Monday was a flurry of excitement for the Department of Conservation team with a visit by His Royal Highness, Prince William, to Kapiti Island to take in some of the wonderful wildlife sights.
I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of the team of DOC staff who would welcome him to the island and show him some of what makes Kapiti Island so special. It was the request from his private office that he really wanted to experience some New Zealand nature, and have a bit of quiet time to enjoy some of our natural heritage. Well, we’re happy to show people around who are interested in our weird and wonderful wildlife – but showing a royal visitor around takes quite a bit of planning!!!
When he arrived in the afternoon with Prime Minister John Key, the Associate Minister for Conservation Kate Wilkinson and a few of their staff, there were hundreds of people lined up on the beach to catch a glimpse of him – and instead of jumping straight on the boat (as planned), he wandered over to talk to all the people and families who’d come to visit him – even enjoying a bit of frisbee with someone.
After a relatively short boat trip with Kapiti Tours to the island, we disembarked to rapid fire shutterclicks of dozens of photographers, as well as journalists and camera crews. The Prince and the rest of the party were then welcomed to the island by local Iwi, which was also enjoyed by a curious weka who wandered out of the bush to listen to the mihi much to the delight of the guests.
After the welcome, the Prince was offered the opportunity to hold a kiwi, which he did with ease (they’re not that easy to hold when you’ve never done it before, and they can kick!). The kiwi seemed pretty relaxed tucked into his royal jersey, and he was able to show it to visiting students from three local secondary schools who’d been specially chosen to join the visit to Kapiti Island. When it was time to release the kiwi back to the wild, Prince William was comfortable enough to put it back himself. (he’d make a good ranger, I reckon!).
After the kiwi scuttled back to the undergrowth, it was time for the media and the Prime Minister and the Associate Minister for Conservation to make their farewells and head back to the mainland.
At this point, the prince and I went for a walk up the hill into the native forest to check out some of the native wildlife. This was a bit stressful for me because nature is nature, and you can’t guarantee that it will appear!!! However, we were extremely lucky and almost tripped over two takahe on our way to the track! The prince was very interested, especially to hear that up until fifty years ago, they were thought to be extinct. He was very chatty, and was especially interested in nature – and we shared our thoughts on how to encourage people’s connection with nature here in New Zealand and in Britain.
I am embarrassed to admit he was a far better nature spotter than me, and was first to see many of the birds we encountered, including tui, kakariki, robins and a kaka. I was striding up the track when he pointed out two cute morepork chicks (almost fledged) and their mum, watching us from about a metre above. We were extremely lucky to see moreporks during the day. I asked the prince how he’d spotted them, and he said it was all about tuning your ears in to nature.
All too soon it was time to head back down the track and he told me how much he appreciated the opportunity to have some quiet time to experience the outdoors during his extremely busy visit to New Zealand. I was really happy to have met a fellow conservation crusader – who just happened to be the future King of England.