From eco-warrior to jungle king

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Queenstown eco-warrior Antony Rewcastle’s work is leading him to the remote and steamy jungles of Papua New Guinea. 

Last New Year he made a resolution to try to visit two Papua New Guineans he studied with at Canterbury’s Lincoln University. 

Then a relative spotted a Volunteer Service Abroad advert for an eco forestry advisor in PNG – and now the intrepid Queenstowner is heading to the southwestern Pacific country for a two-year working stint. 

Rewcastle, 36, leaves tomorrow for a role in one of VSA’s most remote locations – a tribal jungle village of 200 people on an island where very few foreigners have lived. 

Rewcastle says he’s going there “to push the boundaries a little bit” and he’ll write long-term management plans for a wildlife, conservation and forestry area. 

When he arrives he’ll undertake a two-week course in pidgin English before going to Toimtop Village, on East New Britain – a five-hour banana boat trip and half-hour walk from the nearest town. 

Rewcastle admits he’s concerned about snakes and spiders “but I’m being immunised for just about everything you can think of”. 

He is also taking lifejackets donated by Kawarau Jet and rugby balls and clothing from Canterbury of Queenstown for the locals. 

“I hope to be able to report back with opportunities for the Queenstown community to assist further,” he says. 

Rewcastle’s long and winding road to PNG started with his first volunteer planting day on Pigeon Island, soon after arriving in Queenstown in 2002. 

He then became involved in a volunteer day on Ben Lomond, above the gondola, clearing an area of 10-15-year-old Douglas firs. 

“I saw how a few passionate and enthusiastic people could make a huge difference in saving the unique biodiversity that Queenstown has in its backyard,” Rewcastle says. 

In 2007 he took over as EcoAction’s projects coordinator from Colin Day. 

The main spur to removing wilding pines was the formation of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group, early last year, he says. Rewcastle has been its treasurer. 

“With the support we’re getting, we should have wildings under control within the next three to five years,” he says. 

“The work is important for tourism and for residents here and generations to come.” 

A landscape architect, Rewcastle first worked in town for Morgan + Pollard before joining Queenstown Lakes District Council’s regulatory body CivicCorp – now Lakes Environmental – in 2004.