Volunteering on Kāpiti Island

Department of Conservation —  22/06/2015

It’s National Volunteer Week and we’re honouring the selfless souls who volunteer for conservation—highlighting the diversity of conservation volunteers and volunteer opportunities around New Zealand.

There is a place for you to volunteer | He wahi hei tuao 

By Anne Harper, DOC Volunteer, Auckland

Anne Harper with a kākāpō on Codfish Island.

Anne Harper with a kākāpō on Codfish Island

To paint a picture of my day-to-day life: I work in Auckland’s Karangahape Road as a consultant in GIS/location intelligence, in an awesome shared office with amazing inspiring people.

A lot of the time I’m out working with clients—in offices, on laptops, with lots of interesting techy stuff, but loads of inside time. It’s a fun job, but almost always indoors.

As fun and exciting as the city is, I just adore our forests and oceans! I can live in a big city if I get loads of nature time. So, this past summer, I headed south to Kāpiti Island to work for a month.

The view from Kāpiti Island.

The view from Kāpiti Island

I forgot all about Facebook and emails—no hours in front of my laptop screen. Instead, I was out as late as midnight—under the moon and stars—spotlighting for our native geckos in some of the most remote parts of the island; or painting, weeding, track clearing and getting my hands and heart into our forest and soils.

Anne identifying a gecko for the Kāpiti Island reptile survey.

Identifying a gecko for the Kāpiti Island reptile survey

I loved the physical work—soaking up the fresh air and being in tune with the natural daylight hours.

I learned loads about our biodiversity and ecosystems. It was wonderful spending time with the rangers and absorbing their knowledge of all the life here on Kāpiti. Also, for an office worker like me, finding out about general island maintenance and the rangers’ biodiversity work was a great chance to learn some practical things.

North Island Kaka, Kāpiti Island. Photo: Nadine Gibbs.

North Island Kaka

One day’s work involved tramping around the island for 7 hours. I’ve done long days tramping like that before—on Codfish/Whenua Hou Island, in the Ruahines, and in Fiordland—but this was the most challenging terrain out of all those places! Full respect to all those people who have traversed the island on these incredibly rugged working tracks, most often for pest eradications.

Kāpiti Island cliffs, looking south. Photo: Mike Aviss.

Kāpiti Island cliffs, looking south

It’s amazing the sheer effort that has gone into the biosecurity of the island. In the past the focus has been on removing rats, mustelids and possums. These days, other threats include Argentine ants and rainbow skinks as these have been found on the mainland in the Kāpiti region.

When I go to the island, before I leave home, I check absolutely everything for seeds and for all the aforementioned potentially devastating critters. I do it again on the shore, before getting on the boat; and then again in the quarantine room on the island.

Takahē on Kāpiti Island.

Takahē on Kāpiti Island

Over the month I did a few shifts with the stitchbird/hihi, small endangered birds which have been introduced to this island sanctuary, who are just a little shy of the boisterous tūī and bellbird/korimako so they need some help in the way of supplementary feeding.

Stitchbird / hihhi. Photo: David Cook Wildlife Photography | CC BY-NC 2.0.

Stitchbird / hihhi

I’ve been thoroughly trained by Nick, who runs the supplementary feeding program on Kāpiti, on how to make the nectar, fill the feeders and clean/sterilise the feeders. This is all-important, and it took a year of volunteering on weekends, while I was living in Wellington, for me to be trained and competent to do the work alone.

This summer on Kāpiti I was treated to so many gifts from the ocean and forest: dolphin pods, sunsets, shooting stars, calling kiwi, singing tīeke, bouncing kōkako; swimming in the marine reserve and seeing rays and blue cod. And great times with the wonderful people on the island.

Blue cod, near Arapawaiti Point, Kāpiti Island Marine Reserve. Photo © Malcom Francis / NIWA.

Blue cod, Kāpiti Island Marine Reserve

Thanks a million, Gen, Nick and DOC, for taking me on as a volunteer ranger, investing time in my training and giving me the opportunity to connect with paradise.

Kāpiti Island. Photo: tony_the_bald_eagle | CC BY-ND 2.0.

Kāpiti Island

Returning to the big smoke I think of how I can shape the city environment and economy, through choosing cycling, walking, adventuring in Auckland’s own wonderful forests and beaches, and getting involved in community conservation projects up here. I’ve now reduced my work hours to free up time to focus on bringing more nature into my life and living spaces.

2 responses to Volunteering on Kāpiti Island

    Claire Baldwin 09/09/2015 at 2:28 am

    How Awesome Anne – I bet it was a great refresher and a great change.


    What a wonderful experience – something to treasure for the rest of your life.