Pioneers of ecotourism in Fiordland
Above the canopy rises the majestic beech and podocarp conifers where sated clouds cling. Annual rainfall can reach, in the area, up to 8 meters ! ‘During the rainy season, hundreds of waterfalls transform the fjord into a giant wall of water, a true fascinating spectacle’ enthuses Ruth Shaw submitting a knowing look at Lance, her husband and our skipper. These pioneers of ecotourism are familiar with the Doubtful landscapes where they travel in all seasons and in all conditions: rain, sun, snow or fog… ‘The fjord is always of a surprising beauty…’ In order to raise public awareness for the preservation of this unique and fragile ecosystem, Ruth and Lance have initiated early 1990s, Fiordland Ecology Holidays, an eco-tourism travel company oriented nature, conservation and research, covering the whole of Fiordland and subantarctic islands. They would not have been able to carry out these sea eco-tours without a marvelous 20 meters schooner: the Breaksea Girl for who they had a stroke of lightning. A very confortable sailing boat that stands out as much for its navigation capabilities than for her warm and endearing soul, a boat with who they feel safe and in harmony with the sea.
An unforgettable naturalist experience
For 20 years, the couple has raised awareness of environmental assets thousands of tourists to the ecology of the Doudtful Sound offering their guests an unforgettable experience with their naturalist skills in navigation and tourism, but also because of their communicative passion for environment. Due to a tighted collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry of the Environment as captain of a research vessel Lance has sailed and dived New Zealand waters with scientists, explorers and filmmakers such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau, David Bellamy or the National Geographic.
After this exiting and adventurous period of sea adventures Ruth and Lance have sold Breaksea Girl to peacefully achieve their commitment nearby environmental NGOs such as Forest & Bird. That May. Since then no tourism operator has unfortunately shown an interest for Fiordland Ecology Holidays. In 2009 Breaksea Girl became the property of Real Journey, a strong company who is the most important tourists carrier on the south part of New Zealand.They are the specialist for day charter or two or three-day trips in Fiordland. Real Journey supports local communities and actively collaborates with the DOC an environmental administration which manages and protects Fiordland endangered species and which promotes their habitat restoration. The company has been awarded for its efforts in Favor of tourism and environment. Hopping now that they will organize ecotours which cruelly lack in this region where biodiversity is so rich.
An astonishing universe made of water, plants and wild animals
Inspired by the maritime stories of Ruth and Lance, we let our imagination wander. Engulfed in fog, suspended rainforest along mountainsides plunges us into a mysterious atmosphere. A universe governed by water and plants merging in an eternal union as well as ferociously competing in a perpetual struggle. No wonder Peter Jackson chose these landscapes and dark to shoot key sequences Lord of the Rings…
Perpetual struggle for life
Ruth draws our attention to an exposed portion of the canopy and explains that the vegetation was torn from the mountain by an avalanche of forest. Discovering our quizzical looks, the naturalist explains: ‘avalanches are triggered due to heavy rains, tree roots become too heavy, lose their grip on steep and rocky soil, resulting in their fall and forming an impressive avalanche’. Another sign of the perpetual struggle for life in a decorative appearance yet so peaceful… But in this wet region, nature takes its course and regenerates quickly. We can also observe young lichen and moss cushions, providing a perfect base to grow seedlings of shrubs and trees. The scars are quickly covered and continuously cover the forest.
The population of the dolphins more united of the world
In this sumptuous wild and unspoilt world it is possible to meet with one of the most southern bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) population. This colony counting sixty dolphins of both sexes has been the subject of various studies by marine biologists, marine mammal specialists, such Lusseau David Karsten Schneider, Oliver J. Boisseau, Patti Haase and torque Elisabeth Slooten and Steve Dawson.
Among the many studies of David Lusseau, a researcher at the University of Aberdeen focuses on specific habits of this small isolated population of bottlenose dolphins which is distinguished by its high degree of stability unprecedented in-known studies on company’s dolphins.
‘Unlike most groups of dolphins in which members easily disperse out of their natal group, no migration was observed here, nor any integration of newcomers arrived from outside, over a period of at least 7 years. All the members of this community are very closely related and have known for years. Structure of this community is surprisingly stable over time compared to other populations of Tursiops observed elsewhere and the very long-term companionship seem to prevail in the organization of this group. “Researcher suggests that these links are stable and perennial established in the context of adaptation to ecological constraints specific to fjords, recognized as a poor energy resources ecosystem. Survival in such an environment certainly requires more social stability.
An exceptional and uncommon wildlife
In addition to Dolphins, cruisers may also encounter Fur Seals lounging on rocks or playing among the kelp as well as the rare Yellow-eyed penguins or the small blue penguin. Diving in superimposed layers of fresh and salty waters, allows to discover many species of fish, sea anemones, starfish and coral. The fjord is also known for its black coral, a deepwater species that can exceptionally be admired here at only a dozen meters depth.
Idyllic anchorage to soak up the magic of Fiord
As the daylight faded, we enter Arm Fjord First, to look after a mooring for the night. Lance stops on one of his favorite anchorages from where we can admire the beautiful scenery of the surroundings and listen to the songs of birds that parade around. Ruth shares with us his knowledge of ornithology. Imitating the cries of some species which echoed back as the Morepork or ‘ruru’ in Maori (Ninox novaeseelandiae), the only surviving native owl in New Zealand. We hear his melancholic cry which seems to say ‘more pork’ often at dusk and at night. We also hear the mighty shout ‘keee-aa’ of Kea (Nestor notabilis), a mountain parrot species endemic to New Zealand. Ruth also distinguishes the weka (Gallirallus australis), a species of large rattle living in New Zealand who unfortunately is experiencing serious decline. An excellent swimmer, the weka does not fly. Unfortunately, very curious, it is a game of choices easy to capture. But Maori are very close Weka for this reason very restrictive and protective measures have been enforced by the DOC.
We thoughtfully listen to the cries of these endemic birds whose populations are drastically declining and any, such as the moa, are gone forever.
Water is still, the silence is broken off only by the lapping of the water along the hull and time seems to stop in this magical place that fills us with indescribable fullness. The next day, we find ourselves on the bridge at dawn to attend one of the most beautiful sunrises that we are given to see on earth.