Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Whole Lotta Linking Going On

Here is the promised summary. I tried desperately to continue my procrastination but a cold confined me to quarters on this grey mid-winter day, so I sat inside by the fire and got the job done.

Raoul island is a tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean, roughly midway between New Zealand and Tonga. You can walk/run around its tracks in a day (as long as you are fit - the tracks are steep in places!) The island is right on the Kermadec Trench, which is also the boundary of the Pacific plate. Just offshore is some of the deepest water in the world, some 10km to the bottom. The volcano is an active one and has two calderas - Denham and Raoul. It last erupted in 2006, killing a DOC worker, Mark Kearney. Earthquakes are frequent occurrences. The isolation is at once an appealing factor and a potential risk, with help a long way away if things go wrong.

Read about our impressions of the island physically or look at this overview of what is was like for us to live on an active volcano. You could visit the Meyer Islands, just off the northern coastline of Raoul. Sunshine camp is on the SE coast of the island, accessible only on foot or by boat. Hutchison's Bluff is on the western tip. We spent a few nights at Mahoe Hut and conducted a search-and- destroy expedition on a new plot of Brazilian Buttercup there, hooking out some Mysore Thorn on the return journey. Denham Bay gets more than one entry, here and we examined the unfortunate history of the many graves there. The shipwreck of the Kinei Maru No. 10 also gets a mention.

Earthquakes are covered here and here. We had a few, but nothing spectacular.

You may want to read about what it was like going out weeding in this rugged terrain. Or you can go into the crater and visit BL08 with us, with the added bonus of a giant haul of that nasty tuber Madeira on the same page. Some of the steep ground we encountered was in Bell's Gully, not far from the hostel at Oneraki.

There were lots of other interesting jobs, although I realise now I didn't ever post a blog on my many happy hours mowing the airstrip on the tractor with the iPod volume turned up loud. Emergency preparations got a good going over and of course we had two real life medevacs and a tsunami. Gaye wrote up a nice outline of the Raoul hospital here and I penned a rather sardonic review of the obsession with risk management here. Yes, yes, I know it's a long way to get help but I still can't help thinking that piles of paperwork and outright prohibition have taken over from what we used to refer to as common sense. Measurement of Co2 is covered and the weather station work gets a look too. Ditto the land crab survey. Start-up (we were always in bed too early for shutdown) of the generators got a mention here.

Most of our travel on the island was on foot, but there is a brief video of our Monday morning commute to work in one of the Kawasaki Mules. The same link also covers our efforts to maintain the few kilometres of roading on the island. Pictures of the unique flying fox by which our boats were launched and all gear is brought on to and taken off the island are here.

Lots of space was given to the flora and fauna of the island. Gaye looked at some of the ferns, mosses and fungi and also some very old trees; there is a picture of some weird orange fungi here. Pukekos, those raucous stroppy birds, take up a bit of blogspace. More video here. The shock Pukeko sex-change page can be viewed here. Kakariki were very photogenic so shots of them appear thoughout, but Johnny Mac's page has some nice pics and there is another one here. This page has a Petrel chick pic on it too and our Meyers visits got in some nice chick shots too. Gaye wrote up a trip to visit the Sooty Terns and used some of Gareth's nice photos for that. Whales preoccupied us for the last weeks of our stay on the island, with more here, here and here. Brief video of them can be seen on our departing voyage. Bigboy the Giant Grouper features quite a lot because he was always around when we got into the water at Fishing Rock and we developed a real affection for the old fella.

Food and drink occupied a reasonable amount of space, and so it should! How much chocolate to take with you for six months? How good is home brewed beer? How many birthdays should one person have in a year? Should food be thrown away just because it expired last century? How much do the gardens produce? And just how good are those oranges and grapefruit?

Rest and recreation loomed large in our experience of island life. Gaye and I used the library as our bedroom for the first week or so and a wonderful resource it is. We probably took too many books with us as there is heaps of excellent reading for all tastes in this marvellously dusty old room. Everyone took movies and DVDs too. Obviously, the sea was the source of lots of pleasure with surfing, soaking in the hotpools at Oneraki, swimming and snorkling favourite pastimes. More kayak surfing shots here and the hazards of a enjoying the fast, steep beach break are traversed here. One of the more curious theories relating to beachcombing can be found here. Contact with the outside world was mostly via the interweb, with email and Skype heavily in use. However, we also got real mail delivered by the airforce and by a passing yacht. Just once. But there is a fantastic file of old letters written to Raoul Island and Chauncy (as postmaster) carried out a regular correspondence with a young boy from Timaru who was keen to collect the coveted island postmark.

Photos from people's "best-of" collections are here, here, here, here and here.

Wikipedia has a good overview of the island and some excellent external links to things like the GNS webcam, a history of the Bell family and a great site detailing the visit to the island by Dr Floor Anthoni of Seafriends. There are some excellent underwater shots on this site.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

The last post

Six months have whirled past in a blur for us and now we find ourselves back at our home in Little River as though we had never even been to Raoul Island. It's an odd feeling.

Suddenly we have had to come to terms with traffic that moves at more than 30km/hr. Supermarket queues are a nightmare. The ads on TV make us cringe. But, also, there is colour everywhere - we have returned to the bloom of late spring after our eyes had become used to the uniform greenery of the island. Our dawn chorus comprises the lilting chime of bellbirds when two weeks ago we would awake to the grating squawks of adolescent pukekos completing their every-30-second reporting in duties to their parents.

And it's wonderful to be reacqainted with friends and family, a process that will continue for some time yet.

Our trip home began in the most promising fashion. Smooth seas, sunshine and a farewell guard made up of humpbacks. Alas, it could not last and soon the mighty Braveheart was plunging its bow over a three metre swell, cascading spray up over the wheelhouse. This was the same bow where, down below the waterline, Gaye had jammed herself into her bunk and prayed for the anti nausea drugs to start working. Soon.

I can report that the behind-the-ear patch worked an absolute treat and I was able to eat all the meals (plus a few snacks), watch a video tracing the early career of Bob Marley, absorb another rather breathless DVD on surfing at Tahiti's Teahupoo, read two books and pace about endlessly on the deck. That was when I wasn't checking that Gaye needed another clean bucket, of course.

So if you saw one of our earliest posts, I guess you'll recognize a cruel sort of symmetry here.

Anyway, at some stage over the busy next few weeks I'll write up a last-last post with a brief linked overview of our time on this lovely island. We have been asked a few times "Would you go back?" and people seem surprised to hear a response in the negative. This does not mean we haven't had the time of our lives; it's more an acknowledgement that it's not always a worthwhile thing to try to recapture experiences like the one we've had.

Speaking of recapturing experiences, I spent many happy hours assembling images and video footage onto a DVD, copies of which went to all our fellow residents. This proved to be something of a mixed blessing. In order to make the space on my laptop necessary to complete this task, I foolishly moved ALL of my 4500 digital photos onto an external hard drive.

It promptly crashed - yay, Western Digital! But at least the DVD survives.

If you have arrived here long after the last post was posted and you have a question you wish to ask, just write it down as a comment with your email address in it and one of us will reply. Your address will not be sold off to an entrepreneurial Nigerian businessmen, I promise, and it will not appear on the blog - all comments come first to our email address and we decide whether or not they go any further.

So the last post ends with a video clip of the trip from Raoul back to Tauranga. It's been a heap of fun writing this blog and we've kept track of our readers with great fascination - all 5,414 of you as at 10pm today.

See ya!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Down deep at the Chanters

We are off on Monday morning.

Yesterday the RV Braveheart boys agreed to take Bas and I for a dive. We have had no scuba gear for the duration of our stay here, and despite me greasing up to various visiting yachts, no opportunity to get underwater has arisen to date.

We were taken to the Chanter islands and it was a truly spectacular dive. The descent was down some vertical walls to about 120 feet; we saw lovely soft corals and some weird and wonderful fish that aren't quite so accessible when you're snorkelling. Boar fish spring to mind - they're like huge Angel Fish with pouty bee-sting lips. Strangely, the terrain reminded me of paragliding at Treble Cone in Wanaka, such was the sense of vertigo you get with sheer drops above and below you. The visibility was excellent and can apparently be something of a hazard there - the water is so clear, you don't realise you're going too deep.

I finally got to swim with some of the Galapagos sharks, who shadowed us for the latter part of the dive and swam in close underneath me at one stage. They are beautiful, graceful creatures - very sleek and streamlined.

As Bas said with his inimitable turn of phrase, "This was the cream on the cake for the last six months."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A visitor to Met

Gareth found this little fellow in the Meteorological buildings and fed him one of Gaye's biscuits.

We're outta here (soon)

The last week has seen us all trotting around giving our island a good spring clean. Before it becomes someone else's island.

This has involved a major cleanup of the hostel and grounds, a mammoth session cutting virtually every blade of grass with mowers or scrub-bar (or a knife on the concrete edgings, as Bas discovered). The tracks are all spruced up and the roads ready to go. Raoul looks extremely presentable.

The RV Braveheart has sailed from Tauranga and is plugging through northerly seas towards us. The quality of their voyage should improve dramatically as they near the island, as the sea here is  completely transparent and looks like a mirror. Even the whales are enjoying it.

Gaye and I have moved out of our room and we are now living in the tent, close to the sea, but well above the high water mark in case of further tsunamis. Tomorrow the population of the island will almost triple as the newbies settle in, the ship's crew comes ashore and various DOC and changeover experts arrive to facilitate the handover process (we won't be back on the mainland for another week, but already I'm writing in bureaucratic-speak).

 The tent is tucked in at the end of the hostel lawn

We have had a wonderful time but we are looking forward to getting home.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

But nothing ventured....

All photos: Gareth Rapley

There are also days when everything works out just fine!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sometimes you have to learn the hard way

Every now and then I look down at our beach from the flagpole at the top of the cliff and think "that surf is just too good to miss." This is despite the fact that the tide is wrong, the beach is steep and littered with boulders and even though I know I can get into the waves OK in my little red kayak, getting out of the water again will be a whole new problem.

Gareth was on hand to record this very ungraceful exit from the sea. You can see I have already abandoned the boat - it's disappearing up the beach out of the frame, and all that remains is getting out without too many bruises.

Photos: Gareth Rapley