With a bay named after them in the Marlborough Sounds, Pete and Takutai Beech are formidable Sound locals. They have fought international corporations to protect the fragile environment (and won) and are passionate about maintaining Maori culture and showing visitors the natural wonders of the Sounds
Words by Pete Beech
Our names are Pete & Takutai Beech and our company’s name is Maori Eco-tours (formerly Myths and Legends Eco Tours).
Takutai is Maori and her whakapapa reaches back 2,000yrs. I am of English/Irish descent and my family arrived in the 1850s. My grandchildren are the 7th generation to have lived here in Totaranui, the Marlborough Sounds. My father didn’t even know his grandfather’s name and couldn’t of cared less, when I quizzed him about my great grandfather, he just said, “I am him, he is me!“
I am fascinated by the way the Maori have doggedly kept their history alive despite successive governments attempts to destroy their culture and identity. This has been largely helped by oral histories and the wonderful stories that trace a deep connection with their land and environment. These stories, once dismissed by the European system, are now becoming more and more relevant. Takutai’s relations say that stories stimulate dreams and if you lose the ability to dream, then your spirit will also die.
There are also wonderful stories that come from our European background from the history of our early pioneers. They were illiterate and books were rare and treasured. There was no radio so their entertainment was telling stories, My grandfather used to say, “They didn’t have to be true, but they had to be believable!“
Because we lived at the bottom of the world, it was difficult to get materials from overseas. Our people lived through the depression and both World Wars, so through necessity they became very independent. They could build their own homes, boats, fix their own cars and make do with very little. I have worked in three different trades, I’ve been a car mechanic, a general engineer and these days I am a boat builder and a craftsman joiner.
All of these skills have been a great asset in maintaining our 90yr old launch “Tutanekai”. It was gifted to me by an old man, he and his boat were both dying and he wanted to see the Tutanekai saved and he knew I had the skills and passion to restore her. So he gifted her to our whanau. It has taken 20yrs, but it’s a great old waka and has become part of our whanau (family), Takutai refers to her as an ancestor, she says that we care for her and she looks after us.
The dream experience is to take out a couple along with the grandparents and children, on a lovely calm sunny day and give them a close up encounter with seals, dolphins and orca. There is something almost spiritual about being up close to dolphins especially the little Hectors. Some people get excited, yell, squeal, laugh, others become contemplative, others cry. They would see all the sea birds and Takutai would take them for a guided walk through the native bush to see some of the rarest birds in NZ. She also shares her oral histories of Maori lore that relate to the Manu (birds). The kids can have a swim on an isolated golden sand beach, if the tide is right they can gather some kaimoana (seafood) and the rest can row themselves across the bay in the dingy.
But for us, the best and most rewarding part is the conversation, getting to know people, where they are from, what their philosophies are, their dreams, beliefs, hopes and desires.
They like to learn about our world, but it’s also nice to share and learn about the world they live in. Many people today live in cities and concrete jungles and to be able to spend a day so close to nature, sharing the oral histories and learning about Maori and NZ history gives them something tangible to take away home with them. We get letters cards, books and emails sent to us from people who shared a day with us over 20 yrs ago, and they still remember our stories and the experiences we shared.
25 yrs ago we started an environmental watchdog group called The Guardians of the Sounds. We have championed many causes against big companies and foreign owned multinationals.
The first was against an American owned company called Westconstian Rail, they introduced large high speed catamarans onto the shipping route between the North & South Islands. They could reach 50kts, 60 mph, creating waves 2 metres high, hitting the shore like an exploding bomb. They devastated the shoreline of the Sounds and our government sat on their hands. We took the case to the Environment Court and the judge said, “what you are seeing isn’t damage its change!”. It took 10yrs but we created new regulations that made them uneconomic and they left.
We have battled shipping companies, port companies, commercial fishermen, scallop dredgers, forestry companies, the salmon industry. You get very weary being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff engaged in endless battles. Eventually the multinationals with headquarters on foreign soil with their deep pockets, crooked lawyers and paid liars wear you down, so it’s refreshing to take on a positive project.
The enormous amount of stress eventually lead to me having a stroke, so now I do no more advocacy work. I now spend time taking school groups out into the Sounds, educating them in the Maori concept of Kaitiakitanga, which means that we all have a responsibility to protect the natural world. I also give advice on how to tackle issues with councils, governments and multinationals.
The best result was stopping the fast ferries, but the most rewarding was when I wanted to stop the constant fighting and take on a positive project, so we formed a Trust called the Marlborough Sounds Restoration Trust and our first mission was to get rid of the thousands of wilding pine trees that had spread from the forestry blocks. We knew that if nothing was done, then in the next 50yrs the entire Sounds would become one great big American pine tree forest. The agencies refused to help, but we persevered and over the last 8yrs we have raised large amounts of money and employed fit young guys to poison the wildings.
We have cleared about two thirds of both Sounds and the Agencies are now on board – it has been a great success for New Zealand and the Sounds.
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Meet The Guides is a series of stories from our favourite guides whose local knowledge is unrivalled, and invaluable to us at Joro. In this series we are able to share with you their most treasured stories and how they work to protect and conserve the environments they love.