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Stewart Island Gains First Marine Heritage Site

Stewart Island Gains First Marine Heritage Site with Norwegian Whalers’ Base

The historic Norwegian whalers’ base at Price’s Inlet on Stewart Island/Rakiura has been declared an archaeological site by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust making it the first marine heritage site in the country and only the sixth, 20th century site.

It means the base – which includes many tangible items such as the shipwreck of the Othello, a concrete/wooden slipway and dam in the western bay, and the ammunition store and Swedish boiler at Millers Beach – is now legally protected. The site comprises just over 2 hectares across private and Southland District Council Road Reserve land, and extends into the marine area, which is managed by Environment Southland.

A great deal of work went in to fully mapping the marine area and documenting the site to demonstrate its archaeological worth. ‘Project Njord’ was undertaken by the Southland Coastal Heritage Project (SCHIP) and led by NZHPT regional archaeologist (Otago/Southland) Dr Matthew Schmidt and his team.

The SCHIP is a partnership between Environment Southland, the Department of Conservation, the New Zealand Archaeological Association, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the Southland District Council, the Invercargill City Council and Te Aō Marama Incorporated on behalf of the Kaitiaki Rūnaka o Murihiku, which supports salvage excavations and the regular monitoring of historic heritage on the Southland coast.

Councillor Neville Cook said Environment Southland had been very impressed with the work that went into surveying the site and that the Rakiura Museum had done a good job of promoting the base. The project also had a lot of local support with volunteers turning out for a big clean-up day last year.

The Rosshavet Whaling Company of Norway used the base from 1926 to 1932 as a repair centre for chaser boats, which were responsible for catching and processing whales for oil before the end product was loaded onto a bigger factory vessel for shipping.

Dr Schmidt said the unique nature of the base not only provided insight into Stewart Island’s heritage, but was nationally significant.

“It’s a very special site in terms of European and our history from last century, in particular, the connection between Antarctica, New Zealand and Norway.”

Environment Southland committed $10,000 from the marine fee reserve fund in October 2012 to help expedite the project’s process because of concerns about the site’s lack of protection against items being removed.

Councillor Cook said Environment Southland was very pleased to have been able to contribute to the preservation of the whalers’ base, which was a special part of Southland’s history. “If we don’t preserve it, we would lose it.”

Dr Schmidt said without the funding for the marine archaeological survey, protection for the marine heritage could not have been achieved.

A Norwegian Celebration, A Norsk Feiring, will be held on Stewart Island, 4–6 April 2014. It will be attended by the Royal Norweign Consulate-General, Graeme Mitchell from Wellington and feature sailings to the whalers’ base. Anyone with enquires about the Norwegain celebrations should contact the Rakiura Muesum.


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