Working on Matiu/Somes Island

Department of Conservation —  28/06/2016

By Don Herron, Visitor Centre Ranger in Wellington

Recently I was lucky enough to spend a night working on Matiu/Somes Island as Duty Ranger. Owned by local iwi Taranaki Whanui ki Te Upoku o Te Ika, Matiu/Somes is a historic and scenic reserve with a colourful history.

Catching the ferry to Matiu/Somes Island.

Catching the ferry to Matiu/Somes Island

When Matiu/Somes Island Ranger Evan Ward needed a night away recently he asked me to cover his duties on the island. After a ferry ride from nearby Eastbourne, I along with the other visitors head into the Whare Kiore. The island has been mammalian free since 1989 and the Whare Kiore is the place to check all your gear for intruders such as rats, mice and Argentine ants. If these animals got on to the island they would kill and eat the native wildlife. The room is also used to check for any plant material.

Looking across to Wellington from Matiu/Somes Island.

Looking across to Wellington

The Island Ranger handles all work on the island and is a contact person for visitors. The island is lucky to have a large network of volunteers who help. The Eastbourne Forest Park Rangers come out every weekend. They help with the quarantine in the Whare Kiore, and the ferries. This is great as it allows the DOC rangers to concentrate on other island jobs.

Evan had given me a list of tasks to complete for my stay. Before all jobs are started, staff need to identify and assess the risks. From this they plan accordingly to minimise and where possible eliminate these risks.

The first was to paint the window frames of the old hospital which is now used as a Visitor Centre and an office. The weather was nice so it was an ideal time to paint. After donning the correct safety equipment and mixing the paint I was ready to go. This job took me most of the morning. Painting always seems to take far longer than planed.

Paint the window frames on the Visitor Centre.

Painting the window frames

The islands renewable energy system is responsible for all the islands energy needs. Solar and wind is used to generate power. This reduces the need to use diesel generators. One of the technicians was out for the morning testing and checking the equipment. A starter battery for the generator had gone flat, and I needed to go find the battery charger. Only coming to the island occasionally meant I had to think hard to find where it is kept. I finally remembered that it was kept with the tractor! This saved me ringing poor Evan.

Renewable energy system on Matiu/Somes Island.

Renewable energy system on Matiu/Somes Island

After lunch (it’s always important to be well fed and watered) I had a couple of smaller tasks to do. The first was to give the Visitor Centre a clean. Some work had been done and it needed a wipe down and a wash.

Being a weekend it was busy on the island with lots of visitors. One of the best parts of the jobs is chatting to the visitors; they always enjoy their visit and are envious of me spending a night on the island. I always tell that there are two houses and camping sites that members of the public can book. These are popular, especially over the weekends. They are ideal for family groups.

The afternoon ferries can be busy. The day visitors are leaving and the overnighters are arriving. After the last boat at 4.30pm I am finished for the day.

I was excited for my overnight stay. I was wanting to see some little blue penguins/kororā. They are the world’s smallest penguins and easily the cutest. After dinner I want for a night walk down to the main wharf and spotted some. I chatted briefly to them asking them about their day and what they were having for dinner. I didn’t get a reply; I think they were happy talking to each other. I headed back up the hill on the lookout for some tuatara. Unfortunately I didn’t see any.

Littl blue penguin/kororā. Photo: J Harrison.

Littl blue penguin/kororā. Photo: J Harrison

The first task of the following day is to check that the sheep are okay. This involves a walk up to the top of the hill to check on them. This is a great start to the day. The island has fantastic views of the surrounding hills. Wellington City can be seen to the south and the Hutt valley to the north. The distant Tararua Range had a dusting of snow.

The sheep on Matiu/Somes Island.

The sheep on Matiu/Somes Island

I was leaving on the first ferry so cleaned up the workshop and put away my painting stuff. Before heading down the hill to the ferry I wrote down what I had done and observed in the island diary. This way Evan can cross it off his list and check that I have done everything right.

Waiting for the ferry I have to check the fresh water levels. The island gets it fresh water from an aquifer in the harbour. This is the only fresh water on the island. It is monitored each day to check how much is used.

Evan got off the first ferry and I got on. He was relieved that the island had been safely looked after, and I was disappointed that I had to leave.