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  • Writer's pictureRose Parsons

Sharing my home D’Urville Island and French Pass.

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Rose Parsons (nee Leov-Wells ) writes of her love of Rangitoto Ki Te Tonga – D’Urville Island and her surprise to find herself centre stage, sharing her families stories as she tour guides small groups at her ancestral home. D’Urville Island is a remote outlying island in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.

If someone had told me I would be guiding tours on my home turf, ‘down the Sounds’ as we local call it, chatting with mates from primary school and telling the tales of my ancestors to all and sundry, I would have said you’ve slipped your mooring!

To me it was just ‘the island’ a misty far off land which a saw from my parent’s bedroom window, a mysterious place I thought was Africa, until I was put right. But it is more like Greece today as our trusty launch Te Amuti ferries us around the very seascape of my girlhood. Bill Webber, a fourth generation Kaumatua (respected elder in Maori), lifelong friend of my parents, neighbour and successful ex farmer is the skipper, he manoeuvres us with experience thorough what we call the Paddock Rocks. Most likely of volcanic origin and remnant of a past crater, the Paddock Rocks have always conjured up for me the Greek Isles, especially on a good day. As we round the reef we see the green gentle slopes of Ohana (Maori for Hosanna). This is my ancestral land, my great grandfathers brothers leased the land from the Maori owners for sheep and cattle farming.

Here is the reminder of a childhood ghost story. The nearby island of Hautai which is passable only at low tide is Tapu (sacred). It is the burial island of the early Ngati Koata (local Iwi, local Tribe). Some young European men staying at a hut near the island got spooked one night as they thought they heard ghostly voices coming from across the water, in the morning they found a beer bottle in the grass. Wind blowing across it was their ghost spectra. As children we would never dream off setting foot on Hautai out of humble respect, mixed with a healthy dose of fear.

It is a case of stand back when it come to the fishing part of our expedition, I caught my quota (allowable catch) long ago, indeed I do not recall learning to fish, they just always came up in twos and where very heavy. Blue cod is the delicacy of the area and people steam from as far as Wellington in the North Island and tow boats for a day from Christchurch in the South Island to get in on the fishy action.

I love to see our visitors getting the thrill of catching not just cod but some of the other surprises that come over the edge of the boat, like long silver barracoota, grunting and delicious john dory and the ultimate prize and photo trophy fish – snapper. These are cooked at Catherine Cove at the d’Urville Island Wilderness Resort by Dennis and Judith, our rock solid hosts for the next 5 days. Dennis takes great pride on his batters, yes I said batters, which are a trade secret and die with him. Judith just smiles and brings on the sweet puddings which let’s face it we all adore and on the island diets don’t count.

Yesterday we all stood on top of a knocker for great views, I’m not being rude, this is the lingo geologists use for an outcrop of particularly hard stone that protrudes from the ground, in this case argillite. And this is not any old argillite, this is metasomatised or baked argillite which made the Maori of the day wealthy traders as this mineral belt, once discovered, became the main site of the manufacture of stone tools for gardening and building tools, ornaments and weapons. In other words it was comparable to the silicon city of today. The beach where I played as a child was littered with the off cuts of this vital industry.

Having satisfied the appetite of the rock hounds we are off to meet an ordinary family living in an extra ordinary location and loving it – Patuki (Maori for Hammering waves). We are greeted by children climbing bare foot down an impossible vertical bank cradling sleeping ducks… this is the Forgan family. Think ‘the Waltons’ but this family is on ecology steroids. The girls have lined up many a school teacher and given them a lesson on the breeding cycle of the nautilus squid. And thank goodness they can also cook because we would all starve for sure. We happily share stories and eat cake with the family at the old cottage which was once the home of my maternal grandfather Harold Leov.

I recall staying here as a little child, only by the enormous daddy long leg spiders in the bedrooms and they are still there! The cottage is almost falling into the hammering waves but I do not want leave, indeed no one does and then we are beautifully distracted by the girls showing us the wild penguins living under the floor boards of the woolshed. And as usual we are late for the boat back.

In the days coming we have new adventures in store on the island. Will (my other half and the driver so vital to this tour) do not like to give away too much as to what we will be doing and who we will be seeing, it ruins the surprize of it all, but one thing is for sure we always have a few surprizes ourselves. Because we never quite know what the locals are up to and by the time we have left we are all right up with it all and you can guarantee we are also the talk of the dinner tables at the island.

Due to the limited nature of the accommodation on the island and the fragility of the natural environment bookings are extremely limited therefore reservations necessary. For each tour a donation of $300 is donated to the community led conservation project ‘The D’Urville Island Pest Eradication Trust’.

Guest on tour will meet Pip Aplin who will give a talk on the project. Pip’s wife and much loved author Jeannette will talk about their lives living on the remote nearby Stephen’s Island where they were lighthouse keepers. To enquire about availability call Will or Rose +64 (0)3 577 651 – +64 (0)274 483 133 or email zn.oc.sruotocedoowtfirdnull@ofni

Read about all of our expeditions at:

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