The 'other' New Zealand island

BY FYLLIS HOCKMAN Modified: September 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm •  Published: September 24, 2012
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The room overflows with men and women drinking with gusto, laughing over town gossip or bemoaning the latest catch. This is not a place that serves a lot of light beer.

The other must-do activity — like the calling of the kiwi — is to board another water taxi for a visit to Ulva Island.

"This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks, " begins Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem "Evangeline." He also could have been describing Ulva Island, an untouched, predator-free, primitive slice of New Zealand the way it once was.

The very nature of the island makes it an unparalleled sanctuary for birds, trees and plants that might otherwise be extinct. The hardwood podocarp forest, literally of pre-historic ancestry, houses species of plants 350 million years old. Rare birds such as the fernbird, saddleback, rifleman and yellowhead roam the woods with impunity.

And the inhabitants are not the only things special about Ulva Island. There's also Ulva Goodwillie, another sixth-generation Stewart Islander whose breadth and scope of knowledge covers every twig, branch and feather found in these parts.

The similarity in names may be coincidental, but it's a great marketing tool. She conducts half- and full-day tours of the island, communicating with the trees and the birds in very personal, intimate terms, distinguishing between every caw, chirp, click, creak, twill or whistle emanating from the treetops.

One of my tour companions likened the sounds to an avian symphony.

"If I could get them organized, I could take them on tour," my musically inclined husband observed.

Back on the mainland, a stop at the Ship to Shore general store provides another insight into island living. This is the place to pick up groceries, hardware, beer and wine, household goods, fishing and hunting equipment, and videos.

For major food shopping, residents are dependent upon the supermarket in Invercargill, South Island (the real mainland). They pick up their orders at the Halfmoon Bay waterfront every Wednesday evening.

Next to Ship to Shore is the aforementioned T-shirt shop, although the designation is really a misnomer. Dil Belworthy, like so many other Islanders, was a fisherman by trade and, like so many of his compatriots, several years ago says he saw the writing on the wall.

As he tells the story, "I was drinking with some mates one day and we were discussing how the fishing industry was going downhill and how we saw tourism on the horizon." With tourists as their new prey, the question became how to catch a tourist. The answer: "You sell them a T-shirt!"

So Dil and his wife Cath started hand-printing their art shirts on their kitchen table in 1997, reproducing native Maori symbols and traditional images. Now their Glowing Sky Studio sells these individually designed and produced wearable works of beauty for $35 per non-T-shirt T-shirt.

For sure, Stewart Island as a whole has learned well how to catch tourists, but it wouldn't surprise me if the islanders have mixed emotions about just how successful they want their new venture to be.

WHEN YOU GO

For more information, visit www.stewartisland.co.nz.

Fyllis Hockman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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