As a photographer, Danial Eriksen was enamoured with Stewart Island/Rakiura the moment he arrived. “It’s just stunning down there, so beautiful,” he told VICE. “It’s just wild. The landscape is so raw and rugged and untouched.”
But even more than the scenery, what struck him was the women who have chosen to call this paradise—approximate population just 450 souls—home. He had made a few connections through a family friend before he got there, but otherwise just spent a couple of weeks dragging his camera around the island finding women to photograph. “I was walking around door-to-door, knocking on doors and trying to find the next woman. I’d go to the pub… and it kinda escalated—word of mouth—and I just kept just backpacking around, walking for miles trying to find these inspiring people.”
It was Eriksen’s first visit to Stewart Island/Rakiura and he found women who had “gone there to get away from all that bullshit, society I guess. Rules and regulations.” And it was the incredible strength of those women that struck him most forcefully. “They’re living on this island with these old fishermen, stuck in their old ways, and they look past it and just get on with it and they’re away in their own little world over there. It was inspiring, I guess, how strong they are.”
VICE is proud to present a wider selection of Eriksen's photographs tomorrow evening, at the release of our special Suffrage Series of Zealandia documentaries. See the Facebook event here for further details.
Becca, mussel farmer
“I'll tell you what, I was a troubled teenager. I had never even been on the sea much. I’m from a place that’s 2000 miles from the coast of the US. When I came down here, I just fell in love. I never thought I’d get to where I am right now. You know, if you want it, you can get it. You can achieve anything you really want. To any woman that is reading this… the world is your oyster. You want something? You want to try something? Don’t let it stop you.”
Becky, domestic painter
“It’s my home, I'm a nature baby. I can’t be bothered with all the bullshit in the world. This is my paradise. It’s untouched, it's beautiful, it's rugged, it's all the emotions a human can experience in a positive way. I love how raw it is; it's what I look forward to becoming when I pass on.”
Jenny, field team supervisor for the Department of Conservation
“Kākāpō are critically endangered, there’s only 153 left in the world, and they’re restricted to a couple of predator-free islands. So Whenua Hou is off the north-west coast of Rakiura, and there's a large population there. That's where I spent the majority of the last five years. They’ve got a lot of problems with predators; that's the main threat. They were thought extinct at one point, but then a small population was found in Fiordland and then eventually a population was found here on Rakiura. Back then there were about 54 birds so I’m pretty lucky to have worked on the project as it's evolved and now there are 153. It's been a good experience for me.”
Kylie, painter (left)
"When we came here I was a forklift driver and Lisa worked up at the lodge. That job fitted me because I like driving things. But since I came here I’ve been practising painting more and more. I like to paint the native birds using watercolours. I still feel really juvenile—even to call myself an artist feels strange."
Lisa, host (right)
"The job I took here was pretty gruelling, most of my energy was sucked into that. I’m a host at a lodge, and when I first got here I was cleaning toilets and being nice to people. It was actually really great in a lot of ways though. It was nice to have a job where I didn't have homework, and also really interesting to be in the service industry and to have that experience in my life where I get to be the cleaner, and to experience how people treat you differently. In my practise of being a human, I know that what I do for a job isn't who I am, but it's interesting experiencing what that's like when other people do. It was really useful for me in terms of ego and that sort of thing, it's humbling. I do feel a bit like I've been an under-cover artist on this island, like I've been in a bit of recovery, rest, recuperation. And it's been going on for four years so a lot of recovery is still happening."
Selina, commercial diver
"There's something really magical about this island. How rugged it is. The fact that the town is so small and they preserve so much of the bush, it's incredible. The community is wonderful too; it's just so beautiful."
Maureen, radio host
"I’ve been on the radio for 50 years. It was brought to Stewart Island at the end of the Second World War. The man who started it had been overseas and thought it would be good for the fishermen. His wife operated it for many years, and then I took over. We would do weather, check-ins, pass on messages, maydays. It used to be very frantic. Everything changes with time."
"I am Maori, I don't associate with my iwi, I've never been to my marae. I wasn't brought up in traditional Māori families. In fact, it wasn't something to be proud of when I was growing up, to be Māori. We spent a lot of time with my dad's family, and to be honest, they are very racist, so I never felt like I belonged in that space. Growing up I was always referred to as the ‘Māori friend’. What I've found now is that sense of identity is a really important thing, and I only really know that now, and I definitely want my daughter to have a strong sense of who she is, and that it's a beautiful thing and something to be proud of."
Emma, wildlife biologist
“When I came here, I realised that it was the best decision I’d ever made. This island is a very special place. It’s also really easy to get remote here and to be independent.”