If you visit Kim McPherson at the National Kiwi Center you may find yourself with a tank full of big old eels just by the desk, and a couple of juvenile tuataras in the shower. Just mind your toes!
Yes, thanks to Kim, the new manager of the Kiwi Center, I was not only able to work with quite a few school groups on the west coast, but I was also able to see a childhood dream come true: Spending a night (8 of them, actually) in a living museum. It was quite an adventure making my long, twisting way to the bathroom in the middle of the night with my wee, red headlamp light. I never knew what to expect to appear:
In all seriousness, though, Kim is quite a visionary and and has the energy, intelligence, and patience needed to make even bigger dreams come true. She sees her most important role as the kaitiaki (guardian) of all the many animals in her care, and she approaches the job with a mother’s love, and a researcher’s diligence. However, Kim is also a savvy business woman who is helping guide the Hokitika facility to be more and more about the conservation of native fauna, using education as its main method of operation. I am looking forward to coming back to visit in a few years to visit the kiwi birds that are being monitored by D.O.C., the growing tuatara, the many whitebait swimmers in their huge cylindrical tank, and, of course, the dear old “big girls”…
… the longfins that were saved from becoming fish food at a nearby fish factory. Now, in the care of Kim and all the folks here (like Steve, a fellow eel lover), many of these female longfins may one day be returned to their wild pond and with that, given their rightful chance to be real, wild eels again….. following that call to reproduce far out in the big wide sea. Just think, each of these girls, when allowed to experience a natural, fresh-water environment, can be triggered to grow between 20-30 million eggs. That means the National Kiwi Center holds a potential environmental treasure of over 1 BILLION longfin babies. Wow.
As if Kim herself and the big eels were not treasure enough, I also had the special pleasure to spend some time with her partner, Shane, and her son, Jacob. I must say, Kim knows how to pick ’em and raise ’em…… both her fellas are sweet-as.
On my first day (and the only rainy day on the west coast while I was here!) Shane treated me to a wild-food fest at nearby beach, where we braved chilly and deep water to harvest a nice feed of mussels. Those few we managed to steam open on the beach before the rain doused the fire were some of the best bites of food I have ever experienced. “Thanks” to Tongaroa (god of the sea) for such a yummy gift! Jacob even faced the waves to get his own first mussel that he’s ever pulled up and eaten.
These gracious folks also treated me to a visit to the turquoise-blue, glacial water of the Hokitika Gorge and a trip to the spot where the river meets the sea to look for beautiful pounamu (NZ jade). While we walked the rocky beach, Shane told me the legend of the land and its greenstone in which Poutini, a taniwha who swam along the coast and guarded the people and the mauri (life-essence) of the pounamu (greenstone) is featured. One day, Poutini saw and fell in love with and took away the beautiful Waitaiki whose husband, Tamaahua, was a powerful chief. Poutini was chased by the chief all over Aotearoa (New Zealand) until they reached the Arahua Valley. Poutini, knowing Tamaahua’s strength and not wanting anyone but himself to have Waitaiki, transformed her into pounamu. Waitaiki is thought of as the mother of the beautiful green stone much prized for carving.
Imagine my delight when Shane gave to me several pieces of the stone that he had found and saved to give…. as he feels it should be given. I am grateful, and may even try to carve a longfin eel out of the largest piece. They are beautiful, reflecting the life of the river in the colors and patterns that look like native fish: patterned giant kokopu, silvery inanga, brown eels…
Of course, at least one panel of the tapestry will be crafted here at the Kiwi Center by visitors from near and far! I am so grateful for my time here with such generous, open people………… and for the fact that it didn’t rain ; )