People have lived on Stewart Island since the 13th century. Their
settlements were small and left little impact on the land.
In the beginning were the Maori folk - here when the giant Moa roamed
the mainland. To them the Island was Te Punga o te Waka a Maui
(the anchor of Maui's canoe) or Rakiura (Glowing Skies). There were
small, semi-permanent settlements, but most folk visited
seasonally. The attraction was titi, the chick of the sooty
shearwater. These birds, commonly known as muttonbird, are still
gathered for food by descendants of those earliest Polynesian
Seals and whales abounded in the early 1800's and drew the first pakeha to
our shores. Most stayed for only a short time. Others settled, often with
Maori wives, and made their homes close to the shore. Traders and the first
Timber was needed as the mainland towns of Invercargill and Dunedin
grew rapidly during the 1860's gold boom. The forests of Stewart
Island could provide it. Sawmillers moved inland, felling the mighty
rimu trees. In the 1890's there was a brief tin mining boom at Port Pegasus, to the south of the Island. Even
these exploitative industries left comparatively few scars on the
landscape, and these have healed rapidly.
Fishing was another source of income from the earliest days. Cod, groper,
crayfish and oysters made their way to mainland markets. Today rock lobster
and abalone provide a living for local fisherfolk, and make good export
earnings for New Zealand. In addition farmed salmon and mussels find their
way to many world markets.
Farming on-shore was always limited on Stewart Island. Unlike most parts of
the country forests were not clear-felled and burned after the big trees
were removed for timber. In addition, large areas of the Island were set
aside as nature reserves as early as 1900.
Tourism was well underway by then. Discerning visitors found the Island a
peaceful, natural haven. This is even more so today, a hundred years later,
when many of our country's tourist resorts are mini-cities.
Stewart Island is truly "New Zealand the way we were" - seemingly remote,
yet in fact, very easily accessible.