At home in the bush
Hamiora Gibson loves the bush. The stories he tells, the life he lives, and even his nickname, Sam the Trap Man, is connected to the great outdoors. He talks to reporter Jack Marshall about his life as an outdoorsman . . .
A self-described “walking hat stand”, Hamiora Gibson — the East Coast catchment coordinator with NZ
Landcare Trust, keen surfer, whio protector, father and writer for NZ Outdoor Magazine — is a busy man. He has even made it on to an episode of the TV series Wild Kai Legends.
His travels have taken him to the US, Europe and Australia, and more recently south, to the awe-inspiring yet inhospitable Fiordland National Park.
While he was working for the Department of Conservation in the deepest parts of the South Island, Hamiora was faced with a reality check.
He lost a friend and co-worker on the job.
“He fell off a bluff and died, and that really knocked me round,” said Hamiora.
“That made me realise that you better like what you do, otherwise you shouldn’t be doing it. Because that’s a reality of working in the bush.”
As much as rangers focused on health and safety, the bush wasn’t a controlled environment and there were risks, he said.
In case his friend’s death wasn’t enough, Hamiora had his own brush with a bluff afterwards.
“I fell off one down in Fiordland and I busted my leg. It was like a proper freefall drop where you have time mid-air to think, and so it was quite a big one.
“I landed on a mossy rock and luckily the moss allowed me to sort of skid on it instead of taking the full impact. But yeah, that was pretty bad.”
He walked to a hut using his rifle as a crutch.
After a night in the hut with no sleeping bag, he was picked up by a rescue helicopter after news of his fall got through via radio.
The fall tested and strengthened his resolve.
“It put the s.... up me, this job is real.
“But for me, it goes to show that I’ve made a conscious decision in my life, that biodiversity is important to me. It is a commitment in my life. And it is even more so when you know what could happen.”
Having been pushed beyond what he thought he was capable of by deep gullies, cold winds and rock, ignorant of human comfort, Hamiora decided it was time to come to the East Coast.
“Here the rivers are loaded full of food, the hills are more hospitable. The way the typography works, for me, it feels much more welcoming.”
His early years were spent hunting with his koro, who he remembers saying, “It’s good to go away and get different perspectives, and then come back and implement them at home.”
His mother Michelle Vette is a nurse and his father Clayton Gibson was a school teacher at Gisborne Boys’ High and then Campion. He was also a teacher at the first Rudolf Steiner School in Gisborne in Valley Road in the 1980s.
His father would take school students into the back country on hikes and Hamiora would tag along.
The family grew up at Okitu, on land where an old glue factory once stood. Growing up, Hamiora would find horse hooves in the weeds.
When his koro passed away, Hamiora’s parents decided to move to Hawke’s Bay where he attended the Rudolf Steiner school, which he says helped give him a strong foundation in life.
As part of his education, he had to complete a final-year project which was a trapping programme, where he took on a section of bush and completed a conservation project.
Like many fresh out of high school, he gave university a crack, studying environmental science and politics with poor results.
“I’m a real face-to-face person, I like to learn by doing. Lecture theatres with 300 people really weren’t my vibe.”
He dropped out after a year and decided to travel, shepherding, looking after farms and surfing.
Then, “my old man pulled me aside and realised I was up to bugger-all in life”.
His dad found a diploma in environmental management at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Bay of Plenty, which could extend into a bachelor of biological science through Waikato University.
But his previous attempt at higher education had hit his confidence.
“I didn’t think it was very smart that, because I dropped out of uni. I was pretty dark on myself as far as my intelligence went.”
However, the diploma was just up his alley.
The course was practical, applied and exactly what he needed.
“My tutors would give me time off just to go contracting in the bush. I was catching frogs, kiwi, monitoring bats, cutting tracks right the way through.”
In comparison to the lecture theatre, some 50 percent of the learning was out in the field.
“I went from being someone who thought they were crap at academia, to someone who thrived.”
Now the East Coast catchment coordinator for NZ Landcare Trust, his role is to help landowners implement positive land practices, especially where endangered kiwi, karearea and whio are holding on in the
One of the projects he runs with the trust is Eastern Whio Link, which is trying to connect whio populations from Te Urewera to Te Araroa.
The whio project intertwines with another social good — helping steer people away from stumbling down a rough path in life.
“I’ve always taken younger fellas who need a bit of a run under my wing. We’ve always got younger people coming on doing voluntary stuff with us, and we work them through and we try to hook them up with a job at the end of it.
“Through the Eastern Whio Link project, we’ve had kids who are in state care come out and do work on the project. We’ve got parents who come out and we do parenting programmes, like Building Awesome Whanau.
“We teach them about traditional kai species and rongoa (medicine) — all of these things that were common a few generations ago.”
He says the bush can act like a switch, where people can turn off for a while and reset.
“We take people into the bush and we get them trapping and eating good tucker from the land, and drinking water from the stream. It slows down the pace and helps them come back to a point of balance.”
And now he and his partner Roimata are sharing all this knowledge with their two-year-old son Rehua.
The long game Hamiora wants to see is an abundance of sustainable food from the bush for everyone, but especially for tangata whenua, as well as thriving wildlife.
“There’s no reason why we can’t have kiwi on Titirangi. There’s no reason we can’t have toutouwai (North Island robin) on Titirangi. There’s no reason why we can have whio in the Waihirere stream.
“In Wellington there are kaka flying around everyone’s backyards, there’s kakariki in the park.
“That’s totally achievable for us here, especially with the amount of open space around our city, if we decide it is important to us.”