We rise really early and start the 2.5 hour drive south to Gulf Harbour where we will be catching the ferry to Tirtiri Matangi Island. Julie and I have been looking forward to this week of volunteering on one of the best predator free islands in NZ. The biodiversity and large populations of bird life on the Island resembles how the mainland should be if only the explosion of introduced predators could be undone.
After a short ferry ride we arrive on the Island along with a bunch of visitors who are here for the day. Tiritiri Matangi is open to the public five days a week so anyone can enjoy the bird life along the many trails. Upon our arrival, we meet Daryl, the ranger, and Mandy the head volunteer. Both are great to chat with, very easy-going, and are eager to show us around the Island.
One of our most interesting introductions is to Greg, the Island's iconic Takahe. He is pushing 18 years old now but has contributed to the slowly growing population of Takahe on the Island. They are amazing birds to watch with their big feet and strong beaks. Each bird seems to have a distinct personality. Greg is very timid and shy with the other birds as he gets picked on. Takahe are territorial, and each monogamous pair holds a piece of the Island for themselves. However, poor Greg, who was the first on the Island, is not the best at standing his ground. So he tends to hide in the work shop under the vehicles when other Takahe come around. It's so strange to see such a magnificent endangered bird hanging out willingly in a workshop.
Julie and Greg the Takahe
Greg and His Daughter
We are shown to our accommodations, an old farmhouse that has been converted for overnight visitors, researchers, and lucky volunteers like us. We claim a bunk before starting the day's work. Our volunteer work begins with Mandy showing us the water troughs which we are responsible to fill each day and clean out twice during the week. She also shows us where to find the rare Brown Teal ducks which we have to monitor three times during the week by recording their band colours and ensuring all ducklings are present. The first day is pretty relaxing and it sounds like this will be typical for the week.
Lighthouse and Historic Farm House
Brown Teal Family
Tui in Birdbath
View of Auckland from Tiritiri
Another task we complete throughout the week is cleaning and refilling sugar water feeders for the very rare Hihi, otherwise known as the Stitch Bird. Extra food is provided for these nectar feeding birds as currently the Island is home to more birds than it can naturally support. The Island is a safe-haven where birds have a chance to increase their numbers. When populations are flourishing on the Island a portion of the birds are caught and re-located onto the mainland.
Julie Changing Sugar Water for Hihi and Bellbirds
Julie Changing Sugar Water with Tuis
Being a volunteer has some great perks because you see birds and animals that the day visitors likely don't see. This is because Mandy shows us secret spots around the Island, like the Tuatara burrows. Tuataras look like a big lizard but are actually more closely related to dinosaurs! Unfortunately these guys are extinct on the mainland, so we are incredibly fortunate to see them in the wild.
Northern Spotted Tuatara
A group of researchers are on the Island studying the endangered Red Crowned Parakeet (Kakariki). They are netting the birds to take blood, stool, feather, and saliva samples in order to monitor Beak and Feather Disease found in the species. One morning we run into the researchers with their mist nets up waiting to catch these birds. Julie is really interested and we chat while they quickly work on a sedated birds taking samples. They are finding the birds to be in good health on the Island compared to the mainland.
Kakariki (Red Crowned Parakeet)
Everything on the Island isn't bliss, as it sounds. It is a natural environment and predator prey situations occur. One morning Daryl approaches us with a request to help look for a lost Takahe chick. This is a huge deal since it is 1 of 230 Takahe left in the world and the survival records of chicks over the past few years haven't been good. We search high and low for a few hours but the young Takahe has vanished. Daryl says hawks and magpies have killed chicks in the past and that is likely what has happened again. (The photo below is of this missing Takahe the day before it went missing). Everyone is really bummed out as word spreads around the Island.
One afternoon we help Daryl and Dave pen up a family of Takahe and relocate them to an enclosure. The purpose of this is to allow them to be easily caught for banding and for some further research. These birds catch on quickly to anything out of the norm, so to be successful sneakiness is key.
Dave and Daryl Bagging Takahe
Bagged Up Takahe
Throughout the week Daryl has us pressure washing the white picket fence that surrounds the historical homestead, helping break up concrete from a building that was demolished, and cleaning out the visitors centre to get it ready for another week of visitors. We also are asked to repaint the “Hobbs Beach” sign. So we throw on our togs and jandles (bathing suits and flip-fops) and Daryl drives us down to the water. After scraping off the paint and applying the first coat Julie and I go for a swim as it dries. We apply a second coat of paint and then go for another swim. Tough job but we get it done and Daryl is thoroughly impressed.
Painting Hobbs Beach Sign
Some Fun on Hobbs Beach
Julie at Hobbs Beach
Painting Hobbs Beach Sign
Some Fun on Hobbs Beach
Julie Driving the Mule
Time flies by as we work each day but we have lots of time to explore the Island spotting tons of rare and endangered species in the afternoons and evenings One afternoon I spot a couple of North Island Kokakos foraging on the ground. They are called “monkeys of the forest” as they run and hop through the forest branches and fly only short distances. We are really fortunate to spot these rare birds, since the island is home to only 20. They are even more rare on the North Island and are extinct on the South Island.
North Island Kokako
Soaking Up the Sun in the Thick Grass
Julie and I cover the entire Island by foot during our afternoons off work. The East Coast Track leads us to the secluded Fisherman's Bay where we explore a maze of arches at low tide. Our favourite hike is along the Kawerau track where one ancient pohutakawa tree stands, its branches stretching incredible distances from the main trunk. Most of the Island was farmland years ago before it was left to regenerate, but this tree stands in one of the few areas of the Island that weren't farmed. Here old-growth native bush spreads along the steep hills.
Our evenings are filled with sunsets and nocturnal hikes. Our favourite sunset is from Hobbs Beach and is full of warmth and colour as silhouettes of sail boats float on the ocean. As darkness coats the Island after sunset we grab our torches and cellophane paper (which is held over the end of the torch to prevent blinding the kiwi) and head for the tracks. Nocturnal hikes are the only way to see the Little Spotted Kiwi in the wild, so these hikes occupy us nearly every night of the week. We are determined to see at least one kiwi while we are here in NZ and this week on Tiritiri Matangi Island is our last chance.
Julie watching Sunset over Hobbs Beach
Our first night hike is pretty uneventful. We mostly just scare ourselves as we walk through the woods. But the stars are amazing out here and the weather is gorgeous, so we lay in the grass and gaze at the glittering sky.
Our second nocturnal hike is slightly better and within 15 minutes of leaving the farmhouse Julie is startled by something that races off into the bush. We poke our noses into the woods and experience our first sighting of a Little Spotted Kiwi, but neither of us get a decent photo. We continue walking in darkness along a route which Mandy recommended, listening to the kiwis' “whistle-like” calls. Over the next couple of hours we spot a total of 4!! These cute balls of feathers vary in sizes. The males are much smaller than the females as the females have to have the ability to carry the egg. Kiwis have the largest egg in the world in proportion to their body size. One female we see is particularly large being slightly larger than the size of the rugby ball. This isn't the end of our kiwi spotting though, throughout the rest of the week we spot another 2 “probing” the ground for munchies with their long beaks. This probing action leaves holes in the ground that look like someone was stabbing the ground with a screwdriver.
Little Spotted Kiwi
During our night walks, we not only search for kiwis but other nocturnal birds such as moreporks and little blue penguins. One evening as we are walking along Hobbs Beach we hear a very eerie sound coming from the bushes. It takes some willpower but we investigate further to find little blue penguins huddling in the rocks. Julie finds them “super cute”, as do I.
Little-Blue Penguins on Hobbs Beach
On our last day on Tiritiri we awake to pouring rain for the first time during our stay here. After a short day of cleaning out the freezers and refilling water baths, we are free for the day. Julie takes part in a guided walk before the heavy rain forces her to seek shelter back at the house. We relax until it is time to catch the ferry back to Auckland. It was great volunteering on the island and I'm glad Julie signed us up for this many months ago. Being on Tiritiri gave us a small glimpse of how New Zealand would have been before the introduction of cats, mice, rats, stoats, possums, goats, and rabbits to name a few.
Back in Auckland, we completely unpack our car into our room at the backpackers because we are heading to the Car Market in the morning with hopes of selling it. Our room is a disaster zone with our gear and purchases from seven months in NZ. It takes a bottle of wine to get motivated, start packing, and decide which things to leave behind. We have a hard time parting with extra clothing and food that just won't stuff into our packs.
Mailing our Goodies Home
By 8am Sunday morning we are parked at the Car Market and Julie is wheeling and dealing with any interested buyers. It is a little stressful since we really only have today and tomorrow to sell the car before we fly over the Tasman Sea to Australia. After a couple of interested buyers and test drives, we make a deal with some German girls that like our clean, well maintained ride. We part ways with “The Hobbit” for 2000 bucks, 400 less than we bought it for. This isn't too bad for seven months worth of driving.
Selling The Hobbit at the Car Market
With our last day in Auckland we shop up and down the streets of Parnell Village for one-of-a-kind NZ souvenirs, before heading to another backpackers close to the airport. We hit the Internet hard catching up with family on Skype and blogging like mad. It's an early night, since our shuttle to the airport leaves at 3:50am.
Julie Crossing the Road in Parnell Village
At the airport, there are problems with my e-ticket, and we end up getting upgraded to first class! Very flash! Heaps of room, great food, reclining seats, and booze. After a lovely 3.5 hour flight, we touch down in Sydney to start the last leg of our travels. In the near future we'll upload a collection of photos from AUS. The writing will stop here, since there aren't enough hours in the day to explore this vast country and blog to the extent that we have been. Julie's photos are sensational, so download them, steep some tea, and let the slide show take you to another world.