A little bit wonderful
Blogger: Forest & Bird’s Kermadec Campaigner/Advocate, Karen Baird
I barely noticed we had anchored off Raoul island except for a slight change in the motion of the ship at 2am.
Early morning on deck and black-winged and Kermadec petrels wheeled in big arcs over the boat and curious young boobies cruised past looking at this strange new island that had appeared overnight.
Training my binoculars on the tiny islets off Raoul that are their home I was shocked to see how devastated the cyclone had wrought havoc.
Bare earth showed everywhere and nearly every tree had been flattened. It was heartbreaking to think that many of the Sooty tern chicks and the eggs of the Kermadec petrels would have been destroyed in the cyclone. Staff on the island told us that the eye of the cyclone passed directly over them.
Raoul Island too, was severely impacted by the winds. Many large pohutukawas had been felled and new slips were visible on steep ridges as we raced into our landing at Fishing Rock. Three bottlenose dolphins zoomed in to accompany us and birds circled over head.
Strict quarantine procedures are required for landing at Raoul. Jess the Raoul Team Leader and I went through people’s gear and shoes before they clambered down into the zodiacs.
DOC staff and volunteers played excellent hosts, excited to see new faces after five months.
The expeditioners were welcomed with home baked scones and tea on arrival at the main base on the northern terraces. Tui seemed to be everywhere and took very little notice of people as they tucked into fallen oranges.
The orange trees are one of the many fruit tree remnants of the early settlement attempts on the island. One enterprising tui had found himself a beautifully flowering nikau tree, but far from supping on the nectar he had stationed himself in front of it, snatching insects from the air as they were attracted to the flowers.
Parakeets too were everywhere, even happily digging on the front lawn, or chattering excitedly at every turn in the track. Spotless crakes are a surprising find for some visitors unabashedly striding around in the open before dashing back under cover. The expeditioners wandered around or were guided on walks and everyone who had an objective appeared satisfied with their day.
The divers, too had a fantastic first day diving, many just sitting on the bottom gazing at the Galapagos sharks as they circled curiously, or spent time photographing the huge spotted black groupers in the clear water. I’m really hoping for a dive myself before we leave these enchanting isles.
Good news from the divers though – when they popped their heads up they reported huge bird activity and possibly courtship mating from the Kermadec Petrels so perhaps they will be re-nesting again soon on the Meyer Islets, or better still they might decide to shift to some far better real-estate on Raoul Island, now completely predator free and offering up tons of space.
Today we spent the morning fish-ogling, and although squalls would pass over occasionally it did little to dampen people’s enthusiasm to jump in and enjoy a snorkel.
I am normally not one for lists, but I thought it would be easier to list the fish we met rather than writing up one piece which would require me to find neat little segue ways!
So here goes (deep breath)
Fish we’ve have seen
– Giant limpets clamped to massive boulders
– Caramel drummer fish grazing on short turf algae
– Black angel fish chasing each other
– Notch headed marblefish – Kermadec Kahawai cruising in the mid-zone
– Small grey knifefish who spent much of their time hugging the surface.
– Painted moki
– Some dangerously-spiked lionfish
– Two small galapagos sharks, and one inquisitive one who tailed me. We formed what you call a ‘wagon circle’ immediately, and eventually he grew tired of us and swam off.
The sea-life was incredible, and snorkelers close to me even managed to clap eyes on a green turtle – one of three species that feed in this temperate/tropical zone.
One fish that was largely absent from the seas was black grouper – perhaps they has been battered by the recent cyclone?
Today we wheeled around the top end of New Zealand – a small unassuming rock called Nugget island. And despite being confined to the ship, cruising around the island afforded fantastic views of the coastline.
As we sailed around the Herald Group of Islands just a couple of kilometres offshore from Raoul Island we were struck once again by the devastation caused to these tiny seabird breeding islands
Even on the main island some slips were so huge they had carried off whole chunks of the island into the sea.
A lone sooty tern flew by close to the ship, and I hoped that at least some of their offspring had fledged before the cyclone two weeks ago.
Despite the damage to their breeding colonies, the Kermadec Petrels in particular were seen diving in duets over the islands in renewed courtship displays.
Tasman boobies could still be spotted on the tops of the islands sitting on the ground and the occasional red-tailed tropic-bird could be seen tucked in under various overhangs.
It was heartening too, to see white naped petrels in close to shore – perhaps they will return in September to breed on Raoul Island for the first time this century.