Archives For Raoul Island

By Raoul Island Ranger Louise Mack


It is crazy to think that the Scottish pirates from the RV Braveheart—parading themselves as GNS workers and boat crew—were our first contact with people, outside our small team, in four months!

The pirates arrive!

The pirates arrive! The RV Braveheart off Raoul Island with
GNS scientists on board

The scientists and divers from GNS were up here fixing their tsunami reader and checking over their gear on the island.

The trip was combined with a research expedition with Dr Tom Trnski, from Auckland Museum, and Steve Hathaway, an underwater videographer. Check out the blog of their trip, it has some amazing footage from the Kermadec Islands.

In preparation for our guests, we slogged away getting everything just right. Lawns were mowed, wood cut for the BBQ, the Ranch cleaned and sparkling. All was set. Now we just had to wait.

A bit of a dampener

I don’t know if other ex-Raoulies got this feeling while they were up here, but every now and then I get the vibe that the island enjoys tormenting us. True to form, a few days before the arrival of our guests, the rain begins. Torrential. Non-stop. Rain. 102.5 mm over two days. Everything was wet. Everything was muddy. Good times.

Then, just for a bit of extra excitement, a water main to the house breaks. Figuring losing one tank of water was child’s play, we opted to drain them both. That’s 60,000 litres of water seeping into the ground.

Now, if this had happened two days earlier, finding the leak would have been easythe wet spot would’ve been obvious in the dry. Unfortunately, the entire island was a wet spot—it also has very permeable and quick draining soil. This meant the job continued on over many hours (days)—digging in mud. In the rain. Always with the rain.

Let me tell you, water out of a tap is a luxury! I will never again take that for granted. Using buckets from the fire reservoir for flushing toilets and hiking up the hill to fill containers for drinking was not fun.

So, wet muddy clothes we had been wearing for a week and no showers was how we greeted our visitors to the island. I am not 100% sure, but it may have been the sight and smell of us that made them only stay ashore one night and then flee back to the comforts of their ship.

All good though! The island did a complete turn around and the day they came ashore was sunny and perfect.

A lot of merriment and cups of tea were had by all and it was a great visit by a nice bunch of people.

A couple of camping trips

It is not all work work work however, despite what it may sound like. Boss man Neil does occasionally let us off the leash and allow us a few hours of free time for exploring.

Labour Weekend at Sunshine Camp was the setting for an adventure for Ross, Jenny and myself.

Looking back now it feels like a Tui ad waiting to happen and I can actually laugh at the irony. A weekend camping + a place called Sunshine + Labour Weekend in New Zealand = non stop rainy good times.

It started off well. Before the rain at Sunshine Camp.

It started off well. Jenny, Ross and me (in the middle)
before the rain at Sunshine Camp

Actually I shouldn’t complain. We left home in brilliant sunshine and had it beaming down on us while we staggered there with full packs. It only started to cloud over as we arrived. And, even then, the rain held off until we were tucked up in our tents.

The plan for a second night quickly changed to a wet muddy slog back to the Ranch though. I cannot deny it, I am a fair weather camper.

And the rain came down... a wet camping trip.

And the rain came down… a wet camping trip

There are so many places to go and things to see here. The humpbacks had gone, but their departure coincided with the arrival of a seabird bonanza. Amazing birds and strange noises became the norm—it’s like a whole new channel on Raoul TV.

Tam and I spent a night camping out on Hutchies Bluff a few weeks ago and got to experience a pod of dolphins cruising past, with one of the humpback stragglers and her wee calf. The sun was setting directly in front of us, there were seabirds galore, and a full moon rising behind us. It was one of those moments when you pinch yourself and think, ‘wait this is my job?’!

Tam taking in the view from Hutchies campsite.

Tam taking in the view from Hutchies campsite

Under the sea

Snorkelling here is epic. The water is so clear, visibility is amazing, and the fish!

Schools of kahawai follow you around, tiny mimic blennies nibble your legs, mado, lion fish (definitely no touching those suckers), giant limpets the size of your hands, the noise of kina crunching away on the rocks.

Snorkelling selfie!

Snorkelling selfie (me on left)!

Neil saw a kingi as big as himself (not a lot is as big as Captain Longshanks, so that is saying something). It is all a bit overwhelming really.

Last week I saw a turtle and had my first snorkel with the sharks experience. It was only a small one, but seriously, 1 metre looks massive underwater. Yes, I did use Tam as a human shield, but I stayed in the water! Big ups to me.

Cue scary music ... it's Jaws!

Cue scary music … it’s Jaws!

Tam, Neil and I decided that our first weekend, post pirate invasion, we should chill and have a relaxing visit to the Oneraki Beach Day Spa to recharge.

I really cannot think of a better way to round off a weekend than chilling in a hot tub, sipping on my home brew ginger beer with my Raoul family. The rates at the spa are fab, and the view immense.

Enjoying a beverage in the Oneraki Day Spa.

Enjoying a beverage in the Oneraki Day Spa

Life is good. Home is beautiful.

Interested in becoming a volunteer on Raoul Island?

DOC is currently recruiting for volunteers for August 2014 to February 2015 now. See for more information.

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.