Archives For Kermadec Islands

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 Helen Kay.

A world away

Having been accepted in to the Raoul weed programme as a volunteer, I had a matter of days to organise a flight over to New Zealand from the UK. I knew living and working on a remote island such as Raoul would be different in every way from my usual lifestyle in a city in northern England and it has not disappointed.

The hostel veranda in the sun.

Where we relax after a hard day’s weeding – the hostel veranda in the sun

After spending a week packing gear and training at Warkworth, we departed for Raoul on the Braveheart. Three nights of large swells, the unending feeling of nausea and the constant dread of someone being sick near me certainly made the trip memorable.

We’re here!

Dry land and the warm reception of the team lifted my spirits no end. Having amenities such as a fully equipped kitchen and bathrooms undoubtedly made it easy to settle quickly into island life.

Having said that, there are numerous aspects to living here that are very different from back home; having to keep track of our food usage for example. We are currently left with one tin of mushrooms and are saving it for a recipe deemed worthy. Cooking here is fun, we have to use what’s available whether it be from Arkwright’s (our food store) or from one of the hostel vegetable gardens. Tinned peaches seem to make a common appearance in a lot of meals.

A curious young masked booby looking at us.

Who’s looking at who? A curious young masked booby looking at us

What do I do?

Every week day we walk into the bush and search for alien plant species such as black passionfruit and peach. A large majority of the weeds we find are seedlings, but when you’re the person who happens upon that massive adolescent mysore thorn, it’s very satisfying. Competition does arise when it comes to weeding; it keeps us motivated on those more challenging days.

Very little of Raoul is flat so many of our weeding days are spent traversing (slipping and sliding) across steep gullies and swathes of wind-fallen trees. Naturally this earns some people (including myself) an impressive repertoire of cuts and bruises as well as that well-deserved home brew at the end of the day.

And the weekends?

Weekends provide ample time to do what you want, whether it be walking over to Denham Bay or one of the other huts, relaxing around the hostel, or brewing beer in the Rat & Tui Brewery. When we’re able to, snorkelling is definitely one of my favourite past times on the island.

The view of the crater from Mt Moumoukai.

The view of the crater from Mt Moumoukai

The best bits

It’s awesome living and working in a nature reserve. Being able to boat over to the Meyer Islets is extremely rewarding. Standing in a colony of Kermadec petrels with their tiny chicks or having a masked booby walk up to you completely unafraid are both amazing experiences.

I’m really enjoying learning about the flora and fauna of Raoul, especially the birds. The one exception is the pukekos between four and seven in the morning when they’re at their loudest!

All the new experiences here have impacted me positively in every way. We are half way through our six months here and there is still so much to see and do.

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 Raoul Island Team Leader – Restoration, Jess Clark.

On my bucket list

For 10 years, going to Raoul was pencilled in on my life agenda, and my time here is nearly over. In some respects the time is passing way too fast, in others it has been a long haul.

Walking along the coast towards Hutchies bluff and sooty tern colony.

Walking along the coast towards Hutchies bluff and the sooty tern colony

I thought I was off to live on a remote island and it would be fairly low profile, but this year has had more than its fair share of high profile visitors and media attention. Let’s hope the existence and significance of the Kermadecs is now more widely renowned.

It’s the beginning of summer when you arrive for the year long stint. Everything is flowering and breeding with cute babies everywhere as the next generation flourishes in a pest free environment.

There is sand on the beach for refreshing swims as you settle into the grand Raoul lifestyle. There is a good month of stinking hot humidity to sweat through the worst of the semi tropical climate. The top peaks of the island seem forever cloaked in cloud, creating its unique cloud bush habitat.

Getting to grips with Raoul

The bush is interesting and includes the lowland dry areas, as well as the cloud forest where there is the most diversity, with of course pohutukawa throughout.

RNZAF Airforce Orion delivering an air drop.

RNZAF Airforce Orion delivering an air drop

Admittedly, it’s frustrating at first at getting familiar with the plants. Species appearing like mainland species but existing in different habitat and others like ‘Mapou’ looking completely different to its mainland relative with the same common name.  Compared to the Waitakere Ranges there are distinctly less insects and spiders, which I have to admit I appreciate while scrambling amongst it all weeding.

The weeding is like going tramping in a team and sometimes when I’m climbing amongst the cyclone ravaged pohutukawa I feel like I’m in the movie Avatar, just without the flying and a bit more sweat, dirt and scratches.

Airdrops are always thrilling and I feel privileged to have had first hand experience with the NZ Navy, Air Force and Army.

A glimpse of a different world

Snorkelling with kingfish and blue maomao.

Snorkelling with kingfish and blue maomao

The sea is teeming with marine life, including a few seemingly impassive sharks, which are always magnificent to observe. Hours can be lost snorkelling and exploring the underwater world that collides against spectacular lava formations and rocks along the coast.

This is sea bird terrain, the racket of calls, squawks and chatter with their soaring wing spans or crowded flocks dominate the skies around the Meyers and infiltrate the subdued underwater world.

I’ll never forget the tropic bird stalling for a good 10 seconds mid-flight only meters away from me, turning its head to check me out. I have become accustomed to kakariki hanging out on the lawn, not bothering to fly away until you almost trip over them.

Tropic bird checking out the camera.

Tropic bird checking out the camera

It was an exciting and eventful winter with La Nina delivering Cyclone Bune and many other storms that raged over the island leaving destruction behind them, which in turn has opened up opportunity for the pioneer stages of Raoul bush to regenerate the open space left behind.

I feel like we are just coming out the other side of winter, and I’m glad I brought my hottie! A time of clear blue sky days with a crisp horizon line before it becomes hazy with humidity and wafts of the pleasant pungent aroma scent the air that will forever be a smell of Raoul for me.

More whales and sea birds are returning everyday for another season of their life at the Kermadecs and the change-over is drawing near for the annual swap of staff and volunteers.

The bird dominated skys on the Meyer Islands.

The bird dominated skys on the Meyer Islands

There is a certain amount of satisfaction surviving on a remote island for a year, although you certainly are not roughing it with the living conditions.

I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have contributed, weeded, protected, experienced and continued the legacy of many others in New Zealand’s most northern territory, and one heck of an environmentally significant place.

I’d like to send out a big welcome to the new team starting out on their Raoul journey.

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 Raoul Island Ranger – Threats (Weeds) & Biodiversity, Toby Shanley.

The tail end of cyclone season

By late March life here on Raoul Island had settled into a familiar routine made up of weeding four days a week, maintaining tracks, roads, grounds and infrastructure one day a week and for the most part exploring our beautiful surroundings on the weekend.

Raoul Island hostel.

The Raoul Island hostel on a calm day!

The end of March is usually seen as the end of cyclone season and it appeared the island was going to survive the summer unscathed by any major weather systems. But this was all about to change! On 26 March we woke to tremendous surf pounding the north side of the island, and although the weather was calm and fine this was a sure sign that trouble was brewing to our north.

Cyclone Bune is on its way…

A quick check of the weather map confirmed our suspicions as we saw a large storm brewing just south of Fiji. A Google search informed us that we were looking at tropical cyclone Bune (pronounced mm-boo-nay), which had just been upgraded to a category three cyclone. We also received a sat phone call from Metservice ensuring that we were aware of the cyclones proximity and they informed us that it was forecast to pass very near us as it travelled south.

The cyclone travelled very slowly towards us for the next two days and the swell grew until the whole island seemed to rumble under the force of the pounding waves. Then on the afternoon of Monday  28 March the winds began to rapidly increase as the cyclone approached us.

Fishing rock being pounded by surf.

Fishing rock being pounded by surf whipped up by Cyclone Bune

By this time all the necessary precautions had been taken so that light objects would not blow away and the hostel was as secure as possible.

…and Bune arrives!

By early evening the wind was screaming through the trees that line the edge of the cliff out in front of the hostel and leaves and small branches were being tossed high into the air. The winds continued to increase until around 8pm when all of a sudden they dropped completely leaving a very eerie silence.

We all went out on to the lawn and marvelled at how still and quiet it was compared to the chaos of a few minutes prior. This was the eye of the cyclone and we were unsure how long the stillness would last. We all went to bed expecting that any second the wind would return as strong as ever.

The trailing edge of the eye finally passed us at around midnight and the wind returned with renewed ferocity. The wind was now coming from the south west as opposed to the afternoon when it had been blowing from the north east.

Our accommodation is well sheltered from the north east but not so much from the south west and so we all had a very sleepless night. The wind seemed to build up in the hills behind the hostel and then coming roaring and screaming down towards us in regular violent gusts. But by morning the worst of it was past us.

The damaged foxway shed.

The damaged foxway shed

Surveying the damage

The task for the following few days was obvious, to survey the damage and to prepare for the cleanup. The first two priorities were to check our water supply and the road to our landing point which is 3 km away from the hostel. On checking the buildings around base we discovered that two had suffered substantial damage with one missing half of its roof.

The news back about the water supply and road was not good either. It looked as if the spring that we take most of our water from had been submerged by a giant slip and the road to the landing was covered in huge fallen trees. It was obvious that the cleanup would need to be started as soon as possible.

To add to the urgency of it we were due for a visit from the Heritage Expeditions cruise ship the Spirit of Enderby within two weeks. Over those two weeks the team put in a huge effort to clear enough of the roads and tracks so that we could show the passengers on the expedition some of this beautiful island we call home.

Forest flattened by Cyclone Bune.

Forest flattened by Cyclone Bune

The cyclone put the weeding on hold but we should be back into it by mid May when a team of people come up with the Navy to help clear the rest of the roads and tracks. The Navy will also bring us food and supplies for the next six months and four new volunteers who will live and work with us until we leave the island in late October.

Farewells

To the vollies who are leaving us Nicki, Maree, Terry, and Nigel a huge thank you for devoting a part of your lives to help restore this amazing island.