A Northland business created to support the ongoing work to restore the local forest in Opua has been named one of the top three environmental tours in the country.
It was a local woman's idea and passion to share an experience with visitors in the Opua State Forest.
"I had no business knowledge whatsoever, I didn’t learn to read until I was eleven. And now I do a mahi that I love and it doesn’t actually feel like mahi," Stella Kake-Schmid says, who is Ngāti Kawa, Ngāti Rāhiri and Ngāti Awa.
She says it is important that visitors respect the forest.
"For hundreds of years, manuhiri have been coming to the shores of our land and we as tangata whenua have a very important job of teaching them the proper way to respect and take care of this land while they’re here."
The tourist operation came about because of the need to help fund the extensive trapping operations by the charitable trust charged with restoring the forest.
"When I thought about creating Papatūānuku Earth Mother Tours my objective was to bring manuhiri through here, teach them about how the ngahere was before we arrived, show them how we used it once we arrived, tell them what's happened since we’ve arrived, and then pretty much show them what we have to do now to save it," she says.
Having carried out extensive work in the forest for the past 11 years, Kake-Schmid has recently received the top conservation award for Northland and placed second in the national awards.
"There are many of us but there is actually not enough of us, because I saw how humans have created so much destruction in a very short amount of time, me included. But then I realised that although we are the biggest threat we are also the only ones that can fix it. If there's not enough kaitiaki then there's not enough voices for the things that should be here that aren’t here."
Nowadays, Kake-Schmid leads an education programme in Northland schools and is looking to television as a vehicle to educate the world.
"How we treat them and the information that we give them while they’re here is vital for them to be able to go away and say, 'Well, that place over in NZ is a place where they take their kaitiakitanga or guardianship very seriously," she says.
A woman leading the way in caring for Mother Earth.
Story by Dean Nathan for Te Ao.