The late Robert Louis Stevenson spent the last four years of his life in Western Samoa, dying at the age of 44 in 1894.

He is buried on the summit of Mt Vaea that rises up behind his grand homestead in Vailima, Upolu.

Put it on your bucket-list if it's not already. Stevenson is known for classics such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was also a great orator and to Samoans he was simply known as Tusitala – the teller of tales.

Samoans have taken him into their hearts with Tusitala being a popular name along with well-known hotels in his honour. His legend lives on in the Pacific and his homeland and through his stories.


His wife Fanny was also well known to locals as an articulate and entertaining Californian 10 years his senior. Those Americans certainly got around the Pacific in the 1800s.

During Labour Weekend I had the privilege of showing a couple of visiting Americans, Craig and his wife Verna from Tampa, Florida, around the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga.

We laid on the tourist experiences from the Treaty Grounds to Tane Mahuta and pretty much everything in between.

Craig is the chair of the International Economic Development Council and we wanted to show off but both he and Verna allowed us to see things from their eyes, sometimes for the first time.

Russell is very proud of its past, not least the Duke of Marlborough Hotel. Photo / File
Russell is very proud of its past, not least the Duke of Marlborough Hotel. Photo / File

I did set Craig up a bit by pushing him to the front of our group at Waitangi and volunteering him, from behind, to be the manuhiri chief. This experience was very meaningful to them; the history, the stories, the experience, the authenticity and the humour put on by the team at Waitangi - awesome.

We of course experienced some of the finer sides of Northland with the consistently amazing food, wine and service at The Duke of Marlborough, and the stylish new Sage restaurant at Paroa Bay Winery.

But I digress, this column is about story telling.

Across to the Hokianga and a visit to Clendon House on our way to Tane Mahuta where some threads came together for our visiting Americans.

"In 1835 James Clendon was one of only five Pakeha signatories to James Busby's 1835 declaration of Independence."

He subsequently acted as United States Consul to New Zealand from 1839 to 1841, and witnessed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Yep the Americans were sniffing around Aotearoa in the mid-1800s along with the Russians, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, British and French – parlez-vous Francais?

James Clendon became known to local Māori as Tuatara because he managed to get into all sorts of nooks and crannies with his primary occupation as a trader. Appropriate economic development segue there.

Anyway, that's the tip of the iceberg in the story of the Clendons, in particular his second wife Jane, nee Cochrane, from the Mangamukas of Māori royalty and Irish descent who added a further eight children to the six from his first marriage.

Jane's story is gritty and heroic. I hope your interest is piqued so you can go and listen to local story-teller Lindsay from the Historic Places Trust who sat us down in the kitchen and brought the whole story to life.

Our time together was capped off by the stories of the four sisters, Te Matua Ngahere, and Tane Mahuta told artfully by Kiani at Footprints Waipoua.

It's safe to say our friends were blown away, but so where we. So, here's to our story-tellers, you bring history, meaning and authenticity to experiences but most of all you touch lives. Thank you.

■ Dr David Wilson is chief executive officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and chairman of Economic Development NZ.