Bid to protect historic site of whaling base

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust wants to protect an almost forgotten piece of New Zealand's marine history.

The Norwegian whalers' base at Price's Inlet, Stewart Island, operated for less than 10 years before it was abandoned. Up to 38 Norwegians lived there during the winter when it was too cold to fish the Ross Sea.

Now the trust's Otago-Southland office plans to carry out a formal marine archeological survey of the base before applying to the national NZHPT board to have it declared an archeological site under the Historic Places Act.

Some of the base lies on private land and some on council-administered road reserve and shoreline.

The base was not protected under any New Zealand legislation or regional or district plan, but was worthy of protection as a significant cultural heritage site, NZHPT Otago-Southland regional archeologist Dr Matthew Schmidt said last week.

It was under threat from coastal erosion, visitor impacts and fossicking, including the removal of relics, he said.

In April, the NZHPT was contacted by a marine heritage enthusiast seeking permission to remove the propellers so they could be restored and put on display in Picton.

People wanting to remove items would have to seek permission from a council, Dr Schmidt said.

"[But] without any specific legal heritage protection, interested parties such as the Department of Conservation or the NZHPT would find it difficult to successfully oppose their removal."

A declaration would give the area the same protection as pre-1900 sites automatically covered by the Historic Places Act.

Declarations were rare, he said. There were only five in New Zealand and only one in the South Island - the Upper Nevis goldmining area in Central Otago.

On Friday, Environment Southland's environmental management committee approved a $10,000 grant towards the cost of the survey.

The money will come from funding budgeted for the Southland Coastal Heritage Inventory Project, a partnership between the council, the NZHPT, Te Ao Marama Inc, the New Zealand Archaeological Association and the Department of Conservation.

He was very happy about the grant, Dr Schmidt said.

The NZHPT and others would also contribute towards the cost of the survey and it was hoped it would be carried out early next year.