Archives For Little Barrier Island

Naturalist, conservationist and herpetologist, Dylan van Winkel, has worked in an a variety of challenging environments, both in New Zealand and abroad. Today he writes about a recent visit to Hauturu/Little Barrier Island as part of a Pacific gecko translocation.

This post was originally published on Dylan’s blog.

Pacific gecko on Astelia sp. flower. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Pacific gecko on a Astelia sp. flower

Situated 15 miles from Cape Rodney, and 11 miles from Aotea/Great Barrier Island, Hauturu/Little Barrier Island bursts out of the ocean; its knife-edged ridges rising to 2,370 ft at the summit of Mount Hauturu.

The 3,038 hectare island is fringed by an almost continuous boulder beach—except where vertical cliffs plummet into the ocean.

Rocky shore and driftwood on Hauturu coastline. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Hauturu/Little Barrier Island typical coastline landscape

It is a site steeped in rich Māori cultural tradition and nationally significant conservation initiatives; and is home to some of New Zealand’s rarest and most threatened fauna and flora.

Sphenodon punctatus (Northern tuatara). Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Northern tuatara—this fellow is part of an island breed-for-release programme

The name Hauturu, was traditionally bestowed by Toi, who arrived in New Zealand from Hawaiki circa 1150 AD in search of his grandson Whatonga.

It was said that the island was uninhabited by “ordinary mankind” but on the misty summits lived the patu-pai-arehe/fairies, visiting the coastline only at night or in misty weather to fish and collect kai moana/sea food (Hamilton 1961).

While the thought of night-faring fairies is somewhat hard to believe, there is undoubtedly some truth in the myth, as at night, the island truly becomes alive!

Oligosoma smithii (shore skink).  Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Shore skink

Scaly creatures, spiny giants, venomous villains, feathery beasts, and slimy critters emerge and take over the forest floor. However, even so, walking at night requires cautious and vigilant steps, alerted senses, and often quick reactions to catch a glimpse of the island’s inhabitants.

Little Barrier Island giant weta . Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Little Barrier Island giant weta—the world’s heaviest insect. So heavy, they are unable to jump effectively

By day, the island is alive with bird song and, in fact, Hauturu harbours the highest number of threatened bird species compared to any other island in the country! Their calls penetrate and echo through the 400-plus species of plants and, in particular, the dawn chorus is mind-blowing; arguably unmatched by any other site in New Zealand.

North Island robin, Mt Hauturu summit. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

North Island robin, Mt Hauturu summit

In January 2014, I was fortunate enough to join a team of conservationists, lead by Auckland Council ecologist Su Sinclair, on a lizard project, aimed at translocating Pacific geckos (Dactylocnemis pacificus) to two Hauraki Gulf Islands undergoing ecological restoration.

Dactylocnemis pacificus (Pacific gecko) sub-adult on Pohutukawa. Photo © Dylan van Winkel.

Pacific gecko on Pohutukawa

Here are a few photos representing some of the treasures found on Hauturu during our ten day stay in paradise.

More photos can be found on Dylan’s original blog post.

Today’s photo of the week is of one of New Zealand’s famous reptiles—the tuatara.

The tuatara is the only living representative of an ancient lineage, the order Sphenodontia, which is over 250 million years old.


This week Victoria University of Wellington researchers published rare footage of a tuatara hatching from an egg.

The egg was one of 23 being incubated in captivity this year as part of a joint initiative with DOC and local Hauturu ō Toi/Little Barrier Island Mana Whenua.

This initiative is helping to save the threatened tuatara population from extinction.

Watch the video of a tuatara hatching:

Photo by Somaholiday | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Following on from his tale of returning to Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island 33 years after the last cat was removed (Conservation Blog, 24 June 2013), Dick Veitch recalls the history of cats on Little Barrier…

No one knows exactly how or when cats got to Little Barrier. Andreas Reischeck noted cats were “very numerous” on his visits to the island between 1880 and 1885.

The resident rangers killed cats, but taking out 10 to 40 cats a year didn’t so much as dent their population. Cats made a massive dent in the bird population though. By the 1960s, the Little Barrier snipe was extinct, and the saddleback and banded rail had disappeared from the island. Cats were the prime suspect in these loses, and in the decline of the tuatara, and lizard and seabird species on the island.

Banded rail, Little Barrier Island.

Banded rail, Little Barrier Island

The Wildlife Service (now part of DOC) started Operation Kill the Cats in 1968. The next 10 years saw a reduction in numbers, but no eradication. The lessening cat numbers allowed black and Cook’s petrels to recover a bit, but it was still easy to count 40 freshly cat-eaten Cook’s petrels on a single walk to Hauturu’s summit in March or April at that time.

Black petrel eaten by a cat on Little Barrier Island, 1976.

Black petrel eaten by a cat on Little Barrier Island, 1976

In 1976 the operation stepped up a gear. Wildlife Service and Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park staff agreed on a joint approach—the Park would build huts and cut tracks and the Service would kill the cats. The plan called for three new huts and 70 km of tracks. Park Ranger, Dave Smith, and Assistant Chief Ranger, George Holmes, supervised the hut building and got three-quarters of the tracks cut by 1977. The Wildlife Service finished off the tracks and began getting rid of the cats in 1978.

The island rangers and Dave’s successor Alex Dobbins and their families were the stars of the operation. They managed the comings and goings of cat trappers and boats, and got people out to the huts. The ranger’s house was frequently invaded, particularly for important TV events such as rugby matches!

Little Barrier Island bunkhouse and Ranger's Flat.

Little Barrier Island bunkhouse and Ranger’s Flat

Cat hunting was done by two teams. Team 1, managed by Richard Anderson, was mainly people from Northland. I managed Team 2. Various government unemployment schemes, a line up of willing volunteers, Wildlife Service trainees and even the occasional paid person provided all the muscle for the job. All up 139 people were involved.

The plan was to do a bit of poisoning and a lot of trapping in the first year, then bring in dog teams – we all know how dogs love to hunt cats. The dogs did well in training on the mainland but did not even hint at scenting a cat on the island. Day after day we walked those tracks without the slightest sign of action. The dog team was quickly disbanded! We now know there were still at least 23 cats on the island. Who knows why the dogs couldn’t smell them.

Cat in a trap.

Cat in a trap

So the trapping and poisoning continued. We walked the tracks and mapped the locations of cat signs. Slowly the mapped information showed each cat being trapped or poisoned, until the last cat was trapped on 23 June 1980.

Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island lies 80 km north of Auckland city on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf. You need a permit to visit this thickly forested island that is home to over 350 native species of plants. It’s an incredible place to view wildlife.

Learn more about visiting Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island

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 Thelma Wilson, Biodiversity Ranger – Warkworth/Great Barrier Area

Thelma Wilson holding a giant petrel.

Are you sure the ute runs on petrel?

Name: Thelma Wilson.

Position: Biodiversity Ranger and Area Compliance Officer, Warkworth/Great Barrier Area.

At work…

What kind of things do you do in your role?

Try to separate the fish from the fishers in marine reserves, dispose of dead whales, improve a variety of habitat and chances of survival for a range of species on mainland New Zealand, run programmes aimed at animal pest control and eradication, keep boundary fences intact, deal with land management issues and spend a lot of time chasing a mouse around on my desk! (and relieve on the odd island as needed).

Thelma Wilson with a kakapo on Codfish Island.

Codfish Island – delivering lunch

What is the best part about your job?

Floating around the Goat Island marine reserve at 6am on a fine, calm morning and not finding anyone fishing in it. Acting as the relieving ranger on Little Barrier is pretty cool too, even if it is an island.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Having to continually say “Sorry, we can’t,” to people who would like DOC help with a project that is probably quite worthwhile, but is so far down our priority list that we are not going to get near it.

Thelma Wilson with a stranded orca.

Keeping an orca cool while waiting for the tide

What led you to your role in DOC?

A long history of working and playing in the New Zealand backcountry. And the misguided idea that if I moved further north, I’d do more diving and the water would be warmer….

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

Work wise, it was whale euthanasia training with staff from Northland – and not just because we were shooting large holes in drums full of water – it was great to spend time with the other marine mammal folks from the north without the stress of a dead whale(s) to deal with.

But as a Coastguard volunteer it was getting the tow angle just right and pulling an upside down 9m catamaran the right way up, without damaging it, in a 45knot head wind, out the back of Kawau Island!

Thelma Wilson snorkeling with a manta ray in Indonesia.

Snorkelling with Manta rays, Komodo, Indonesia

The rule of three…

3 loves:

  1. Underwater visibility  20m+.
  2. Flat sections of track that aren’t muddy.
  3. Having a good thrash around in the boat when the sea would send most people home.

3 pet peeves:

  1. People not putting it back where they got it from.
  2. Putting it back broken and not saying anything.
  3. People putting all their junk in front of the boat, so I have to move it!

3 foods:

  1. Crayfish.
  2. Scallops.
  3. Venison.

3 favourite places in New Zealand:

  1. Around 30m deep in Northern Arch, at the Poor Knights, in the middle of a huge school of pelargics.
  2. Anywhere around Lake Waikaremoana.
  3. Watching the sunset from West Landing, Little Barrier.

Favourite movie, album, book:

  • Movies (um – what’s a movie?).
  • Album: nothing springs to mind, I generally listen to any music – (ok, there is a  leaning to Irish artists, but I think that’s because they have been on “special” back when people actually bought CDs…).
  • Book: I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on hiking the Camino de Santiago recently – research for my next trip.
Thelma Wilson with her team on Raoul Island.

Rat eradication team, Raoul Island

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self? 

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result!

Who or what inspires you and why?

Busy people who are passionate about their interests and make the time to get involved and make a difference.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

A ranger (hey, when I was a kid the careers advice teacher correctly pointed out that “they don’t take girls – choose something else!”

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?  

A wilderness guide, so I could show more people that we have treasures worth fighting for.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

If you aren’t using it, give it to someone who will.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Learn to use TradeMe (on dial up) and community networks to find new homes for all that stuff stashed in the basement that hasn’t been used in the past two years!

Stranded pilot whales.

Stranding – pilot whales, Mahurangi Pen

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why? 

A fur seal – lazing around eyeballing fish, sneaking up on divers and frightening the bubbles out of them, and parking on the wharf having my photo taken by all the tourists. But I’d be smart enough not to grab the long line hooks!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

We live in a pretty special part of the globe, get out there and explore it, and get involved in looking after it – whether that’s by pulling out a weed, not washing your car over a storm water grate, or by organising a community group, it’s your country, look after it.

Thelma Wilson in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Little Barrier Island Ranger, Nichollette Brown.

At work…

Position: Ranger, Little Barrier Island

What kind of things do you do in your role?

As Ranger on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island my role is pretty varied. My ‘office’ and home is a 2817 hectare island and nature reserve in the Hauraki Gulf. I share the role of kaitiaki with Richard Walle and his family; his wife, Leigh Joyce, and children, Liam (7) and Mahina (9). My main role involves running the island’s weed programme. 

This is me weeding for Madeira vine on the cliffs at Raoul Island

Due to the terrain, (steep!) the ground-based grid searching can get pretty exciting and if that doesn’t get the adrenaline pumping, flying in the helicopter strop for pampas spraying will! 

I also run the annual reptile monitoring programme which, since the rodent eradication in 2006, has shown a promising recovery. When I’m not involved in these programmes I assist Richard with the island maintenance and operation, the tuatara breeding programme and provide support to researchers and translocation projects. We also host volunteers and visitors to the island. 

What is the best part about your job?

Me in my get up for heli spraying pampas grass on Little Barrier Island. I'm hanging from a 70m strop beneath a helicopter

Waking up every morning to a dawn chorus lead by kōkako, and sharing the path home in the evening with kiwi, bats and the scratch of wētā punga in the trees. 

It’s easy to become blasé about it all after a time until you get to share it with visiting researchers and volunteers who remind you what a beautiful and unique place Hauturu is. I think Marcus Lush (when he visited Little Barrier in his series North) put it perfectly: “(the ranger) clearly has the best job in the world…”
What is the hardest part about your job?

Being away from friends, family, and events on the mainland for long periods.
What led you to your role in DOC?

A lifetime exploring New Zealand’s bush, mountains and oceans; a postgraduate degree in ecology; and a love for conservation, and maintaining and improving our natural resources. Oh, and several years in the corporate world wondering why I was there!
What was your highlight from the month just gone?

So many! Generally, the excitement of never knowing what the day will bring. More specifically, the release of two captive bred tuatara, hanging 70 metres below a helicopter to spray pampas grass on the island’s cliffs, tramping from one side of the island to the other over two days, and meeting lots of interesting and dedicated people as part of the reptile monitoring programme. 

Back in September 2011 we welcomed 28 baby tuatara back to the island. They had been sent off as eggs the year before to Victoria University in Wellington for hatching

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. The ocean
  2. A good story in which you can escape into, whether it’s a book or a movie
  3. Great home cooked food eaten in good company

    This is me in the island boat Hine Moana coming in to pick someone up off the rocks

Three pet peeves

  1. Animal cruelty
  2. Needless waste
  3. Littering

Three foods

  1. Chocolate
  2. Cheese
  3. Garlic

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Hauturu (of course!)
  2. Arthur’s Pass National Park
  3. Aoraki/Mount Cook (Tasman Glacier)

    One of my recreational activities - mountaineering. This is a trip I did with friends to Mount Cook National Park, climbing out of Kelman Hut at Tasman Glacier. This might be the Hochstetter Dome summit

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: I’m a movie addict! It changes constantly. 
  2. Album: Currently anything by Trinity Roots, Age Pryor, or any Jack White collaboration.
  3. Book: The Torchlight List by Jim Flynn—an excellent summary of all the books you should have read and why.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

A quote by Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Who or what inspires you and why?

People passionate about a cause, loving the work they do, and being keen to educate others— infectious enthusiasm!

Completed Building Project—we rebuilt the Derrick shed on Raoul Island with the island mechanic Ash Mangnall. This is the opening ceremony. Apparently it got pretty hammered in a cyclone the following year but is still there!

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A vet, or was it an astronaut? An artist, and I think there might have been a fire(wo)man period…

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

A research scientist in Antarctica, or working in the natural history section of a museum (a nice mix of education, history, and research), or working with developing countries to educate and improve environmental practise, sustainability, and biodiversity.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Be aware of your impact on the earth—get online and calculate your ecological footprint. This measures the amount of resources you use and the waste you generate. It’s a great way to make yourself aware of where you can make changes to improve your sustainability and reduce your impact on the world. Currently the average human exceeds the Earth’s regenerative capacity by about 30%. The biggest gains can be made in reducing fossil fuel use—do you really need to drive or could you walk, cycle, or take public transport? Also, careful consideration of your energy provider e.g. supporting renewables, will make a big impact on your footprint. And finally: reduce, reuse, and recycle! 

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. The amount of packaging these days is obscene. Where possible I hope to grow my own veges, buy in bulk, and consider a product’s packaging and its ability to be recycled when purchasing. I will aim to mend and fix things rather than replace them—kind of a requirement anyway when living on an island! I’m also keen to make better use of library services rather than buying books and magazines.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

It sounds like Sirocco has a pretty good life jet-setting round the country advocating for his species and for conservation!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Get out and enjoy our beautiful parks and wild areas. Make a multi day tramp the focus of your next holiday—staying  in DOC huts is a lot cheaper and more rewarding as a family than staying in a hotel in the city! Encourage children into tramping, climbing, and swimming—and educate them about our natural flora and fauna. Get involved in volunteer programmes—many of them take you to some amazing, remote places that most people don’t have access to.

Find out about recent translocations from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island to other parts of New Zealand in this edition of the Hauturu/Little Barrier Island diary.

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