Nā Adrienne Rewi
Phillip Smith (Ngati Mamoe, Waitaha, Ngai Tahu) can be found at the helm of his boat, MV Wildfire almost every day of the week. Based at Oban on Rakiura (Stewart Island), Phillip – a fifth generation islander – runs the kiwi spotting operation Bravo Adventure Cruises at Little Glory Bay in Paterson Inlet. He’s been doing that since 1990 and in that time he’s introduced over 20,000 people to one of our most precious birds in the wild. Before that he focussed on fishing and hunting charters around the island; and he’s also had a stint working at the island’s salmon farms. Suffice to say he knows Stewart Island like the back of his hand. There isn’t a bay, a beach or a stretch of land on this large southern island off the coast of Southland that he hasn’t explored.
In addition to his tourism activities, Phillip is also a trustee of the Rakiura Maori Land Trust and one of the tangata tiaki (guardians) of the Te Whaka a Te Wera Mataitai – a customary fisheries reserve that was gazetted in 2004, which aims to restore and protect the fish stocks of Paterson Inlet for all New Zealanders. He’s passionate about that – about conservation in general in fact – and he’s worked hard to help rid Stewart Island of predators that prey on kiwi.
“We’re lucky here on Stewart Island to have over 25,000 tokoeka (South Island Brown Kiwi); they’re not endangered here as they are on the mainland but we want to make sure it stays that way. There’s nowhere else in New Zealand where you can walk along a sandy beach at night and see kiwi hunting for sandhoppers among the seaweed,” he says. Phillip makes no guarantees that you’ll see a kiwi on one of his trips but his strike rate hovers around 98%. “We almost always see one or two kiwi. The most we’ve spotted in one night is seven and there are other treats like Hooker sea lions, seals and little rock hopper penguins. There’s always something to see,” he says.