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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, doing research and maintaining the native species on the island.

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 ranger, Brooke Connolly, who has dreamt of being on Raoul Island since university.

Tropic bird

Getting to Raoul

After our extensive training and preparation for our stay on Raoul Island we were finally at the Devonport naval base ready to board the HZMS Canterbury.

Our cabin was small and cozy and our voyage was rather rough for such a large ship. We were looked after extremely well by the navy, fed like kings and had guided tours of the engine rooms and up to the part where they steer the boat. I woke up at 6 am on the morning of the 3rd of November; we were due to be at Raoul at 6.30 am. I remember rushing to the flight deck and seeing the island blanketed in cloud for the first time, my dream had finally come true.

Getting onto the island from the navy ship was very fast and bumpy, much like a ride at an amusement park. I was second to set foot on fishing rock to a warm welcome from the current team. Finally; I was on Raoul Island, my home for the next year. I almost cried I was so happy!

White tern

The change-over

The change-over period flew past, receiving and unloading all the supplies from the Sea-sprite helicopter, feeding the mass of 40 people as they worked hard to complete their assigned tasks and creating a new era using solar energy (instead of diesel) on Raoul.

The main task for our team of seven people staying on the island was learning how to run and weed the island. During the change-over period we learnt to grid search the bush for weeds. We also had the opportunity to boat to the nearby Meyer islands to do some tobacco weeding. What a privilege to be in such an untouched ecosystem. I cannot describe how amazing it was to see so many sea birds on one rock. The call of the Kermadec petrel was like nothing else I’d ever heard before.  Yyeeeeeeeooooowwwww  waaahhooo waaahhooo waaahhooo waaahhooo.

Everybody on the island has also been blown away by all the humpback whales up here. Daily we see full breaches, tail slaps and general mulling around the island. 

The island routine

When the boat left, the island was comfortably yet strangely quiet. We were sad to see everybody leave, but at the same time we were all ready to start our own adventure.

We began by giving everything a big spring clean and organising all our food. We are now settling into a routine on the island. We cook together at night time which is somewhat difficult; we have to modify each meal to be meaty, vegetarian and gluten free. All our meals have been great so far and the variety of food is great! 

White tern egg

The plants on Raoul

I love plants! The differences and similarities of the plants on Raoul compared to mainland New Zealand is fascinating to see, as are the plants that are endemic to Raoul, or only occur on some Pacific Islands.

We have been teaching our volunteers about the native plants and the weeds on the island and they are learning to tell the difference very fast and are enjoying spending the day out in the bush.

Weeding has been exciting so far. We have been finding some weeds, which has been good to make sure we are searching for the right ones because the seedlings can be tricky to tell apart. We have also been finding a lot of the native cucumber, Sicyos. It has large prickles and they end up in you!! They are not particularly nice when they get in your ears, or anywhere else on your body for that matter! Some of the weed plot names are very deceptive, Low flat plot 8 is not very low or flat like it suggests, it is very high and steep and full of fallen trees, large bluffs and slips. 

The birds on Raoul

I also love birds! The tui have a rather different call up here on Raoul, and the kākāriki graze on the lawn like sheep, they also graze on my corn seedlings. Grrr.

Black-winged petrels fly over the hostel at dusk. My favourite so far are the white terns at Boat Cove. They fly in pairs or groups on wind draughts up and down cliffs and valleys. They nest in trees, which like the Noddy on the Meyer Islands or other sea birds on the main island, isn’t all that uncommon. But what is rather strange is that these birds lay their green blotchy egg on a flat bit of a pohutukawa branch. It is the most uncanny thing I have ever seen, but also the most awesome.

A noddy (seabird from the tern family)

I can truly say coming to Raoul Island is both the biggest opportunity I have ever had and the best decision I have ever made.

Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1,000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC has a small team of rangers 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, Maree Roberts.

Is Laughing Jack our favourite bird…?

Baby Jack, a Black-winged petrel chick, on the nest

It is not surprising that in being surrounded by birds, one or two would become favourites, or at least well-known to us. This is so of Laughing Jack, a Black-winged petrel that has built its nest on a nearby track.

This track, the Orange Grove Track, is an access route to the main track across the island and to many of our weeding plots. We therefore walk past Laughing Jack’s nest on a nearly daily basis.

Now Laughing Jack is not one for spending a lot of time on a fancy nest; this nest is more like a hollowed out groove in the edge of the track. So once the egg was laid and Laughing Jack was sitting on it, he was perched on the edge of his nest fully visible to us.

One of the coolest things that I have learnt on Raoul is that you can literally call black-winged petrels to you through a very strange and funny way. Basically you make a “wo wo wo” sound by patting your mouth with your hand. This has them swooping down all around you and often landing beside you, or if you are lucky, even on you.

So each time we would walk past Laughing Jack’s nest we would make this sound and Laughing Jack being a friendly kind of bird would answer back loud and clear. Laughing Jack became so used to us that just walking by and making the noise set him off. And it seemed to us that Laughing Jack sounded just like he was laughing his head off at how silly we sounded – hence the name ‘Laughing Jack’.

Red-tailed tropicbird on a nest

We have had many a laugh with Laughing Jack over the last month as he sat on the nest. And then, as these things go, baby Jack appeared. Black-winged petrel chicks are the cutest balls of fluff you ever saw and we were lucky to be able to see this one clearly due to the meagre nature of Laughing Jack’s nest.

Of course the first thing we did was try out the call and in response, in the squeakiest pitch, was the familiar laughing call. So now we get to not only watch baby Jack grow and grow, but also to say hello every time we pass and hear him laughing his fluffy head off about how silly we all sound!

… or is it the Red-tailed tropicbird?

It is quite a competition around here for which birds are our favourite and for me it has always been the beautiful Red-tailed tropicbird. When the sun is shining and you look up and see one, you can almost see right through their white wings and as for the long red tail feathers well, they are just fantastic.

Red-tailed tropicbird chick on nest

We recently got to go over to the Meyer Islands, another bonus of being on Raoul Island. These islands are literally coated in beautiful, and sometimes quite rare, seabirds.

On this trip I was privileged to get to see up close not only several tropicbirds, but their fluffy white chicks as well. This was a real highlight of my trip to Raoul and made me realise just how lucky I am to have come to stay in this bird paradise.