History - Stewart Island New Zealand information. Stewart Island accommodation and hotel booking, travel, tours, activities and things to do. Events, maps and news for Stewart Island NZ.

Stewart Island History

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 settlers.

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 pastor followed.

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.

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