Rising to the highest point in the Hauraki Gulf, Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island stands sentinel over its rare and endangered birds, plants and animals. It is home to New Zealand’s most diverse native bird and reptile communities, a prodigious number of seabirds and a vast array of invertebrate fauna.
New Zealand’s first nature reserve, it is also a global symbol of conservation success and innovation. The island’s story is not just of its animals and plants, but of people, too: of Ngāti Manuhiri and Ngāti Rehua, the tangata whenua, and of the rangers, researchers and volunteers whose efforts have inspired the conservation world.
Written by experts across a range of fields, this book is a comprehensive account of the history and biodiversity of a very special place. Editors Lyn Wade and Dick Veitch talk to NZ Booklovers.
Q1: You both have a long association with Hauturu Little Barrier Island — do you remember your first visit?
LW: I was four years old and my family stayed on the island for three weeks with a group of scientists who were gathering material for the DSIR Bulletin 137, which this book replaces.
DV: Yes. 1964. I was a Wildlife Trainee and went with Don Merton, a wildlife officer; Archie Blackburn, president of the Ornithological Society; a Tourist and Publicity Department reporter; and others, to catch and translocate six kiwi to Ponui Island.
Q2: Just how important is Hauturu in the context of New Zealand conservation?
LW: Hauturu is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of New Zealand conservation as an almost intact ecosystem with high biodiversity values. It’s also of international importance as a conservation success: there were only two mammalian pests that reached the island and there have been innovative pest eradications to remove them; it has high biodiversity due to its range of ecosystems — from temperate coastal to sub-alpine; and it has been protected for a considerable length of time.
DV: There are many more features that contribute to these values and they are enhanced by the protection and restoration work given to this island. This is as close as we can get to how New Zealand was before humans arrived.
Q3: The book is a huge collaborative effort – how many contributors (of both words and photos) were there in the end?
LW: We had well over thirty scientists, researchers and photographer contributing text and photographs.
Q4: You both know Hauturu intimately, but have you discovered anything new during the process of editing the book?
LW: My biggest discovery has been the passion and love for the island shown by all our contributors. I also learnt more about the diversity of all the species on the island and that there is still so much to find out.
DV: I discover something new every day, as this book brings together and updates information on subjects which are rarely read by the public and thus rarely assembled in this format.
Q5: A lot of conservation work and science is done on Hauturu. What area, or areas, are you are particularly interested in?
LW: The streams on the island have always fascinated me, and how life can survive in them when they come and go the way they do on Hauturu. However, it is the richness of the island’s biodiversity and how such a healthy ecosystem works that would be my main interest.
DV: My interest is the ecosystem restoration and forest birds.
Q6: This book is published with the support of the Little Barrier Island Supporters’ Trust. What was the aim of the Trust in producing this book?
LW: The idea was to produce a readable scientific book that would update the only other comprehensive book on the island, which that was produced by the DSIR in 1961. It was compiled by my father, William Hamilton, who was the director general of the DSIR at that time.
Q7: What are the next goals for the Trust, and for Hauturu?
LW: The trust has established a working group to look at getting some form of marine protection for the island. We are also working on raising funds towards weed work, scientific research and technology projects for Hauturu.
Q8: Public interest in pest eradication has risen dramatically and new technologies are emerging. But this was not the case when animal eradication work began on Hauturu. How bold was the idea that you could eliminate cats and rats from the island?
DV: Both the cat and rat eradication operations were seen as leaders in pest eradication work worldwide at the times they were initiated. Many people said they could not be achieved.
Q9: What do new visitors to the island comment on the most?
LW: Their first comment as the boat nears the island is something along the lines of the island looking prehistoric — like Jurassic Park. On landing, their next comment is about the incredible noise of the birdsong. Many also remark on the almost spiritual experience of being in the bush.
Q10: You have probably both spent long days (and nights) out in the bush on Hauturu. Do you have something you wear or take that makes things a little more comfortable when you are roughing it?
DV: A warm sleeping bag is at the top of my list to keep the body comfortable. And the knowledge that we have done our best for this environment is enough comfort for the brain.
LW: I would agree with Dick about a good sleeping bag, if we are talking comfort. Walking around the island, I always like to have my camera on my belt where I can grab it quickly — you never know what you may see.