Philip Simpson is an acclaimed botanist, who lives with his wine scientist wife Wendy Parr on a rugged limestone hillside overlooking Golden Bay. The couple’s home is at the end of a gravel road, close to where Philip was born at the north end of Abel Tasman National Park – the subject of his latest book Down the Bay. Philip’s parents had a nursery and farm, and he grew up propagating plants, taking cuttings and helping with the grafting.
Philip and Wendy lead a bucolic life in their clifftop home, 100 metres above the sea. Despite the steep site, they’re fortunate to be situated on a flat piece of fertile land, which is ideal for their small vineyard and sheep paddocks. There are also fruit, olive and nut trees and a large vegetable garden on the property; the rest is regenerating bush. Health and wellbeing are a priority for the couple, who look to the produce in their garden as the mainstay of a good diet. Philip has a botany degree and BSC honours from Canterbury University and a PhD from a university in California. He has worked with the Commission for the Environment and DOC, and is a now a Director of Project Janszoon, a privately funded trust set up in 2012 to restore and preserve Abel Tasman’s rich wildlife for all to enjoy. The project team comprises conservationists, iwi, locals, scientists, tourism operators and volunteers. Now in his 70s, Philip’s trademark style of combining the science of a species with its cultural value and human experience has seen him become an award winning and respected author on trees. His book Dancing Leaves published in the 1980s was inspired by his role with DOC, to counter the demise of swathes of cabbage. Around the same time, Philip also became a founding member of Project Crimson; a group that formed when research revealed that more than 90% of coastal pohutukawa stands in NZ had been eliminated. Today, Project Crimson has organised the replanting of more than 330,000 trees. This conservation effort helped to form the basis for Philip’s second book, Pōhutukawa & Rātā: New Zealand’s Iron-hearted Trees.
Philip Simpson’s newly published book Down the Bay is a significant publication – the first comprehensive natural and cultural history of Abel Tasman National Park.
DOWN THE BAY
Abel Tasman National Park was a war-time baby, born in 1942 to protect the wonderful sequence of forested beaches and headlands, and which have become much-loved by both countless New Zealanders and visitors alike. Down the Bay is a tribute to this gem of New Zealand’s national park system. Philip Simpson presents a complete picture of the distinctive landforms of Abel Tasman, from the deep caves of the uplands to the distinctive granite headlands and golden-sand beaches, the diversity of plants and animals, the coastal environment, and overlays this with accounts of both Māori and European history. As well the book records how Project Janszoon, is working with the Department of Conservation to transform the park by removing pests and reintroducing threatened birds to restore the area to its former state. This is an inspiring and hopeful story of how the future of an important area of New Zealand is being secured for future generations. Down the Bay beautifully captures what is an unforgettable visitor experience. For more, go to: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=kLzNRjVginQ.
Abel Tasman is very much a people’s park, unlike most of the others in New Zealand, which centre on the majesty of landscape. Its origin through the advocacy of Pérrine Moncrieff is a beautiful story, coming as it did in the middle of a global war. Since 1942 the park’s extent has been added to continually, the latest addition coming in 2016 when Duane Major and Adam Gardner worked on behalf of thousands of donating New Zealanders to ‘buy a beach’. This grassroots activism illustrates a community quality in conservation: although the thousands of visitors and the concessionaires that support the tourist industry are all regulated by DOC and the local council, ordinary people also play a key role in shaping a place, applying philanthropy and enthusiasm to restore the birds and forest, and to expand the shared interest beyond mere pleasure to a deeper sense of belonging. The Birdsong Trust and Tasman Bay Guardians are two such groups. The visitors come on the heels of the first European settlers who bought land and farmed and created a lifestyle unique to the time and place, based on home-made boats and homehewn tracks. That phase still goes on, in a small way, and the park is not yet complete. There are still bordering patches of bush and geological features that deserve to be part of it, and parts of the marine environment need protection and restoration. Some of the places are underground. What has ended, however, is the carnage. Every day the vision of a pestfree park draws closer, not only because of technology but also as the vision becomes clearer and the benefits more obvious. Project Janszoon has lit a fire and the flames will not go out. This story is the most exciting of all. It forms the final chapter of this book and it is the message that will, I trust, stay with the visitor: they contri buted to saving the park. They know the value of going down the bay.
Down the Bay by Philip Simpson Published in hardback by Potton & Burton, RRP: $79.99