Geocaching in Wellington Harbour

Department of Conservation —  15/09/2016

Ranger Lee Barry headed to Matiu/Somes Island to check on the local geocaches ahead of the National Geocaching Challenge, running during Conservation Week.

“Dad! The sparkles on the water look like stars!”

And so they do. It’s one of those days you can’t beat Wellington on. Matiu Somes Island seems to float on the still waters of the inner harbour. I share the top deck of the East by West ferry with two enthusiastic boys and their dad. A cracker day for work or fun on Wellington’s predator free island haven.

Matiu/Somes Island on a good day.

Matiu/Somes Island on a good day

I was primarily heading out to do maintenance on the island’s geocaches. Geo – what? I hear you say!  Geocaches are hidden treasures chests hunted by players armed with a GPS and a keen sense of direction. DOC’s National Geocaching Challenge has kicked off for Conservation Week. A neat way to get kids and grown ups alike into the outdoors. There are also great prizes up for grabs thanks to Air New Zealand.

The geocaches on Matiu Somes are a bit unique – players have left only natural “treasures” for others to find and swap. The smallest DOC hut in the country overlooks the southern point of Matiu Some Island. Could this be where one of those geocaches are hidden?

Lambing season is in full swing on Matiu Somes Island. A little lamb approaches – he couldn’t be fresher, born just minutes before I turned up. A small flock of sheep help control the pasture and reduce fire risk on the island.

Kākāriki are thriving on Matiu Somes Island since their re-introduction. The island tracks are alive with their chattering calls and fleeting green flashes.

In the spring-like sunshine, the trackside tussock was rustling as the numerous spotted skinks scuttled for cover. Maybe I scared a tuatara or two off too!

The fine spring day was welcomed by a host of DOC staff, contractors and volunteers.

Rangers Karen Love (Te Ati Awa) and Nick Fisentzidis check and restock bait stations – keeping the island predator-free is critical for the survival of endangered species like tuatara, giant weta and kākāriki. All visitors are met at the Whare Kiore – the rat house – where bags, pockets, clothing and shoes are checked for stowed away animals and weed seeds.

From the cliff top tracks I also spotted a kayaker hugging the rocks close to shore – great day for a paddle, I thought! I later met him back at the wharf, and we got talking. Turns out he is a member of Karo Busters – the volunteer weeding group who have scoured the island for over 30 years, dealing to various pest plants. Thankfully, the last of the karo trees are officially wiped out – in fact, one sample plant is grown in the nursery just to remind rangers and volunteers what they look like!

Robert Holt of Callaghan Innovation was out on the island to check on the experimental hydrogen gas generation system – the first of its kind in the world. Excess energy generated by the island’s solar cells and wind turbine is converted to hydrogen gas which in turn heats water for hand-washing and even runs the island BBQ! The system is being trailed on Matiu Somes with potential application to island communities in New Zealand and overseas.

Our little gem sparkling in the harbour is a bit of a hidden treasure in itself. Just twenty minutes from central Wellington, there is a tight sense of community between rangers, volunteer and visitors alike. Lambs, renewable energy, treasure hunts and endangered species everywhere you look – what’s not to love? Best of all there are bookable sole occupancy lodges and camping options for your next micro-adventure.

Find out more about Matiu Somes Island on the DOC website.

One response to Geocaching in Wellington Harbour


    There has been a community wind to hydrogen system installed in the Shetland Islands (UK) for 10 years, it’s a great idea, and brilliant to see it being used in remote locations. Maybe you could pass on the details so that they could collaborate