Fiordland kiwi diaries: The Shy Lake housing crisis

Department of Conservation —  18/09/2017

We caught up with Tim, a ranger on the front lines of the Save Our Iconic Kiwi initiative. This is the third in a series following the work he’s doing to save the Fiordland tokoeka (kiwi). Check out the first and second posts. 

Our first job for the new kiwi project at Shy Lake was to get radio transmitters on enough adults that we could hope for a worthwhile sample this year in terms of survival monitoring. We had a couple of months of pushing pretty hard in the few weather windows that April and May in Fiordland afforded us, but finished with a respectable total of 23 birds from 14 pairs.

As June rolls around, we have to stop catching birds. They may start nesting as early as late June, and so to avoid disturbing nesting behaviour as much as possible, we give them a few weeks’ leeway to settle down after the stressful process of being captured for transmitter fitting.


Photo: Tim/DOC

With recruitment for our study at an end for the year, it was time for a change of focus for a couple of months. Our catching trips had all been based from tent camps, mostly just at the bush line. As autumn turned to winter this became increasingly demanding, with every night dipping well below zero and few opportunities to fully dry out and warm up.

Now that the catching season was at an end, I had the time to turn my attentions to infrastructure. Contractors Ben and Stef did a great job of cutting a track across the valley in difficult conditions. Meanwhile Em, Karen and I focused on the Shy Lake housing crisis.


Photo: Tim/DOC

We’ve been fortunate to acquire a couple of small flyable bivvies that were surplus to requirements in other areas. It’s a big cost saver for us not to have to build from scratch, but a lot of work has still been necessary to get them fitted out and installed.

Having got them to Te Anau, the first job was to install underfloor insulation for those frigid alpine nights. Sounds easy, but getting at the floor was a little harder. The solution in the end was to use a forklift to tip them on their side, cushioned by tyres and old mattresses. From there we could fit insulation between the joists and cover the whole lot in metal sheeting – essential to protect the insulation from the kea, and the kea from the insulation.


One of the small flyable bivvies. Photo: Tim/DOC

Over at Shy Lake, a site was levelled and foundations were dug. The frozen top layer of soil proved surprisingly easy digging – much better than the mud that might have been expected in the warmer months. Unfortunately, the rocky Fiordland terrain caused no end of trouble for driving waratahs and digging deep holes for piles to anchor the steel stays. Along one side of the site we had to abandon our original plan for piles, and opt instead for bolts glued into the bedrock.

Of course, Fiordland being Fiordland, it proved a challenge to keep these holes drained to allow the mortar to set, and we watched disconsolately as our holes slowly filled up with frigid muddy water.

Shy lake

Left: laying the foundation for the bivvy. Photo: Tim/DOC Right: Bivvy being flown in. Photo: Karen Andrew

But after many hours of stamping on spades and swinging sledgehammers and pickaxes, we were rewarded with a welcome sight: a low thudding drone heralded the arrival of a helicopter and, hanging from a cable below, our first bivvy! Expertly piloted by Gaven, the bivvy was dropped into place, to my relief lining up nicely with the foundations we had prepared.

A few weeks later, a second bivvy followed – this one with the added bonus of some very welcome heating. A fine reward for weeks of hard work, “Celmisia Lodge” sits in the sunshine with a commanding view of the valley. This will be our main base and provide shelter from the storm for the next 5+ years of fieldwork.


Our new accommodation. Photo: Tim/DOC

This is the third in a series of posts about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.

4 responses to Fiordland kiwi diaries: The Shy Lake housing crisis

    Jackie du Toit 22/09/2017 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful work. Look forward to hearing how you get on finding the chicks.


    What a great read. Must have been hell as it got colder. Just curious what happens to the bivvys do they get to remain there for public use or are they to be removed?

      Tim Raemaekers 12/11/2017 at 9:51 am

      Hi Greg, the project will run for 5+ years and then the bivvies will be removed to go to somewhere else. They wouldn’t be much use to the public anyway as the area can only be practically reached by helicopter.


    I know DOC can often get a hard time but we think you all do an amazing job. Thanks everyone.