Jory Akuhata: Aotearoa—Our Land

League of Live Illustrators' capture of Jory's talk

Imagine a place where the sound of insects deafen you with their chaotic buzz and birds of all shapes come down from the tree tops periodically to investigate you out of curiosity not for food.

Imagine that trees as wide as you are tall are an entire ecosystems in themselves, supporting a host of different wildlife including rare giant insects and birds never seen on the forest floor.

Looking out over the terrain you can see giant trees, felled by an event in the distant past, they lay fallen in the valley now covered with moss. The long trunks stretch out further than you can see, and you tiptoe past, feeling like they might just be sleeping.

They too are homes to a variety of insects and microorganisms that you can only detect because the air has the smell of fresh compost.

Imagine when it rains you are only made aware by the sound of it hitting the canopy hanging above you like a massive tent. Below you the large root systems cover the ground in a tangled mess as you slowly weave through the giants.

Tena koutou my name is Jory and in 2014 I walked a trail called Te Araroa. This trail goes from cape Reinga to Bluff and covers over 3000 kms. The intention of the trail was not just to showcase Nz wildlife but for the people who undertake it to see all the bits that make up Aotearoa - isolated farms and picturesque beaches, starry skies and busy cities.

Jory walking the Te Araroa Trail

There is a list of the most often asked questions I am asked about my journey.

“What was your favourite part?” comes in at number three.

My reply is always diplomatic  “My favourite part of Te Araroa is knowing that over the next pass will be something different”.

Mostly because no matter how beautiful a place is, if you spend a week in it you do get sick of it. At least I did. And I don’t like to play favourites.

But today I have to confess that this statement is not entirely true. The place I asked you to imagine happens to exist and was by far my favourite section of Te Araroa. The Pureora Forest was one of the last native forests to be opened up for logging. In 1978 protesters occupied platforms built in the treetops and their actions led to a government-imposed logging moratorium and, eventually, the end of native forest logging in the park.

Because of their actions in 1978, I was in 2014 able to have the experiences I described to you.

Imagine what Pureroa will be like in another 50 years?

Or better yet other conservation efforts that are happening now around the country. Zelandia is a predator free zone near Wellington City. In 50 years time, will there be another person marvelling at the smell of dirt and hugging the trees the way I did in Pureroa?

Will we be carefully weaving ourselves under the feet of the giants listening to the constant buzz of insects and trying to get a bird to land on our shoulder while it looks at us wondering why we are wiggling our fingers at it?

The answer can be yes.

Both the Wanganui river and the Uruweras are national parks that have been given the same rights as people. This is an unprecedented achievement of actions people have taken today to protect our future.

If the Pureora is an example of what can be achieved in the span of 40 years by just choosing to stop cutting down native trees, imagine what we could achieve by 2070 with the efforts we can make today.