A ‘Kiwi Caravan’ that is! This unlikely conservation icon has been rescued from Kapiti Island Nature Reserve and refurbished. The caravan was officially opened as an Information Hub on Sunday 3 June by the community Guardians of Whareroa Farm.
Read the history of this unassuming little caravan and pay it a visit in its new home overlooking its old one!
Rogan Colbourne, a technical advisor for animal ecology, remembers the caravan being originally sited high on Kapiti Island towards the north end. From 1980 Rogan spent three years based there – at the time for the Wildlife Service – undertaking research into the interaction of weka and little spotted kiwi.
And so, the ‘kiwi’ caravan was named, and the name has stuck.
Sponsored by the National Provident Fund, a government pension scheme, the caravan was painted salmon pink. It was essential accommodation for researchers until another hut was built around the corner in 1983.
Another long-term DOC staffer Paul Jansen, also lived and worked in the caravan.
“I was on Kapiti working as Jim Jolly’s trainee wildlife research technician. I was in the caravan for about 3 months in 1981. Maybe more.”
Paul was researching the bird’s ecology and also the interaction between kiwi and the use of their burrows by possums, before these pests were eradicated from the island. In later years the caravan was used by teams involved in the eradication of possums and rats.
Rogan says, “The caravan had an awning but was a bit cramped. It was set down in a small clearing but with time the bush overtook it and it started to deteriorate.”
Erica Cammack, ranger on Kapiti in 2005/06 stayed in the caravan to monitor kokako.
“We used it for tea breaks. Sometimes the ranger stayed overnight to be high up on the island to look out at dawn for poachers in the marine reserve. The caravan was getting pretty run down by then.”
In 2012 the caravan was flown off by helicopter to begin its new life on Whareroa Farm. But first its residents needed to be evicted.
Ken Fraser and Pete McLaughlin, volunteers from restoration group Nga Uruora helped prepare the caravan for take off.
“DOC asked us to remove all the geckos inside the caravan, but there were so many that it proved impossible to get them out. So, a good lot came across to the mainland. We also put strengthening timbers in place and removed the tie-downs.”
Once on site, the interior was refitted by MenzShed Kapiti over a few years in preparation for cosy space becoming a public information hub, to help tell the story of the farm’s ongoing restoration.
The caravan also now features a stunning large-scale mural by artist Julie Oliver.
Ann Evans of Guardians of Whareroa Farm says the inspiration for the exterior mural came when she saw Julie’s work on a hut in the Ruahine ranges.
Reflecting the landscape, the mural comprises Kāpiti Island, Tararua Ranges, and native flora and fauna but wasn’t designed until Julie saw it in its exact location.
“Every job required a unique angle,” she said.
“I had to get down to the location and get as much knowledge as I could.
“My first thoughts when I arrived at Whareroa were ‘what another stunning location, how lucky am I to be an artist in this industry?’
“I then got familiar with the native plants and became familiar with where the Whareroa Guardians were at with the restoration process, what flora and fauna there is and what it might look like in 10 years’ time.
“Talking to both the Department of Conservation and the Whareroa Guardians and finding out the history of the place was a very integral part of what’s involved in analysing the situation.”
Anne says, “This mural has now made the caravan into a very special symbol linking restoration on Kapiti Island with the mainland.”
While the finishing touches to the mural will be done in August, the opening of the caravan hub took place on June 3 to coincide with the celebration of the native kohekohe flowering in the reserve’s remnant bush.
Both Rogan and Paul were there to see the cycle of history complete.
Back on Kapiti Island, the original kiwi populations studied in those two high, isolated valleys are still monitored today. Numbers have remained static, confirming that Kapiti Island is at carrying capacity for little spotted kiwi.
Kapiti Island is the stronghold for the species – home to around 1200 of the 1650 or so alive today. Five birds were transferred there in 1912 from near Port Jackson on the South Island’s west coast. They since perished from everywhere else in New Zealand until translocations began off Kapiti in the late 1990’s. Translocations to mainland sanctuaries and offshore pest-free islands are now essential to grow the overall population, and to spread the genes – and the risk – if anything ever happens to the birds on Kapiti. There are now seven islands and three mainland sites where these – the smallest of our five kiwi species – can be found.
But only their namesake has made a home at Whareroa farm… for now.
A massive thanks to the following people and organisations for helping restore and share the history of the ‘Kiwi Caravan’:
- Rogan, Paul, Ken and Erica for information and photos.
- Menzshed Kapiti for cleaning, repairing, lining and priming the caravan and fitting it out with seats and table.
- Wellington Community Trust for funding the artist and display cabinets.
- Dulux NZ for providing the paint.
- M2PP consortium for transport to and from the MenzshedAnd to the
- Whareroa Guardians’ volunteers who championed this project and eventually made it happen, five years after the idea was conceived.
Whareroa Guardians Community Trust: our short term restoration goal is to enhance a wildlife corridor from Kapiti Island to the Tararua Ranges but our long term goal is a Kapiti pest free “Mainland Island”, including Whareroa, where existing native flora and fauna can thrive and endangered wildlife such as lizards, kakariki and even kiwi could be reintroduced.