Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC have a small team of staff and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.
Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by Raoul Island Team Leader – Restoration, Jess Clark.
On my bucket list
For 10 years, going to Raoul was pencilled in on my life agenda, and my time here is nearly over. In some respects the time is passing way too fast, in others it has been a long haul.
I thought I was off to live on a remote island and it would be fairly low profile, but this year has had more than its fair share of high profile visitors and media attention. Let’s hope the existence and significance of the Kermadecs is now more widely renowned.
It’s the beginning of summer when you arrive for the year long stint. Everything is flowering and breeding with cute babies everywhere as the next generation flourishes in a pest free environment.
There is sand on the beach for refreshing swims as you settle into the grand Raoul lifestyle. There is a good month of stinking hot humidity to sweat through the worst of the semi tropical climate. The top peaks of the island seem forever cloaked in cloud, creating its unique cloud bush habitat.
Getting to grips with Raoul
The bush is interesting and includes the lowland dry areas, as well as the cloud forest where there is the most diversity, with of course pohutukawa throughout.
Admittedly, it’s frustrating at first at getting familiar with the plants. Species appearing like mainland species but existing in different habitat and others like ‘Mapou’ looking completely different to its mainland relative with the same common name. Compared to the Waitakere Ranges there are distinctly less insects and spiders, which I have to admit I appreciate while scrambling amongst it all weeding.
The weeding is like going tramping in a team and sometimes when I’m climbing amongst the cyclone ravaged pohutukawa I feel like I’m in the movie Avatar, just without the flying and a bit more sweat, dirt and scratches.
Airdrops are always thrilling and I feel privileged to have had first hand experience with the NZ Navy, Air Force and Army.
A glimpse of a different world
The sea is teeming with marine life, including a few seemingly impassive sharks, which are always magnificent to observe. Hours can be lost snorkelling and exploring the underwater world that collides against spectacular lava formations and rocks along the coast.
This is sea bird terrain, the racket of calls, squawks and chatter with their soaring wing spans or crowded flocks dominate the skies around the Meyers and infiltrate the subdued underwater world.
I’ll never forget the tropic bird stalling for a good 10 seconds mid-flight only meters away from me, turning its head to check me out. I have become accustomed to kakariki hanging out on the lawn, not bothering to fly away until you almost trip over them.
It was an exciting and eventful winter with La Nina delivering Cyclone Bune and many other storms that raged over the island leaving destruction behind them, which in turn has opened up opportunity for the pioneer stages of Raoul bush to regenerate the open space left behind.
I feel like we are just coming out the other side of winter, and I’m glad I brought my hottie! A time of clear blue sky days with a crisp horizon line before it becomes hazy with humidity and wafts of the pleasant pungent aroma scent the air that will forever be a smell of Raoul for me.
More whales and sea birds are returning everyday for another season of their life at the Kermadecs and the change-over is drawing near for the annual swap of staff and volunteers.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction surviving on a remote island for a year, although you certainly are not roughing it with the living conditions.
I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have contributed, weeded, protected, experienced and continued the legacy of many others in New Zealand’s most northern territory, and one heck of an environmentally significant place.
I’d like to send out a big welcome to the new team starting out on their Raoul journey.