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Healthy Nature, Healthy People — the theme for this year’s Conservation Week got DOC’s Kurt Sharpe thinking about his own time spent in nature.

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We’re celebrating National Volunteer Week (15-21 June 2014). Join us as we share stories of the volunteers who contribute to conservation.

Matiu/Somes Island had been on my list of places to visit in Wellington since I moved here 7 years ago and, when I recently spotted a volunteering opportunity online, I knew it would be a great way to see some of the island and at the same time play my part in helping to protect and restore it.

Kurt holding a giant weta on Matiu/Somes Island.

Cook Strait giant weta

It was a calm morning when I arrived down on the Wellington waterfront to catch the ferry across to the island.

15 of us showed up (all complete strangers) and we were all keen to get stuck in and help out Rangers Jo and Emma, who live on the island and look after it.

On the ferry with Wellington City in the background.

Taking the ferry over to Matiu/Somes Island

Once on the island we were taken through the biosecurity process and then made our way up to the Visitor Centre.

Jo and Emma had jobs lined up for us and gave us plenty of options to make sure we did jobs that we enjoyed.

Visitor Centre sign on Matiu/Somes Island.

First stop – Visitor centre

I chose some of the more physical jobs and ended up helping regravel some tracks, clear overgrown paths and gutters and clean out the gun emplacements on the top of the island – the last of which offered some amazing 360° views around the harbour.

Gun emplacements at the top of Matiu/Somes Island.

Gun emplacements after a good clean out

At lunch time we were able to explore the island and check out the historic lighthouse and quarantine facilities. There was also an array of native species on the island to look out for, including kākāriki, tuatara, giant weta and little blue penguins.

The lighthouse on Matiu/Somes Island.

The lighthouse

The volunteers were a great group of people and it was the enthusiasm that everyone bought to the day that made sure it was never dull or difficult.

The time seemed to fly by and after a few more jobs after lunch it was time to head back down to the ferry.

Matiu/Somes Island at the end of the day.

Heading home.

A stunning island, a sunny day, some physical activity (who needs a gym?) and meeting a great group of people. What more could you want? I can’t wait to go back and help out again!

I’ve recently returned from Codfish Island/Whenua Hou where I spent a week helping rangers from DOC’s Kākāpō Recovery team. While I was there I was lucky enough to experience the hatching of the first kākāpō chick of the season.

The journey to Codfish Island began with my first ever ride in a helicopter. As the chopper flew over Foveaux Strait I could almost hear the Jurassic Park soundtrack playing in my head. We were heading to the New Zealand equivalent of a ‘land before time’.

Helicopter landed on Codfish Island. Photo: Kurt Sharpe.

My first helicopter ride

Upon arriving on the island it truly did feel like I had been transported to another era. Birds, bats, lizards and insects ruled the island, and the small hut just off the main beach at Sealer’s Bay, seemed to be an oddity in such a wild and ancient place.

The island is home to most of the surviving population of kākāpō in the world, and was teeming with kākā, kākāriki, korimako, mōhua and the Codfish Island mātātā.

Codfish Island fernbird. Photo: Abbey McMillan.

Codfish Island mātātā. Photo: Abbey McMillan

The diversity of plants at different points on the island was stunning; I had never before seen such lush plant life and native bush. The local korimako/bellbirds were by far the friendliest native inhabitants of these bushes and they were not afraid to land right at your feet and check you out before returning back to the bushes alongside the tracks.

The curiosity of the bellbirds was only rivalled by that of a kākā called George who loved getting his beak into anything that was left lying around the hut. He was even blamed for one or two items of clothes that went missing from the washing line.

View across to Stewart Island. Photo: Abbey McMillan.

The view across to Stewart Island. Photo: Abbey McMillan

Having grown up in the North Island I had never before seen a mōhua/yellowhead. This beautiful little bird was last year crowned New Zealand’s Bird of the Year so I really hoped I would get to see one during my stay. Not only did I get to see one, but I discovered they are social creatures and groups of them could be seen flitting from branch to branch and singing from the treetops.

Mōhua. Photo: Jinty McTavish.

Mōhua. Photo: Jinty McTavish

At night the short-tailed bats took over the island. Unlike other bats they use their folded wings as limbs to scramble around on the ground to search for food, if you are walking around the island at night you have to be careful where you step.

The booming and chinging of the male kākāpō can be heard all over the island at night. One evening, as we were transporting gear from one of the kākāpō nest sites, we ran into Wolf the kākāpō booming his little heart out just off the track. If you’ve never heard a kākāpō boom before it’s quite an unusual sound. Not only do you hear it but you can also feel the vibrations go right through you.

A booming kākāpō.

A booming kākāpō

DOC’s ensures the kākāpō are well looked after and protected from pests and diseases. Quarantine on the island is strict. Diseases and pests could do real harm to the remaining kākāpō population and the other species that call Codfish Island home.

While on the island one female kākāpō needed to be caught for a health check. Transmitters make finding the kākāpō a reasonably easy job, although catching them isn’t always as simple. Sometimes the kākāpō might be sleeping up in a tree or tucked away on the forest floor. These are wild animals, so they don’t take kindly to human intrusion. In this case the kākāpō was easily found and caught and the health check turned out to be a quick and painless affair.

Kākāpō health check. Photo: Kurt Sharpe.

Kākāpō health check

DOC’s Kākāpō Recovery team doing an amazing job caring for the kākāpō of Codfish Island and I consider myself really lucky to have spent a week there meeting this team who are doing an awesome job for kākāpō conservation.

Watch this short video of my first meeting of a kākāpō on Codfish Island:

I’ve just come back from spending a week on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou down by Stewart Island helping the Kākāpō Recovery Team with the important work they do to look after those mossy green parrots.

Looking down on Codfish Island.

Codfish Island/Whenua Hou

With only 126 kākāpō in the world every chick counts, so imagine how stoked I was to be able to witness the hatching of the first kākāpō chick for the 2014 breeding season. Hopefully there could be up to six new kākāpō chicks by the end of this season.

I arrived in the deep south to news that the egg that was due to hatch had been accidentally crushed by kākāpō mum-to-be Lisa. The kākāpō rangers had been monitoring the nest and were able to swiftly rescue the egg and, thanks to some quick thinking and some good old-fashioned ‘kiwi ingenuity’ from ranger Jo Ledington, the egg was carefully repaired with some glue and tape.

A crushed kakapo egg.

Lisa’s crushed egg

The condition of the bird inside the egg wasn’t known, but everyone crossed their fingers and hoped that this little chick would be a fighter.

The day I flew into Codfish Island the chick could be heard pipping inside the egg. This was a big relief to know that the chick was alive and almost ready to hatch.

After dinner kākāpō ‘surrogate mum’ Darryl Eason ran in to tell us that the chick was starting to hatch.

Kakapo egg in the incubator starting to hatch.

Hatch day for the egg in the incubator

Luckily the chick managed to find an exit from the egg avoiding the tape and hatching out the other side. It was a frail looking bundle of fluff, but it was in a good condition. It was a fantastic experience to be in the room as the newest kākāpō entered into the world.

Kakapo hatching from a mended egg.

Welcome to the world little one

It can take a while before the sex of the kākāpō can be determined, so for now this little was is known simply as ‘Lisa One’.

The wee chick will be returned to a nest when it is healthy and strong. To give the chick the best start in life it may not go back to its biological mother Lisa, instead the rangers monitor potential foster mothers to ensure that the best mum is given the chance to raise a chick.

Baby kakapo after hatching.

Cuteness

Kia kaha little kākāpō, it was great to experience your hatch day with you and I can’t wait for further updates from the kākāpō team.

I have never been much of an outdoorsy person — I usually prefer to spend my holidays in the city or on a beach, close to mod cons and most importantly, hot running water. This summer, however, I decided to do something a bit different and disconnect from the world and spend a week on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

Islands in the Marlborough Sounds.

Escaping to the Marlborough Sounds for a week

A week of camping, swimming, fishing and exploring might sound like bliss to some, but the thought of having no mobile reception, internet, or power, had me worried. Luckily I was not alone — 15 of us had made the trip down from Wellington, all filled with a similar sense of trepidation, but a keenness to have fun.

A bay on Arapawa Island bathed in sunlight.

Picturesque bay on Arapawa Island

First stop was the supermarket in Picton to pick up supplies, and then off to catch the water taxi. We had obviously ordered too much food and the boat captain probably wasn’t too impressed when we rocked up with box after box.

We were welcomed to the island on a spectacular day, with a single Hector’s dolphin greeting our water taxi as we passed through Queen Charlotte Sound.

A lone Hector's dolphin in the water.

A Hector’s dolphin welcoming us to Queen Charlotte Sound

On reaching the island the first issue we had to contend with was the curious group of weka who were ready to investigate our bags and belongings and anything else that caught their attention. They sure do love shiny things and we had to keep our food hidden at all times.

A tent at Wharehunga Bay campsite on Arapawa Island.

Wharehunga Bay campsite

There are two DOC campsites on Arapawa, which are situated on either side of the island, and both are surrounded by beautiful bays and breathtaking walking tracks. Wharehunga Bay campsite is a particularly beautiful spot.

Swimming in a bay on Arapawa Island.

Swimming – a compulsory activity on the island

Swimming was a compulsory activity every single day despite some people being put off by the plethora of stingrays and jellyfish in the bay. The bay was also home to a good number of blue cod that can be caught at this time of year.

Everyday we would discover a different track on the island that would lead us to some new discovery. We managed to discover a forgotten shipwreck, remnants of a historic pa site and a freshwater stream filled with massive eels.

Stars over Arapawa Island.

The magnificent night sky

Absent of any other light pollution, the night sky was breathtaking and it was even warm enough to sleep out under the stars most nights.

On the final day, we climbed the highest peak on the island called Narawhia. It was from the peaks of Arapawa Island in 1770 that Captain James Cook first saw the sea passage now known as the Cook Strait.

The view from Narawhia, the highest peak on Arapawa Island.

The view from Narawhia, the highest peak on Arapawa Island

It was a fantastic break away from the city and the crowded beaches and I can’t wait to go back and do it again.

Like loads of other New Zealanders (and many visitors to our shores) I love spending time out and about exploring our beautiful national parks, forests and reserves.

When I was growing up, it didn’t matter where we went, the green and yellow DOC signs were always there—an iconic part of holidays, camps, hunting trips and adventures into the bush. However, I never realised the huge job that DOC does to look after so many huts, campsites, tracks and places around the country.

DOC’s recent Annual Report helps shed some light on the range of things DOC looks after and shows how many New Zealanders are getting out and enjoying what’s on offer. Take a look, you might be surprised:

recreation-annual-report-2012-2013

You can also read about what DOC has been doing to look after our historic heritage in last week’s blog post


Check out the DOC website for more information about:

DOC’s latest Annual Report

Parks and recreation

The Grand Prize for Conservation Week 2013 is an amazing Great Barrier Island holiday package – the perfect summer getaway for you and three others.

Great Barrier Island beach. Photo: Andris Apse.

One of the beautiful beaches on Great Barrier Island

I’ve heard Great Barrier Island described as a remote, tranquil and untouched paradise. My Auckland friends who are lucky enough to holiday there induce jealousy every summer by raving about the pristine beaches, the unique wildlife and the relaxed vibe of the island – if you are reading this I’m still waiting for my invite!

The island boasts scenic mountain biking trails, walking tracks that weave through coastal forests, and isolated coves to snorkel and explore. It’s also perfect for those who want to do a bit of boating, kayaking or fishing. If all that sounds a bit too exhausting, there is always the chance to retreat to the Kaitoke Hot Springs to relax at the end of the day.

Kayaking in a cove on Great Barrier Island.

There are plenty of activities to do on the island like mountain biking and kayaking

All you have to do to win is to make a pledge for Conservation Week, it’s nothing too strenuous. Simply head to the Conservation Week website, choose a nature-related activity for your pledge and fill in the form. Your pledge can be as simple as changing your Facebook cover photo or something ambitious like planning a Great Walk.

Conservation Week banner.

What’s your whānau doing for Conservation Week?

There are also loads of great spot prizes to be given away to those who share their pledges through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest using #pledgefornz. So what are you waiting for? Head over and make your pledge today.


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