Written by: Elisabeth Ross, pictured below with her husband, Ben Long

Elisabeth (Lisa) Ross recently returned from a two week trip to the South Island of New Zealand sponsored by a board member of the Prince William Sound Science Center, a non-profit research and education center in Cordova, Alaska that Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot has represented for many years.

We helped the Science Center win Congressional approval to establish the Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Administered by the Science Center, the Institute conducts research both to identify and develop the best techniques, equipment, and materials to address oil spills in the Arctic and sub-Arctic marine environments, and to mitigate oil spill impacts on fish and wildlife. Additionally, we succeeded in establishing a special federal funding mechanism for OSRI not subject to the normal Congressional appropriations process, and later, achieved increases to funding levels to enable OSRI to sponsor even more beneficial scientific research.

Lisa attended an annual benefit for the Science Center in Cordova, Copper River Nouveau, in June 2016 on the firm’s behalf. During the live auction, she and her husband were the winning bidders on an opportunity to spend four days with a Science Center board member on his farm located in the northwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand.

The trip turned out to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see New Zealand through the eyes of someone actually living there, especially since he could add fascinating scientific facts as background to our treks. He had been part of the group of local volunteers who helped refloat a large group of stranded pilot whales on nearby Golden Bay. He said as the whales beached, they cried in distress to other whales in the pod, causing even more to land on shore to answer the calls. That was one reason so many were stranded on the beach.

As soon as Lisa arrived, she was scaling an “easy” straight uphill hike to a waterfall, and the athletic hikes continued for all four days. As a result, she was treated to wonderful scenic views rivaling Alaska’s best. The hikes culminated in a seven-mile excursion to Mutton Cove, a beautiful beach in the Abel Tasman National Park close to Separation Point that separates Golden Bay from Tasman Bay.

Abel Tasman was a Dutch seafarer, explorer, and merchant who was the first known European to reach New Zealand and Tasmania in 1642. Tasman used his compass to journey east from Tasmania over rough seas and assumed when he spotted land on the northwest coast of the South Island, that it was connected to an island at the southern tip of South America. He sent his shipmates ashore to gather water, but they were attacked by Maori in double-hulled canoes, and four were killed. Tasman never actually made it onto land at that time but named the area Murderers’ Bay (now known as Golden Bay). The National Park established in his honor contains the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a spectacularly beautiful trail that follows the coastline and is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

Captain James Cook later explored the South Island in the Endeavour in 1770.

Over the next week, Lisa continued to explore the South Island, driving through scenery made world-famous in the Lord of the Rings movies. She ended her trip on a cruise of Milford Sound, a fiord in the southwest corner of the Island. Called the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, the Sound is a World Heritage site and was judged the world’s top travel destination in a 2008 international survey. The Sound is ringed by huge mountains jutting straight out of crystal blue water. Picture Prince William Sound, but warm and sunny with a prominent waterfall three times as high as the Empire State building.

Alaskans should go to the Science Center Copper River Nouveau auction this year on June 10, because similar opportunities may be offered again!