219 0004 or 027 348 209

See Also

Rakiura National Park

Rakiura Track

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