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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.