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

The annual whale survey

This was yesterday's little task. It involved seven of us dispersing to various viewing points around the island, then sitting down with pen and paper to count those whales. The results are still to be collated (my job) as a number of observers opted to stay out for the weekend, but it was a pretty busy sea!

 Hutchie's Bluff - a good place to view the whales
My spot was Hutchie's Bluff, on the western tip of the island. I had 34 sightings in the course of the four-hour survey, eight of which were two whales moving together. Some of the others saw pods of eight whales.

One of the memorable moments for me was seeing a cloud layer peel away after about three hours, and then noticing the water erupt with breaching whales as the sun struck it behind the receding cloud shadow. It was as though they were celebrating the arrival of sunshine, and it was truly joyous. Tail thwacking and leaping out to see who could make the biggest splash were the order of the day.

Postscript: 21 October (please do not read this if you are Russian or Japanese)

The report has been compiled and sent off. Our total was 117 whales for seven observers over four hours, but we are almost certain to have recorded some of the same whales at different sites. Nevertheless, it's an impressive total, especially as on our circumnavigation a few days earlier we only saw 11.

We continue to be amazed at some of the antics the whales display. Two evenings ago, we had two large whales perform a series of perfectly synchronised jumps in front of the hostel, like ballet dancers on steroids. I even managed to get some of it on video.

Monday, October 5, 2009

An evening out, with a whole lot of slappers

Comma placement is important, as any English teacher will tell you.
We sat out under the full moon last evening, enjoying the warm still air and the BBQ at the same time. The whales made the most of it too, with jump-offs happening all around and so much noise from water impact that some of the crew couldn't sleep. Bas got up at 2am and walked to the flagpole, to be confronted with a sea pockmarked with the whitewater explosions of jumping humpbacks. John kept hearing the foghorn sound that was almost certainly the whalesong that I wrote about last post -males humming!
It was a fun night's entertainment on Raoul Island.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

11 whales a'leaping

Were you aware that humpback whales have the largest appendages in the animal kingdom? I didn't think so. Their 4m long pectoral fins are indeed an impressive sight and they have been using them to good effect around here lately, slapping the water with gunshot cracks that echo across to our homestead on the clifftops.

Also impressive in the noise-making category is their song. Apparently the males can reach 180db and the sound has been known to travel up to 100km underwater. It's curious that they manage to sing without exhaling at all, although I suppose that is an advantage if you are an air breather living in the sea.

 Dolphins on the bow
We circumnavigated our island by boat last Monday and counted no fewer than 11 humpbacks and an excitable pod of bottlenose dolphins that were just desperate to play. Dave would kill the motor whenever they came near, so they would promptly leave again. It wasn't until we moved off - the faster, the better - that they flocked back in to the bow to race. They were having a great time.

We are shortly to complete our annual whale survey. The Kermadecs are on a migratory path for the humpbacks and their numbers are still relatively low, post whaling. These whales always remain separate from all the other whale groups moving south at this time of year to feed on the antarctic krill, so they have nothing to do with New Caledonian humpbacks, or the Aussies (understandable - too fond of beer), or the ones that move down the African or South American coastlines.

With the exception of the infants, they don't feed on the way. Young whales have the benefit of a mother's milk that has ten times the fat content of a cow and contains twice the protein. They can put on a kilogram an hour when they suckle.

I suppose it's only a matter of time before Fonterra gets onto them.

A series of five shots of whales leaping recently, taken from our front lawn

Friday, October 2, 2009

No big waves here

We were about 12 hours behind the release of the news of Samoa's big quake and subsequent tsunami.
It's just as well the resulting wave was only about 1m high when it hit Raoul Island, as we were camped not far above the high water mark at Denham Bay. It was a peaceful, relaxing time as this photo of Bas shows. With radios off until the scheduled call at 7pm though, we had no idea what was going on and passed this part of our "Vollies' Week Off" with exploration and another survey of our local shipwreck.

Gaye and Bas in the Scaevola, heavily in flower

Sooty Terns

 Sooty Terns - chick and  juvenile  (photos: Gareth Rapley)
During a break in the weather last week, Gina and I rock hopped westwards along the coastline to peg out the quadrats for this years Sooty Tern study.  Along with the compulsory first aid kit, radio, and GPS, we had stashed in our packs, stakes, hammers and tape measures. We marked out five areas for monitoring this year.  The areas chosen were guided by GPS points made during last year's study and at those sites where birds have nested in the past. As we banged in the stakes it was sad to see a number of tern skeletons: the birds that didn’t make it last year. They nest under huge cliffs so falling rocks, erosion and even high tides all take their toll.
These birds were heavily predated by the rats and cats, so now following eradication of these pests it is hoped that their numbers will be on the rise. The study is completed annually to monitor the density and numbers of nesting birds along this stretch of the coastline.   

One of the monitored nesting plots.

 Adult Terns (photo: Gareth Rapley)
Unfortunately we will miss the interesting part, as the birds don’t start nesting until November and most of the chicks leave by around the end of March.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Kermadec Bulletin

A few weeks back we revived this august journal. It quickly became the newspaper with the widest circulation in the whole Kermadec chain of islands, much to everyone's surprise.

Having said that, every single one of the fourteen pages did demonstrate an absolutely stunning standard of journalism.There was Cooking with Auntie Gaye, Brewer's Corner with John Mac, Weeders in Space and.... and....well, a whole lot of gossip, really.

Bearing in mind the calibre of our average blog reader (we have in place a tracking programme that analyses who reads it, where they live, what they had for breakfast and much, much more) I thought I would reprint our cartoon page. But it was too big to upload by satellite, so we're stuck with a single frame from "Breakfast at the Hostel."

This could also be by way of warning to the new crew, shortly to leave NZ to take over from us. Just in case they think they're coming to Paradise Island....

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Driving with Dave

Here's a little clip that shows why it's not always a good idea to travel in the back of one of our Kawasaki Mules:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A fun guy

Chauncy with a striking example of some of the plant forms that thrive in the damper, darker parts of the island. This log looks like it's left over from the prosthetics department for the Lord of the Rings films.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Celebration and salivation

We had what is probably our last birthday celebration on the island this last weekend. I say "probably" because residents have been restricted to just the one birthday per calendar year as some were claiming two or even three per annum in order to capitalise on the food, cake and drinks that would be wheeled out in recognition of their big day(s).

Some had to have their passports checked for verification!

Anyway, this party had a theme of "NB" and it's a sign of the times that even on an island which has a current total population of eight, we had trouble with gatecrashers. We were invaded by a rough looking bunch of ne'er-do-wells; they took photos of themselves, ate all the food and left us with an empty punch bowl!

An ad you can actually believe

Those of you who have read other entries on this blog will recall that my previous camera gave up the ghost while I was snorkelling with it at the Meyer Islands. Somewhat aggrieved that it did not live up to its claim of being waterproof to 10m, I gave it a good bagging and then replaced it with a later model.
This camera was advertised in NZ with some delightful footage of a slobbering great dog wolfing it down, and it re-emerging unscathed from the dog's darkest recesses with a stunning visual record of its adventures.
Today we celebrated a sunny sky and glistening blue sea with another visit to Bigboy, the giant grouper who hangs out at Fishing Rock with his harem. We took with us some long-expired frozen fish so we could feed the big fella.

Gaye and Bigboy

A metre-long Kingfish joined in the fun underwater and Bigboy was his usual friendly self, nuzzling up to wetsuits, chasing away his girls and allowing himself to be stroked and patted. Our frozen fish disappeared all too quickly, and one by one the others got out to dry themselves off.

Gaye, Bigboy and kingfish

I was about to join them, having taken my full quota of photos, when Bigboy made another lazy, close pass at me and I watched his big jaw crank itself open wide enough to swallow a football. Completely unperturbed, he glooped down my shiny new Olympus Tough camera!

That camera looks tasty!

The good news was that the camera had a piece of webbing attached to it, and that cord was looped securely around my neck. Wait – hang on! Maybe that good news wasn’t quite so good; I was now being dragged along by the neck, underwater, by a very large fish.

Luckily Bigboy is so gentle he let me grab hold of him, prise open his jaws, unhitch the cord from his retroflex needle-teeth and extricate my camera from his oesophagus by pulling backwards away from him.

I’m not sure which of us was more relieved, but this camera lived to shoot another day!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

John Mac's photos

Looking down into one of the sites of the 2006 eruption

Three kakariki, the cheeky local parakeets

A well-camouflaged kakariki

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Three of Craig's photos

Craig took some nice shots, many of them in and around our home, the hostel.
Dave and Bas late one Friday night. Dave is out of focus for a good reasonHostel and Navy helicopterHostel and annex plus outbuildings

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Thankfully, we don’t have many incoming field casualties to the Raoul Island Hospital. However, the fact that the island is 1000km and a 10 hour round trip by helicopter from New Zealand, means we need to be well resourced in order to deal with medical emergencies.

Our Hospital is a small separate building located behind the hostel.

The hospital

It contains a modest supply of pharmaceuticals, an extensive range of dressings, plastering materials, surgical and dental instruments and oxygen. As we are away from base most days (sometimes a walk of 90 mins) each group has a team member that carries a well equipped field first aid kit which includes adrenaline, antihistamines, analgesics and dressings. In the event of a serious field injury, a grab-pack is stored in the hospital and this can be brought to the injury site when requested by radio.

Inside the treatment room

We swung into gear last week when informed at base, that a weeder had been hit by a falling rock. Chauncy and I headed up the hill to met the team who were accompanying a rather, pale shaky, bloodied patient. Thankfully the head wound was minor although the bruising was moderate. There were no neurological sequelae.

Injured patient Bas - unfortunately not sick enough to escape the dishes!

DOC trains two interested permanent staff as the medics for each year. They are supported from New Zealand by General Practitioners in Warkworth and a consultant at Middlemore Hospital. As a GP, I have been able to provide support to the medics in their role during my stint here. Aside from the two medevacs off the Island (neither of whom were DOC staff or vollies) the majority of the medical work has been minor and injury-related. For example, we have treated sprains, eye foreign bodies, infected cuts, allergic reactions and lacerations.

Generally though we have all kept very good health and with swine flu circling the globe, we have undoubtedly been in a very safe isolated spot. No one has had any type of viral illness or cough and the only sniffles are those caused by allergy to plants, dust or a bottle of bubbly, as one staff member discovered last week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dave's perspective

I like these three shots that Dave took. They go a long way towards capturing the notion of the vastness of the sea that surrounds us, and the sky above it.
Sunset as viewed through a porthole of the Kinei Maru No 10, our rusty shipwreck
Big sky
Big sea

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Overnighter to Hutchies Bluff

Gaye and I have just returned from an overnight visit to Hutchinson's Bluff, which is at the western tip of the island. It was a work/pleasure trip in that she tagged all the track markers with reflective tape in order to assist the progress of any walker caught out by the dark, while I attacked the overgrown fern with a scrub bar.

We stayed in the hut out towards the Bluff. There are four huts on the island and these humble dwellings are a rare privilege to stay in because they are all fully stocked with food (and you KNOW it's going to be there). There is no concern about rats or mice bothering you, because they no longer exist on Raoul. The cookers can be a little cantankerous as they are fuelled by pressurised kerosine, primed with methylated spirits. If you don't do things exactly right - particularly with the one at Hutchies - it can scare the bejeesus out of you by suddenly flaring up to the roof with a big orange flame. Consequently, Gaye hid her eyes on the bunk or stood by the fire extinguisher while I did all the igniting.
Inside the hut - Gaye cooking up the rice for dinner
The highlight of the trip was gazing down from the spine of the island and seeing a Humpback whale propelling itself right out of the sea and then smacking back down with a cascade of water and a crack that arrived with us a full second after splashdown. To see such a huge creature leaping at the sky like a salmon was completely breathtaking!
A thousand feet of cliff face beneath your feet
Also very exciting was just negotiating the track - in a couple of spots you can only move while hanging on for dear life to a fixed rope and the ground drops straight down into the sea beneath your feet. It is such a knife-edge sliver of earth in other places that one more decent slip would make the end section into another island altogether.
Fixed ropes are essential to keep you on the track

Friday, September 11, 2009

Photos from Gina's camera

Here are some more shots from the marathon viewing session.
Me eating lunch - the reason for the day!
This sorry looking bedraggled lot had been weeding in Blue Lake and were caught in the rain.Gareth and friend
Lots of caves in this island