Archives For Mana Island

Friends of Mana Island are celebrating 20 years of restoration work this year. Today we would like to tip our hat to our long-term partners for their immense hard work and dedication to restoring Mana Island.

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It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re reflecting on the life and times of Nigel, the gannet whose tumultuous love affair with a concrete bird made headlines around the world.

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Mana Island ranger Chris Bell made the most of the rude awakening last Monday morning, when the tsunami warning drove him and his fellow rangers up to higher ground.

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Uncontrolled weeds, like the pink ragwort, are destroying our native landscapes and pushing out native plants and animals.

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Steep-sides and a flat-top. No, we’re not talking about our next hairstyle, we’re describing Mana Island — a distinctive landmark on Wellington’s west coast.

Today, Wellington Visitor Centre Ranger Don Herron, tells us about his recent visit to this pest-free island reserve…

I’ve often seen Mana Island from the mainland, and always thought it would be a rad place to visit.

Mana Island with and Kapiti Island in the background. Photo: Masivaan | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Mana Island as seen from Wharehou Bay near Makara. Kapiti Island in the distance

I recently got to confirm my hunch when I was invited over, together with local iwi, Zealandia, Wellington Zoo, Pukaha Mt Bruce, Staglands Wildlife Reserve, Friends of Mana Island, Rimutaka Forest Park Trust, and others from DOC.

Goldstriped-gecko on Mana Island


It was supposed to be a Christmas celebration but, due to bad weather twice cancelling the trip, it ended up being a New Year event. Third time lucky!

Jeff Hall, the Resident Ranger on Mana Island, welcomed us to the island and gave us a great introduction talk. He seemed as pleased to have visitors as we were to visit!

We heard two versions of how the island was formed – one about faulted terraces (yawn), the other, about a taniwha who crash landed on top of Mana causing the top of the island to be smashed off (yeah!)

Ranger Jeff, together with Ranger Di (Diane Batchelor), took us on walk around the island. During the 1½ hour ramble we saw: kākāriki chicks (“too cute” as my wife would say); a million geckos; takahē; variable oystercatchers; shore plover; and more.

Takahē on Mana Island.

Takahē on Mana Island

We finished our walk at North Bluff – the old lighthouse site and the highest point on the island. We were rewarded with magic views of Kapiti Island, Titahi Bay, the rugged west coast of Porirua; and even Ohau Point and the wind turbines.

North Bluff - the old lighthouse site and the highest point on the island.

North Bluff – the old lighthouse site and the highest point on the island

After some very nice kai, including fresh paua, we had a hui to talk about how we work together (and with others). There was an open floor to voice new ideas and discuss what has worked well in the past, and what can be done in the future.

After the meeting we made our way back past the historic woolshed to the beach to wait for the boat.

Wool from Mana Island sheep is reputed to be among the earliest exported from New Zealand, and the woolshed, from European occupation that began in the 1830s, has been recently restored.

When I heard the rumble of the boat heading back to collect us, I was tempted to run and hide. Explaining an “accidental” missed boat felt like a small price to pay to spend more time exploring this special place.

In the end I made the savvy career choice not to miss the boat, but that tempting view of the island from the mainland reminds me of my resolve to spend more time on Mana. It is indeed a rad place to visit.

Mana Island Scientific Reserve lies three kilometres off Wellington’s west coast and has been free of all introduced mammals since mice were eradicated in 1989. 

You can’t stay overnight on the island but visitors are welcome between 8.00 am and 5.00 pm.

By Jeff Hall, Biodiversity Ranger, Mana Island.

The takahē population on Mana Island have had a few new pairings formed over recent months, as a result of the sort of behaviour that could only be likened to an episode of “Days of our Lives” or “The Young and the Restless”.

Fence around takahē home on Mana Island.

Takahē home on Mana Island

While it is not always a good idea to anthropomorphise a wild animals behaviour, the antics of one of our recent immigrants does seem to warrant it.

McCaw (named when she hatched soon after the All Blacks won the 2011 Rugby World Cup) came to Mana Island from Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds for an “arranged marriage” with one of our young lads.

McCaw spent three weeks in a large enclosure with her new suitor, Nohorua. They appeared to be getting along, but as it turned out she had other plans. The male from another pair that lived beside the enclosure had caught her eye. Within a couple of days of release McCaw left Nohorua, and used her youthful energy and good looks to split up the long established pairing of Kat and Santi.

Two takahē on Mana Island.

McCaw and Santi the takahē are nesting

But like all good day time television dramas these heart breaking acts had a happy outcome for some; McCaw and Santi have just started nesting. Kat – after licking her wounds and shaking her tail feathers has landed herself a younger man in Hori. But what of the jilted Nohorua you ask? His quest to find the perfect match continues.

Our takahē are well into another breeding season, with nine pairs nesting. The first nests of the season have started to hatch so hopefully we get a reasonable run of weather to help the chicks establish.

Three children coming face to face with a takahē on Mana Island.

Meeting a takahē

We had planned to do another egg transfer to Southland this year, but the birds had other plans. Our birds were a bit tardy in getting going while the southern “foster” pairs started earlier. The requirement for them to start around the same time was lost on the takahē, but at least they’re nesting!

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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 Jeff Hall, Biodiversity Ranger on Mana Island.

At work

Sirocco on Jeff's head.

Sirocco looking pretty happy with himself.

Some things I do in my job include… a long and varied list of all the jobs, big and small, involved in managing an island sanctuary.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… enabling the recovery of some of our endangered taonga (treasures) and showcasing what can be achieved when we work together. I also inspire mainlanders to enhance and protect what we’ve got.

The best bit about my job is… every day is different and filled with new challenges, and as a bonus my family are closely involved in my working environment. When I dreamed of one day growing up and becoming a “Park Ranger” this was it, doing it all – from mowing lawns, to talking to visitors to wrestling with endangered animals.

The strangest, scariest but ultimately funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… my first night out catching a kakapo as part of a small but specialised crack team of professionals on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Our target was a girl called Fuchsia, who had outsmarted many who had gone before by choosing to roost too deep for any arm to reach.

So on dusk we assembled to position ourselves around her burrow entrance in the hope of grabbing her for a transmitter change before she disappeared into the night.

I was on point, well actually I was perched on the limb of an old rata above the burrow out over a fairly steep slope, the bottom of which disappeared in the failing light.

Just on dark I picked up a movement outside the entrance, I noted there was no movement from anyone in the team, this was my moment! Quick as a wink and in gazelle like fashion…. Nay, my legs had gone to sleep, so I promptly fell from my perch and proceeded to roll down the steep slope, all the while wondering if I had just flattened poor Fuchsia, or if it would be her or I to the bottom of the hill first.

While regaining my bearings a flash of green in Phil Marsh’s torch light tore by (so I had indeed beaten her to the bottom, and she was alive!). Phil graciously paused from the chase to check on my welfare (more like yelled “You all right Jeff?”) as he galloped past and secured the ‘target’. I’d have been right up there with him, if only my legs had woken.

That was the first of many eventful captures of kakapo and other adventures on Whenua Hou, and Anchor Island in Dusky Sound.

Jeff in Anchor Island harbour holding a crayfish.

One of Tangaroa’s gifts from the bountiful Anchor Island harbour

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… hard to single out as the list extends to most of my like-minded colleagues past and present around the country. But a shout out must go to someone who’s got commitment, a strong work ethic and is just a damn good sort to work with. It also helps that she gave me the opportunity to go catch kiwi on the Milford track, opening the door to species work thereafter. She’s been known to also throw a damn good party. So cheers Hannah Edmonds, I know you’ll keep doing what you do best.

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… well not wanting to upset those who know me…it’s really hard to go past just about anything from the 1980s/early 90s Bon Jovi back catalogue. From ‘Living on a prayer’, ‘Wanted dead or alive’ to ‘Always’. I’ve been known to belt out one or two of these classics in karaoke from time to time.

My stomping ground is… Eastbourne, Wellington was where I spent my early years. Which is lucky as I spent what you could call my formative years on the North Shore, and Harbour are playing some atrocious rugby at the moment – so go the Lions!

My best ever holiday was… my wife would want me to say that it was the time we sprung a surprise wedding while holidaying in Rarotonga with the rest of my whanau. But as I have just explained to her as she reads this over my shoulder that the best ever day of my life is not the same as my best ever holiday.

My best ever holiday was back when I had (relatively speaking) nothing to be responsible for or about, spending a few weeks in eastern Europe with two good mates in their Bedford campervan “Edna”. Every evening we had to find a reasonable slope (not too steep that we’d fall out of bed) to park the old girl on to give her a running start in the morning. Once we went to sleep in an empty lot on the edge of a small town in Lithuania and woke to find ourselves trapped in the middle of a huge farmers’ market for most of the day. The Oktoberfest in Munich: I recall my thought at the time being “Wow, this is like Disneyland with beer!”, which in hindsight may well have been the beer talking! We convinced plenty of people in Poland we were an eighties revival cover band called ‘Cougar’. And just getting to be young larrikins in a foreign land – without causing any lasting offence to those around us of course.

Fun times that we still reminisce over until tears of laughter pour down our faces.

Assortment of seafood and steak.

Surf and Turf Anchor Island style – the back steaks are from the last deer eradicated in 2008

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… that alpine clown the kea, ridge skipping my way across the mighty Southern Alps and nimbly extracting double chocolate muffins from a hapless ski lift operator’s pack while he was busy putting bums on T-Bars.

Before working at DOC I… (amongst other things) was putting bums on T-Bars at Porter Heights ski field and missing my double chocolate muffin for smoko.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” – a quote from the song ‘Power and the Passion’ by Midnight Oil.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… “Effort brings reward”. Cheers Dad. Or then again, when I was contemplating a career in boxing, Dad chipped in with “Son, you’ve got to learn to take a punch before you give a punch.” Hmm…maybe I’ll become a Park Ranger after all!

In work and life I am motivated by… lately it has been seeing other peoples’ reactions to seeing the things I have grown accustomed to seeing on a daily basis on Mana Island, like their first takahe or gecko.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… get amongst it! Seeing is believing! If everyone just chips in we can ensure this land of ours remains the best living space on Earth.

Jeff and his children on Mana Island.

Mana Island – home for now

Question of the week…

If anything were possible, what animal would you most like to have as a member of your family is… the adult and purist in me says none, but my inner child says “Dad, can I get a Sirocco for Christmas?”