Archives For Kermadec Islands

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Neil Forrester, Team Leader on Raoul Island in the Kermadec Islands.

Neill Forrester surfing.

Experiencing the power of nature

At work

Some things I do in my job include… The core work on the island involves ridding the island of pest plant species, which is done by grid searching areas of known infestations to hunt down the villains and remove them once located. We collect and propagate seeds of some of the ‘At risk’ species to release back into their natural habitat with hopes they repopulate the island.

I conduct rodent monitoring to ensure the rodent free status of the island is up held. I keeping walking tracks and roads open so we are able to travel around—vegetation grows very quickly up here so it is a constant battle! I also release weather balloons daily and record sunlight hours for the Met Service, take water samples from the caldera for GNS, and take air samples for SCRIPPS (Institution of Oceanograhy). We maintain the buildings and equipment and man the most northern part of New Zealand to protect it from pirates and other undesirables.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… protecting and enhancing the values of the island and ensuring it stays rodent free, thus allowing the once decimated bird populations to recover.

The best bit about my job is… everything. I get to live and work in paradise! Becoming part of Raoul history, working with a great bunch of people who love what they do and enjoying the banter on a daily basis with no mobile phone reception or shops. Bliss!

View of Raoul Island with the sun setting behind the island.

Our first view of home for a year

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is… I guess getting to work on the Poor Knights Islands after spending so long only getting to see it from water level, and yes it is one of the most awesome-est places ever. Especially with the guys I got to spend it with, plus I scored a chopper ride off on my last trip there. What a way to end (I should thank Graham Taylor for that one).

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… all DOC staff who are passionate about what they do and do it for the love of the job rather than the money they earn. My hat goes off to you all. Without all the hard work that everyone does, New Zealand would be a very different place.

Neil Forrester jumping off Raoul Island.

Battling the laws of gravity

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… anything by Manu Chao. If you have not heard of them, get some and enjoy!!!

My greatest sporting moment was when…ever I get in the water to go surfing—and the waves aren’t bad up here either.

In my spare time I… surf, snorkel, explore the island and take photographs.

My secret indulgence is… branston pickle. No cheese sandwich is complete without it but most people who know me will know that!

Before working at DOC I… was a diving instructor on Poor Knights Island.

Neil Forrester and his team on the Poor Knights Island pulling faces.

Horsing around on the Poor Knights

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… Love the life you live, live the life you love (Bob Marley).

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… just give it your best and always have fun!

In work and life I am motivated by… fun. Everything in life should have a little fun associated with it.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… try to protect what we have today so we can enjoy it tomorrow and the day after. Even if whatever you do is something small, it all makes a difference.

Neil and his team on Raoul Island.

Stranded on a deserted island

Question of the week…

You are about to be stranded on a deserted island, what three items will you take with you?

Firstly, I already am stranded on a kind of deserted island – there are only five of us.

My surf board
My cameras
My current DOC team who make living and working on a deserted island a dream come true

By Sarah Matthew, volunteer and artist based in Wellington

The memories I have of Raoul Island are going to keep me smiling for a long, long time. Being a Department of Conservation (DOC) volunteer for six months was a fantastic opportunity to learn about and explore the remote rock, and meet some awesome people in the process.

Denham Bay Hut on Raoul Island. Photo: Sarah Matthew.

Denham Bay Hut

From bird life to hostel life, there were loads of wonderful and inspirational things to stimulate creativity. There is a lot of history in the hostel and library, and also in the books and relics that can be found in the huts dotted around the island.

Black winged petrel. Photo: Sarah Matthew.

Black winged petrel

Weeding was our core purpose, and the biggest chunk of our week was spent in the bush hunting for rogue plants.

The weekends allowed us free time to go adventuring and enjoy our own activities.

I really appreciated being so far removed from the mainland and the sense of freedom it allowed. The absence of shops meant we were able to embrace the good old kiwi mentality of making the most out of what was at hand and, for once, money was not an issue!

Flying tropicbird. Photo; Sarah Matthew.


Clothes hanger shaped into a kiwi on Raoul Island. Photo: Sarah Matthew.

Kiwi ingenuity.

The bush and the bird life are glorious on Raoul, and a trip to weed the Meyer Islands was a treat, as there are a large number of birds nesting there, including tropicbirds, petrels, terns and boobies! It was a delight to be able to get so close to such magnificent creatures.

There are tui, kakariki, and also a few families of cheeky pukeko living around the hostel. They graze the lawn and wake the entire population of the island with their lovely call—sounding something like a seagull getting strangled with a potato chip still in its mouth.

I took to walking around with a stick during nesting, not so that I could whack them, just so I could scare them away when they decided to attack!

Pukeko on Raoul Island. Photo: Sarah Matthew.

Lawn ornament?

From an artist’s perspective, being surrounded by nature and not a lot else, gave me the space to be creative and think about the relevance of my work and the way I produce it.

Using my camera to document, I enjoyed taking photographs of things as I found them—or of things that I had made, that did not permanently alter or harm the environment.

Humour has always been a big part of my artwork and I have fun placing things out of context to create alternative meanings, sometimes using playful imagery to discuss more serious ideas.

An environment such as Raoul makes it impossible not to see the inevitable impact that we humans have on nature.

Scrabble letters on the Raoul Island beach saying "I am here". Photo Sarah Matthew.

I am here

It was hard to leave the Island the when the time came, but I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to have gone, and to have gained the knowledge and experience it gave me.  I hope very much to go back there someday.

More photos of my time there can be seen on my artist page on Facebook.

Raoul is the largest island in the Kermadec Islands Nature Reserve—a chain of islands lying some 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand.

All the islands of the Kermadec group are part of the specially protected reserve. It is the most remote conservation area managed by the Department of Conservation. 

Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC have a small team of staff and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS. 

Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by volunteer Prue Fairbrass.

Not a cyclone??

Today I am going to tell you about our cyclone in June which, according to the weather office was NOT a cyclone, just a deep depression.

The damaged "bomb" shed, or Met Service shed.

The storm damaged “bomb shed”, or Met Service shed

Well, it was so deep it has made a complete mess of everything here. Trees are down in every available and unavailable space – on tracks, sheds and roads.

Surveying the wreckage

The ‘bomb’ shed where the weather balloons are sent from is now an open air, roofless, door-less structure. The fire shed lost its roof and side and was tipped over, and the fuel shed is no more.

We were trapped in the hostel area with tree fall, some of which we have managed to clear, but it will take months to get it all back to normal. We have no way of getting off the island at present until Fishing Rock Road is cleared, which we are currently working on (not that I want to get off the island, as it’s a fab place here!).

Luckily the hostel itself is okay, although we lost two windows from the hospital. Leaves and branches are piled up all over the place so it is an effort to go anywhere, but each day things are a bit better.

Are we in the outback?

The fuel shed.

The obliterated fuel shed

The saddest thing is the bush –  much of what is still standing has gone brown with the wind and salt spray and whole areas look like Aussie – i.e. dried open bush which is fine in Australia but not here!

The vege gardens are decimated and I had just planted a whole lot of cauliflower etc. The lawns have gone yellow and look as if they have been sprayed with weed killer.  Oh well, at least we were all okay.

The early settlers had several storms as well as rats and goats to contend with. It must have been devastating for them as all their food supplies would be wiped out. Arkwright’s (named after the TV series which I think was called ‘Open all Hours’) is our food store and was undamaged so we can eat ourselves happy!

Shutdowns and sun cards

The upended fire shed.

The upended fire shed

About the meteorological side of things. The buildings here are owned by the Met Service and leased by DOC. We are contracted to do certain weather readings 365 days of the year and send up weather balloons.

This is done by the DOC staff only (as a volunteer I don’t have to do this.) We have a roster for those doing this and also for “shutdown” (which I do), which consists of turning off the computers and putting them in a warmed cupboard as it gets very moist here, turning off the Met Service computer and doing the ‘sun card’.

The sun card is a most fascinating piece. There is a structure with a big glass ball on top. Behind this ball is an area to put a piece of thick paper (the sun card) and each day the sun shines through this ball and burns the card. This is sent to the Met office whenever we can get mail to them which is probably about every six months. It is probably an out-of-date thing to do but I am no authority on this.

Oranges on the ground.

Oranges, oranges everywhere!

Every cloud has a silver lining

There was one good thing that came out of the storm – I had been eyeing up the oranges at the top of the tree (why is it the best ones are always at the top?) wondering how to get them down.

I have picked up nine fish bins of them since the storm with about 150 oranges per bin and the pukekos, ants and tuis are having a ball with the rest.

Raoul Island oranges are famous for their juiciness and taste. They don’t look that great but they taste marvelous. I am making a bucket a day into juice – yum.

Well, this is but one of many experiences I am having on Raoul Island. It is an amazing place and I am having a ball here.