Monday, February 9, 2009

Conservation Volunteers NZ - Week 1, New Zealand

For the two weeks from 12th – 23rd Jan I was booked in to do more conservation work this time for conservation volunteers New Zealand which is basically a recently formed arm of Conservation volunteers Australia and has only really been in operation for the last two years.

I learned later that the organisation had only recently – as in the start of December, started projects in the South Island. The North Island is where they had been doing most of their work.

Mon 12th Jan

I had to be ready to be picked up at 7:30 that morning and so was outside with all my stuff for 7:20. If there were other people doing the same volunteer work then they should have gotten the same 3 nights accommodation as me and should have been waiting outside as well. There were some people including some quite cute girls but they ALL got shuttles and buses so I was left there on my own (bugger!). I was beginning to think my worst nightmare would come true and it would only be me on the trip.

At around 8pm Sam our team leader turned up and introduced himself to me. There were in fact two other people also waiting – a Korean couple called Karl and Sun (easy to pronounce thank good!) so there were at least going to be 3 of us. We put our stuff in the bus and then Sam dropped a minor bomb shell in telling us that he had to pick up another volunteer from the airport at 12:30 so would not actually be leaving until after 11:30. We were given the option of staying and doing our own thing or coming with Sam to pot around the botanic gardens etc. As I had seen them before I decided to have the time to myself and went and had some breakfast before going to the library for more free internet time.

Finally we were on our way via the airport were we picked up Brecht, a Belgium from the Flemish part of the country. ( I should point out that any attempt at proper pronunciation of his name requires spitting out your tonsils! ) Then we were on our way to the other side of the island where we would be working.

The journey there was split up by several stops on our way through Arthur’s Pass. The scenery was amazing and would have looked even better in springtime when there would be more snow on the mountain tops.

We stopped for some lunch at Kura Tawhiti Scenic Reserve - an area of impressive limestone rock outcrops from the mountain side. You are all probably getting fed up with me putting pics of rocks on this blog so I will do another link to the facebook if you want to have a look at the pics! (to be honest my photos do not do the place justice – I bet it would be a lot better at sunset!)

Then it was through Arthur’s Pass (more pics on facebook)

We did another food stop at the town were we got our first look at the cheeky Kea parrots including this sorry looking thing with only one leg! I nicknamed him Long John Silver – because he’s a one legged parrot (parrot / pirate - geddit? Suit yourself!)

Having only one leg didn’t seem to stop him stealing food at every opportunity he could get!

On again past the Otiga Viaduct where we watched some mountain bikers slogging their hearts out to climb up the valley (suckers!).

Eventually we arrived at our volunteer house in Punakaiki (see Glossary update) where I was introduced to the other volunteers who had already been there from the previous week.

I think its best to do pics as I introduce the gang (even though these pics were taken the following week!)

Lisa from Newcastle, England

Kate from Leeds, England

Brecht the Flem!

Sophie complete with built-in earphones - also from Belgium but from the French speaking part

Karl from Lancashire, England

Lukas from Germany - in one of his rare awake moments

Sun and Karl from Korea

And finally Sam are volunteer coordinator who was from England.

Of course everyone with the exception of Sam was half my age so I naturally thought this was going to be crap – fortunately it wasn’t.

Another member of the team Dave the project manager was arriving later on and I was told two interesting things about him.

1. It was his birthday that day – 55 years old and
2. He looks like the Movie star Will Farrell! (I do not have a photo – will nick one off one of the others off facebook when I get a chance)

Another thing I was told was that no Alcohol was allowed in the Volunteer centre due to insurance issues (aaagh!) Thankfully you could drink outside or at a local pub which just happened to be 100 yards away from the house – happy days!

As soon as Dave arrived and the others produced surprise birthday cakes it was off to the pub for some drinks to celebrate. We played some games of Pool and also watched as Kate and Karl played the longest game of darts I have ever witnessed in my life (double 1 finale which Kate eventually won!) before heading back to the house for our first nights sleep.

Unfortunately as I was one of the last to arrive I was stuck with a top bunk for the week – great!

Glossary Update:

As well as normal English place names in New Zealand there are also Maori names which have their own meaning. They all seem to have rather a lot of P’s K’s T’s U’s and O’s, and I was constantly making a mess of saying every single one!

– Pun-a-Ky-kee. Maori - from puna (spring) and kaiki or kaika (lie in a heap).

Various attempts by me to say it included:
Pocohontas, Puky-kaikee, puny-kacky and Punaranium

I did eventually get it right (I think!)

Beers I have drunk

Monteiths Celtic – very nice ale!

Tuesday 13th Jan

Our first work day started with some Gorse bashing – oh joy! For anyone who does not know what Gorse is it’s a type of bush from Europe which has extremely prickly branches!

First we were given a bit of a introduction to the project we were going to be working on which I think deserves mentioning here.

The place we would be working on was originally farmland hallmarked as a mining operation by rio tinto which is one of the largest mining companies in the world. What they were supposed to be mining was the mineral ilmenite which, we were told was used in the production of poison gas in WWI! They decided against actually mining it and gave it over to DOC (Department of Conservation) for developing back into a natural habitat (probably not a big market for poison gas anymore).

The project was going to take 10 years in total and CVNZ volunteers would be helping DOC in doing some of the finer work such as what we would be doing on the first day – removing Gorse from along a stream to let the native plants grow back. The project had literally only just started so we were doing some of the very first work carried out.

But the real benefit of this site is because in the hills at the back happens to be the ONLY nesting site in the world of the Westland Petrel:

Rather than bore you with the details of it here is a link just in case you are interested:

Featured animal: Westland Petrel: (Maori Name Taiko)

Because this site will be placed back to native habitat it will ensure the continued survival of the nesting site as the place could have been a prime candidate for construction of houses which could have disturbed the birds.

For most of the morning and afternoon we slogged away at the gorse concentrating on one side of the stream’s bank. Another good thing about being at the start of a project is the tools are new – I had the pleasure of using a large ratchet lopper which is probably the best thing since sliced bread for dealing with things like gorse (I want one for back home for helping CV Fingal!)

That night after tea Dave took a group of us in the minibus to Bullock creek for a walk down to the creek itself. He drove us up through an impressive gorge before we walked the rest of the way there which took about 40 minutes – only to find that the creek was dry. Well dry is not exactly the right term. There was water but the whole area was made of limestone complete with caves and underground rivers. Apparently Bullock creek had recently diverted underground – so no river.

Another thing about Bullock creek is that it is the scene of a terrible tragedy. In 1995 14 children on a school outing fell to their deaths from a viewing platform that gave way. Here is some info and the plaque in their memory.

Wednesday 14th Jan

At the start of the day we continued our gorse bashing until we were rudely interrupted by a very large cow that had somehow gotten on the property and decided to chase us out of the field!

One very big and angry cow!

After morning tea our guest Rueban arrived. There is Blue penguin colony on up the coast from Punakaikia and on Rueban who is involved with the colony was supposed to show us how to make nesting tunnels for the birds.

However when he arrived with all his gear etc and we looked at the plans it soon became apparent that we were not making nesting boxes but stoat traps!

Things I have learnt:

Some people may be shocked to see conservationist's building traps to kill animals but here in New Zealand stoats, rats and especially possums are a big problem. They are not native animals and compete with or kill the indigenous bird life which has already caused several species to go extinct.

In fact I learnt that New Zealand is one of those weird places where you are encouraged to hunt – to misquote a phrase from animal farm ‘two legs good, four legs bad’. Basically if it’s a wild mammal then kill it with the blessing of the DOC.

Reuban showed us a stoat pelt before we got to work on building the traps. We were soon beavering away but ran out of nails and had to stop and return to the gorse bashing – once Sam had gotten rid of the cow!

One very dead stoat!

One very alive cow being chased away by Sam

That night it was my turn to cook and I decided to make some chilli. Things did not quite go according to plan and I managed to burn the rice before getting it right at the second attempt!

Thursday 15th Jan
More Gorse bashing only this time in a different area around a pond.

DM Thinks he can steal my Loppers but I know better!

Just one more squeeze and I will be free forever HA HA HA - who said that?

After lunch we changed from gorse bashing to bamboo bashing before finishing early so that Sam could take us to see the pancake rocks.

Punakeiki is famous for having strange groups of rocks which are supposed to look as if they are stacks of pancakes. The place also has blowholes which are best seen at high tide on particular days. Thursday afternoon was supposed to be the best time to see the blowholes that week.

Although the rocks were unusual the lack of any weather (the blowholes are best in stormy seas) meant that the blowholes were quite tame in their spouts. Still it was a very interesting place. (more pics on facebook) I seen some interesting animals including this: Its called a hokey cokey – very rare – only one in existence!

After tea I went on a walk up the river path trying (unsuccessfully) to take photos of the amazing gorge and its plant life. The West coast of New Zealand is one of the wettest places on earth and as a result the mountainsides are covered in lush vegetation except that this vegetation looks as if it should have dinosaurs eating it. The whole area has a prehistoric look to it which is totally amazing to see. Anyone who says that New Zealand reminds them of the mountains of Ireland or Scotland needs their head examined. It is a totally different world!

Beers I have drank:

Me, Sam and Brecht went for a couple of pints in the bar that night where I tried the following:
Monteith’s Dark Ale: Even nicer than the celtic – almost a stout.
Monteith’s Summer Ale (bottle) A very sweet beer with honey and ginger – not sure about it – a bit too fruity!

Friday 16th Jan
Our last day of working in Punakeiki involved looking for seeds from the native Kowhai tree which would be propagated and then planted as seedlings later on in the year. In order to get there we had to pass a herd of cows and duck under some electric fences. I resisted the temptation to see how many volts went through the fence – I still remember my run in with the electric fence at the monkey sanctuary in South Africa!

After lunch we went to Greymouth to get provisions. I made sure I got proper provisions – 6 pack of Mac’s sassy red – yum yum. It was Sophie’s birthday today and after tea (which she insisted on cooking) and surprise cakes we went to the beach to make a fire from driftwood while having a few bevies to celebrate.

Sophie blowing out her birthday candles

You are not allowed to drink in the volunteer house – doesn’t stop you drinking OUTSIDE though – except it meant going in and out of the house to partake!

Drinking on porch outside - NOT inside!

Beach fire

Beers I have drank:

Mac’s Sassy red:

Macs Gold lager

Sat 17th Jan

It was just as well that we had Sophie’s beach party on Friday night as on Saturday and for most of the weekend it lashed out of the heavens! Saturday was spent inside trying not to bored stiff. I could now see how the area has such a rain forest.

Luckily the rain let up for a while - just long enough to go with Sam to a nearby beach to get some photos of a fantastic sunset.

Sun 18th Jan

Sunday was just as bad as Saturday – Rain, Rain and more rain. It did manage to brighten up just long enough for me to go back to the pancake rocks and see a much better blowhole display:

Check out the following Facebook link for other pics:

CVNZ Week 1

Animals I have seen:

New Zealand Harrier – Punekeiki - 13th Jan
New Zealnd Falcon – Punekeiki 13th Jan
Unlike other countries New Zealand does not have many types of birds of prey so I can be pretty sure that these are what I seen while doing the gorse bashing.
New Zealand Pigeon – Punekeiki 13th Jan – a massive bird – the second largest pigeon in the world
Tui – Bullock creek 13th Jan, A fantastic songster bird
New Zealand Robin – Bullock creek 13th Jan. When I seen this rather drab bird I commented on our robin being much more colourful. He must have heard what I said as it darted out of the bush right at me!
Pied shag – Pancake rocks 15th Jan
White-fronted tern – Pancake rocks 15th Jan

And last but not least the weka which I first seen on my first days gorse bashing.

The weka is a flightless bird which unlike the nocturnal and shy kiwi is as bold as they come and will readily come out in the open and near humans as if they don’t exist. It got to the point that I got fed up finding that every rustle in a bush ended up being a bleeding weka!

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