By Susan Streatfield, Partnerships Ranger.
Te Anau’s annual cardboard boat race attracts an extraordinary armada of entrants, as well as a merry mix of local, national and international followers.
The race, held each January, first started in 1988.
For many years the coveted prize was won by the local ambulance services whose makeshift marine efforts seemed unstoppable. Until 2016 that is, when the race was won by Real Journeys’ unsinkable ‘Tipanic 2’!
In the crowd that day were Sue Streatfield and Pania Dalley. They came away with aspirations to enter the first ever DOC boat in the race.
Fast forward to December 2016…
An all-woman team assembled to take up the challenge of building a DOC-worthy craft. Community ranger teammates Wendy Newton and Phoebe Shaw headed up the team.
The DOC workshop provided a perfect boatyard backdrop. As well as allowing for much appreciated advice from canny workshop staff.
The boat consisted entirely of cardboard tubes packed with cardboard, lined with even more cardboard and topped off with old wallpaper and several layers of paint. The beautifully crafted headdress completed the ensemble and The Crested Grebe was born.
The imagery of the Australasian crested grebe/kamāna was conceived early on as a perfect symbol of great aquatic prowess.
The grebe has legs that are set far back on their body resulting in their inability to walk on land. This also makes them vulnerable to predators and habitat loss and contributes to their status as an endangered species.
Their numbers have slowly declined in the lakes throughout Otago and Southland.
There are two known pairs of grebes on Lake Te Anau.
One pair can be seen from the shores of the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, nesting on a raft recently built by Otago Corrections Facility through a partnership project.
It was one of these birds that skimmed along the race site in the morning and returned in the afternoon, much to the delight of ‘Team Grebe’.
At around 2:30pm, CG pocket rockets Pania Dalley and Sinead Mulhern started strong and powered the grebe to a stunning victory, putting DOC on the Cardboard Boat Race line of honours for good.
The boat suffered little signs of inundation and there is talk of a resurrection in the coming year/s.
All in all, the race proved a great opportunity to showcase DOC’s presence and role in the community and draw attention to unique fauna at risk.
Thanks to all who supported these modest efforts, particularly workshop warriors Dave Johnson and Warren Simpson, Abby Wangeman, artist-in-residence Claire Shaw and Operations manager Greg Lind.
Well done – looks perfect sailing out on the water and fitting that the “grebe” came in first.