Stepping onto Raoul
Sarah Wilcox, Anton van Helden and Stefanie Rixecker have just set off on a trip with Heritage Expeditions to the Kermadecs. Tune in to our blog for daily updates from their trip!
Sometime in the early hours of the morning we anchored off Raoul Island, and woke to a ship at anchor and a big chunk of land outside. We are sitting off Landing Rock (which used to be called Fishing Rock but had to have an update when the marine reserve was created) for easy access to shore.
Easy on a good day – and fortunately today is a good day! The landing requires scrambling up a series of steps when the nose of your zodiac is pushing in to make contact with the rock. When one swell has passed, they shout ‘go’ and off you go before the next swell rolls in, helped by some strong arms on shore.
I photographed a beautiful sunrise over the Meyer Islands while one of our zodiacs went over to pick up four DOC staff from the island and bring them back for breakfast and our briefing on board. We were shuttled over in groups and everyone landed, even our senior go-getters aged in their 80s and 90.
Huge Raoul limpets grip the red volcanic rocks, strong enough to hold through the storms and huge waves that have lashed Raoul for three months, until this week. We feel very lucky indeed! Wandering along to the hostel (about 3 km), built in 1940 for a farm manager, we see variants of taupata, ngaio and kawakawa, plenty of tui and kakariki and a spotted crake. It’s warm and sunny and it feels very special to be here.
We are met by the rest of the DOC team: Emerson, Lan, Ben, Wolfie, Charlie, Di and Eleanor. Emerson and Lan have been here since September and are staying on to complete their year, but the others are handing over to new workers who are coming up with the Navy tomorrow. They have put out the most delicious freshly squeezed Raoul orange juice and spring water with lime wedges to quench our thirst. The mature citrus trees were probably planted by the Bell family who lived on the island from 1878 to 1914.*
DOC has a team of people here, primarily for weed control. It’s hard, long term work given the terrain, but it looks like they’re doing a great job. They reckon it could take another 30 years to complete. Passionfruit vines are one current target and the team does grid searches to search and destroy the plants, mainly by pulling them out as seedlings.
Some of us opt for a walk up the Denham Bay track and I have a chat to Wolfie Mander as we climb. He stops to show me a black-winged petrel burrow in the bank and makes quite loud cooing noises. Sure enough, a little head pops out for a look.
“I don’t know why it attracts them. When they first arrived to breed in the spring there were heaps of them – they would come and stand right next to you”, he says. We’ve seen lots of the birds from the ship on our way over, so it’s nice to see the other part of their life history.
I ask Wolfie what it’s like to live on Raoul. “If I had to sum it up, I’d say it was inspirational and depressing all at the same time. Inspirational because it’s a predator free – not just a concept but for real – you can see the difference. And depressing because there’s so much more I wish I could do. ”
*The Bell’s remarkable story is told in ‘Crusoes of Sunday Island’ by Elsie Morton – it’s a fabulous read.