Learning about Foveaux Strait/Te Ara a Kiwa which separates the South Island/Te Wai Pounamu and Stewart Island/Rakiura will be easier thanks to the latest book by Invercargill naturalist, teacher, historian and author Lloyd Esler.
Early Days in Foveaux Strait “tells the story of the original inhabitants who lived in small communities on both sides of the strait and later arrivals, and the relationship between them that set the scene for the foundation Southland as we know it today,” Esler said.
He had thought about writing the book for about a decade.
It began, he said, after a conversation with former Stewart Island resident and author Shelia Natusch, whose great grandparents were Eliza (an English woman) and Johan (a German) Wohlers, missionaries at Ruapuke Island in the mid 1800s.
While Natusch had written several books about Stewart Island and nearby areas, nothing since John Hall Jones’ The South Explored had been written to cover the wider area, such as Foveaux Strait and its islands, they agreed.
“She asked me why not tackle that?”, Esler said.
Having visited many of the islands in the strait and walking most of the coast from Port Craig in Western Southland to Waikawa Harbour in the Catlins, “boulder hopping” along the way, Esler began the project in earnest about two and a half years ago, with last year’s lockdown giving him the opportunity to “knock it into shape”, he said.
“I visited Codfish Island last year… and my visit to Ruapuke Island, although unexpected, was appreciated.
“I have been up Mt Anglem [on Stewart Island] twice and have walked the Hump Track, and prodded around the South Coast.”
More recently, it was Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s push for New Zealand history to be taught in schools next year, and Southland’s shortage of factual up-to-date history which had also encouraged him to complete the task.
Esler collated information about explorers, missionaries, various people of interest, James Cook’s influence, various industries such as whaling, flax and sealing, and islands of Foveaux Strait including Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, Rakiura/Stewart Island, Ruapuke and Centre Island/Rarotoka, with a brief focus on some early Maori history.
On the mainland he researched about various villages on the edge of the strait.
“I’m focused at the history of the area (on both sides of the strait, and its islands) up to the time Rakiura was purchased by the Crown.
“Otago was the first (1844)… and Rakiura (1865) was the last of the big land sales” in the province.
It covered Foveaux Strait, south from Waikawa Harbour in the Catlins, to Puysegur Point in Fiordland, with a bit of Otago and some broader New Zealand history, such as the influence of the French, he said.