Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Navy delivers

Gaye is back with us, courtesy of the HMNZS Canterbury.

They gave her the royal treatment: cabin, silver service, exercise in Hagley Park (as it is a large ship, various parts are labelled after Christchurch landmarks. She says she didn’t visit Manchester St).

The ship appeared right out in front of our home on Tuesday morning.

We all stood out under the flagpole in the rain, gawking at it. It looked absolutely massive after all the piffling little boats that have visited lately. Then the Sea Sprite was fired up and they whisked her ashore. She arrived cuddling a little black petrel, which had parked up on the deck in the stormy weather overnight. Worried that it might end up in the rotors, a crewmember snatched it up and handed it to her as she boarded the helicopter. Everyone was thrilled to have her back, especially me. However, there have been a few niggly little problems that underline the need to re-integrate a returning member of a community very carefully.

First, she committed the cardinal sin of sitting in John’s seat at the dinner table. No-one said anything until midway through the main course. Then, this morning, she made her cup of tea in Gareth’s cup! Gareth is not a morning person, and Craig and I have had a running challenge to see who could be the first to get him to return our “Good morning” greetings. So far neither of us has achieved more than a silent wave.

We have realised the need to warn her she is inadvertently committing a social transgression. I have devised a secret signal to let her know in case she gives Chauncy the big fork with bent tynes, sits in John’s outside chair, upsets Craig by neglecting to do her morning dishes, puts meat in the vegetarian fridge or swears at the Pukekos.

Such are the perils of island life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Idling on a Sunday

Last Sunday was a little cooler than usual, so three of us set out to visit the local hotsprings, which are 300m down the beach in front of the hostel. The water is about 75 degrees and bubbles up out of the beach at the low tide waterline. You need to grab a strategically placed barrel and use a bucket to fill it with the appropriate mixture of sea and hot water.

Then you climb inside and soak. By afternoon the surf was looking inviting so the kayak came out of its hiding place under the bush at the end of the track. Surfing at Raoul can be a little daunting when you focus too much on the sharks or the fact that there is nothing but sea for 1000km in every direction. This is not a good place to miss your roll. For that reason we have a protocol that there is always a watcher or swimmer at hand when you go into the water. On the other hand, if you want a particular wave – hey, it’s yours! If not, there’s always another one.
That's good enough for me!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

David Meagher (aka The Moss Man)

David has actually just left us with the departure of the MV Braveheart on Thursday 21 May.

He is in the process of embarking on his third career, as a botanist, having previously worked in the field of physics and as an editor and publisher in science and education. He was anxious to return to the winter in Melbourne and place under the microscope the 447 samples of bryophyte (plants that reproduce using spores) that he has collected in his time here, some of them new to the world of science. His particular interest is in the similarities of plants on Lord Howe, Norfolk and Raoul islands.

A somewhat enigmatic character, he made a determined (but ultimately unsuccessful) effort to get us to declare Raoul a republic, usually beginning his efforts shortly after the first drinks had been consumed in the evening. I think his Plan B was to quietly go ahead and change the colour of the stars on our NZ flag, adding a new one in the process. He has told us he is doing his doctorate studies courtesy of a government scholarship but word on the ground here has it that he is secretly employed by the Australian intelligence services to extend Australia’s borders at all costs.
An example of the subtle way he tried to usurp our kiwi way of life and make us into aussies

David was particularly impressed by the pristine Nikau forests we have here on the island. He remembers his visit to the grave of Fleetwood Denham (more on this later), having read about it in The Voyage of the Herald many years before his visit here. The crater also made an impression on him, since he fell into it. He managed to remove some of his skin in the process. In fact, it is fair to say that during his stay he garnered for himself something of a reputation for being accident prone. He suffered cuts, the odd fall and managed to dislocate the same finger twice in one day!

While Andrew's injuries were being attended to, David kept us entertained with his tale of being hit by a car while riding his motorbike. Luckily, he says, there were some off duty doctors and nurses close at hand because they were able to verify that it was an opportunistic little dog that ran off with the missing piece of his leg.
Fact File:

Favourite book: Prester John by John Buchan

Favourite film: North by Northwest dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Favourite CD: Songs of the Auvergne Kiri te Kanawa

Favourite joke: A rugby team is being slaughtered by the opposition. They come in at half time, 40 points down, limping, with broken noses and bruises a-plenty. The coach, searching for a way to fire up his team, spots the diminuitive winger in the corner, muttering what sounds like “Be positive! Be positive! Be positive!”

“You see,” cries the coach, pointing at the player, “this is the spirit we need to turn this game around!”

Startled, the player looks up and responds “It’s not my attitude I need to remember – it’s my blood group!”

The Finger of Death

“Pink tape!”

This is the shout we listen out for when we are in the field doing what we came here to do. It signifies the discovery of an “inf,” or infestation, of any of the plants on the wanted list. High on that list are Black Passionfruit, Brazilian Buttercup and …Peach! I guess that just emphasises how the definition of a weed can include any plant not in its natural environment.

We grid-search plots looking for the location of previous weed discoveries; they are marked by the tying of the aforementioned pink tape to a tree or branch. We then search for evidence of new seedlings and rip out any that we find. GPS is used for navigation, but also the outside of a search path can be delineated by string that unwinds from a spool inside a container fixed to someone’s waist. That way nothing is missed.

Craig on the weeding track - he's in there somewhere!

It might sound like a fairly genteel way to pass the time, but it’s not. The ground is steep – vertical in places – and clogged with bracken, ferns, nikau and windfall pohutukawas.

Pohutukawa snaking off downhill

These latter are amazing in that they can grow huge, blow over in a storm, re-root themselves from branches and then repeat the whole cycle many times over. We have discovered some that loop off downhill like petrified giant serpents, for 30 or 40 metres. If they are on your intended track, sometimes the only way to get past them is to wriggle underneath the lowest branch on your belly. You can climb over them, but it’s not uncommon to find yourself 7 metres off the ground with no more handholds to keep you from falling. Slips are common and happen after rain or sometimes earthquakes

A weeding team re-gathers for compulsory DOC morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea out on the track somewhere and typically then we will then solve the problems of the world. So far we have sorted out religion and politics without long term fallout, although our leader Chauncy tells us that in the past people have had major disagreements that have tainted everyone’s experience of the island. They can no longer speak to one another, won’t sit at the same table to eat and bail out with a tent at every opportunity in order to get away from the offending party.

Break time! Sometimes you just have to climb a tree.

Anyway, here are some of my GPS stats from yesterday’s effort on LF06, which includes the dreaded “Finger of Death,” a long and very steep ridge which drops straight down into the valley.

Speed 900m per hour
Odometer 7.76km
Total ascent 648m
Max height 299m

Post Script: This entry was written after our foray into LF06 on Friday. Another team went back to finish off the plot on Monday and found that the whole hillside where I took some of these photos had let go and is now piled 10m deep on the valley floor....

Monday, May 18, 2009

Two birds and two beaches

Petrel chick on the track to the volcano - a football-size ball of fluff!

Kakariki - they're everywhere!

Denham Bay beachThe north side of the island, where we live

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Across to Denham Bay

A quick note as there is a queue behind me for the internet.

After yesterday's dramatic start we decided to walk across the spine of the island to Denham Bay. It was a superb day, warm with a light easterly breeze - but that didn't stop me sweating copiously as we climbed. These tracks are steep!

Denham Bay is the site of the first home the Bell family built when they were here in the late 19th century. Much of the signs of their habitation have been swamped by tree growth but there are some magnificent old lime trees which the birds don't touch, for some reason. G'n'T was the drink of choice for the evening, then. Fresh limes- yum!

The bay looks like this: Denham Bay hut, with John Mc on the porch.

An old hulk rusting away quietly on the beach.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What a week!

This week I had a trip into the caldera of the volcano, swam with a 90 year old grouper and his harem, Gaye was repatriated to NZ by helicopter and we had a magnitude 6.7 earthquake.

On Tuesday the GNS group who are here to organise tsunami and seismology alerts had an expedition into the caldera of the volcano that erupted in 2006. I volunteered to carry in a steel cylinder for the divers who were to install some of the equipment - stupid move but a fascinating chance to have a look at a part of the island that has been off-limits since the last eruption.

As you would expect, it's a bit of a wasteland down there. You get a real sense that something catastrophic has taken place as you walk through hundreds of tree skeletons that have all been snapped off at about shoulder height.

Wednesday saw us helping out again - this time with the foxway and derrick that is used to unload and transport gear to boats waiting off the rocks in the area we know as Fishing Rock. There is a photo in the library of a LARGE tiger shark that was caught off these rocks 15 years ago, but that didn't deter the workers from leaping into the water at every opportunity when we were unloading concrete for the foundation of a new tower. It was a warm day and the water temperature hovered around 22 degrees.

As soon as you got into the water the local "Big Boy" came right out to find out what was going on in his patch. No doubt he was also looking for food. Here he is:

He's a 90 year old grouper and he is frequently accompanied by his harem of two almost-as-big fish. They allow themselves to be stroked and are not averse to having a nip at your fingers if they can.

On Friday on of the GNS boys, Andrew, had an awkward fall as he was getting off a boat (no easy landings here) and it was decided to evacuate him by helicopter. The chopper had to leave Taupo at 2am and arrived here just on breakfast time. A quick bite to eat, a refuel and they were away again with Andrew and Dr Gaye in attendance for the five hour flight back to NZ. The fully laden machine was so heavy they had to run down the airstrip in order to get up enough speed to take off. Four people and a lot of fuel - not much room for extras!

They originally thought they would have to top up the fuel at L'Esperance island (landing zone= about the size of your kitchen table) where there is a fuel dump. Gaye was going to have to leap out and pump while they kept the rotors going, but luckily the winds were favorable and a refuel was deemed unnecessary.

Conicidentally L'Esperance island was the epicentre of the earthquake that shook the place up at 1pm. Luckily the helicopter was an hour away at that stage and safely en route to Tauranga, where Gaye is tonight.

Our "organiser" board, which keeps track of everyone's whereabouts. Gaye's entry = Where? NZ. Expected return = Canterbury.

We are hoping she will be back with us as soon as the HMNZS Canterbury sails up this way in about 10 days.

Meanwhile, tonight's meal was all meat, accompanied by white bread.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mail Call

There is an interesting file in the library entitled “Letters to Raoul Island.”

Most letters in it have been received from stamp collectors or hobbyists like the retired Dutch gentleman who was writing to every remote island in the world in order to collect their franks on a return letter.

The one transcribed below was received on 10 March 1982 when Raoul was an exclusively male weather station, remote and isolated. (Interesting factoid: Karen the TV1 weather girl was the first woman to be stationed here by the meteorological service, in 1988/89)

You can decide for yourself how far the bullshit meter went into the red zone.

Letter addressed to:
The Officer-in-Charge
NZ Meteorological Service
Weather Station
Raoul Island

Hello there!

I would very much like to befriend a New Zealand male based at Raoul Island, and I am wondering if you would pass this on to some single guy there who would like to be spoiled by an Australian girl. I am 24 years of age, single by choice, long blonde hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, slim, 5’3 ins high, and I am a flight hostess with Qantas (our Australian Airline).

A few years ago my parents (both truly wonderful folk!) moved to New Zealand and bought a magnificent farm here so I spend most of my off-duty time here at the farm. My most exciting and most satisfying experiences have always been with Kiwi guys – not city slickers but the quieter outdoor type. I also feel New Zealand has the best way of life to offer. I was brought up on a farm in Australia so I have a great love for nature and wildlife and the outdoors. I haven’t been brought up in any religion at all, in fact both my parents have belonged to a Liberal Nudist Club since I was a wee babe and that nudist group has been like an extended family for me.

I’ll try to convey to you something of myself to help you decide who would be the most suitable guy to pass this on to! A few years ago my parents bought me a unit overlooking the harbour at Elizabeth Bay in Sydney so the guy I befriend would be ever so welcome to spend holidays with me here or in Sydney. I’m expert in figure ice-skating and I’ve been very successful in three ice-skating championship competitions in New South Wales. I spend a lot of time at the beach, and swimming. I enjoy disco dancing and like a wide range of music, even light classical. Play the piano and the guitar. Enjoy a drink, but not heavily. Don’t smoke. I have one brother and he’s now training with the Australian Navy. He’s tall and terribly good-looking and very sensuous. Unfortunately he isn’t a bit interested in farm management so I’ll have to try and eventually marry a guy (preferably Kiwi!) who is interested in the land as it would be great to keep the farm in the family, and my parents would like to retire back in Sydney.

I’ll be totally frank with you and tell you that in recent years I’ve become bi-sexual so the guy I become friendly with would have to be broadminded sexually. I adore sexual intimacy in every form possible – with no exception whatsoever. With me, what I look for most in a male is his degree of sensuality – his depth of appreciation of our female sexuality – a “vagina man” as us girls in Aussie would say! I hope you understand what I mean. His looks or age or occupation or background or bank balance are not as important as this particular quality. I’m no longer interested in “one night stands.” I seek ongoing friendships – someone sincere and worthwhile to intimately share myself with. My idea of friendships is a giving and taking- a mutual sharing. I certainly won’t allow any money to be spent on me – whenever there is any expenses we share them. (By the way I would prefer someone with a cassette recorder as letter writing is very time consuming and we could exchange cassette tapes which is far more personal.)

So, if you know of any spunk-laden guy there who would appreciate making contact, I’d be so grateful if you would pass this on to him.


Julie Rosenberg

Timeless Classics

"She was always her latest lover..."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

First Impressions

The island is very lush and green. The kermadec pohutukawa seems to be the dominant tree here but there are heaps of nikaus too. The hibiscus up behind the house is just coming into flower again, so the place has a definite tropical feel to it. Living clothes seem to be standard shorts and teeshirt, and occasionally only shorts. It’s pleasantly warm. Darkness arrives very quickly and you need to be ready for the night soon after 5pm. Our generators run from 6am to 10pm but already we are adjusting to getting up and moving at first light. Ten seems like a late night and we are going to have to watch some movies to stay awake for generator switch-off when our duty week rolls around shortly.

I had my first surf in the kayak as soon as it came in from the Resolution, with the water a very bearable 23 degrees. The waves are rolling around from the southwest at the moment so there is a lovely peeling wave right out in front of the homestead; you just need to negotiate the 100 foot high cliffs via the narrow path down to the beach. I have decided to leave the boat tucked safely under a bush at the waterline.

Our first journey on the road up from Fishing Rock where we landed was in one of the little 4WD vehicles and Dave the driver had to keep braking because of the tuis and parakeets which refused to move out of the way. Birds are certainly prolific and Pukekos (“pooks”) rule the roost around the homestead. They stroll confidently around the lawns, their big feet placed precisely in front of them. Every now and then there is a squawking fit as one transgresses some invisible boundary and is attacked by another bird with wings flapping and beak ready to strike. Many have been named by the previous volunteers or the permanent crew, and some like ‘Lone Wolf’ are tame enough to take food out of your hand. They are kind of endearing but it doesn’t pay to get too anthropomorphic when you hear that they kill other birds without compunction. The kakarikis here have made a dramatic recovery in numbers since the elimination of rats and cats. They swoop past in pairs as we walk around exploring, burbling away to each other as they go.

Gaye here- my turn now. I have started digging over the bottom vegetable garden. It now has a 10 foot perimeter fence to keep the pooks out. However as I write, Neil informs me that they have already managed to break in! Plan B is a net cover across the top. They are growing basil, eggplants, chillis and peppers really well here. Some things like lettuce just seem to bolt up to seed and the spuds rot in the ground, evidently. The vege garden is riddled with oxalis so it’s quite a mission to keep it clear. I hope to finish digging the bottom garden over today and have it planted out this afternoon, before we start work proper with the “official” weeding.

All the excitement has left me feeling pretty hyped and I hadn’t had a decent sleep since arriving, so yesterday I went out with Neil and John (fellow vollie) for a run along a four wheel drive track towards Boat Cove at the eastern end of the island. Absolutely stunning bush. In places there were masses of dense nikaus which were growing only one feet apart. Every now and then we passed under huge pohutukawas which had fallen across the track, making arch ways. These trees had obviously re-rooted themselves and started to grow again.

We partied hard last night, our first introduction to the famous Raoul Island fancy dress parties. We were given costume titles which had been drawn out of a hat. Neil was “My Favourite Weed” and I was a terrorist.

Fitting in with the locals

I finally slept well after all that!

I have had my first “go” in the kitchen. It is well set up, but a challenge working out just how much food you need to feed a group of 26 people. Last night we had pizzas made by Neil and Toby- four very large ones. Bas and I made an industrial quantity of coleslaw. Amazing how much food a group of hard working blokes will eat

Our numbers begin to drop today as the four previous volunteers head home, along with some botanists who have also been here for a few days. This afternoon we have an induction into the workings of the goods lift, as we load the gear for the others heading home on the boat.

I am really loving the temperature, birds and bush. I think time will fly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

OK we’re there now….

The Navy at Devonport: Which one do you think was ours?
Grey Hamilton corner on the Resolution

The ground is constantly moving under my feet but it’s not because of earthquakes. Our voyage with the Resolution was excellent – the Navy were extremely hospitable and pretty much gave us the run of the ship. They did conduct a fairly impressive stream of exercises en route, some of which left the ship wallowing without power while they carried out “a continuous aggressive attack” against whatever the particular problem was. One result of the wallowing is that my body is still in ‘brace against the movement mode’ even though we’re ashore now. Fellow volunteer Gina in command of the ship: "Make it so, Number One"

We had our first glimpse of Raoul Island yesterday afternoon and the welcoming committee was a pod of Bottlenose dolphins that streaked in to surf the ship’s bow wave while, in the distance, a Humpback whale broached spectacularly in the bay.

Ever efficient, the Navy got us onto an inflatable boat without even slowing down; we were ashore before anyone - including the crew on the island - knew what was happening.

The island is certainly a paradise but chaotic at the moment. The ten residents have seen no-one for six months and suddenly there are 28 people using the hostel and other buildings in this vicinity. Last week a GNS group arrived to install early warnings for tsunamis and four yachts were moored here, stopping over on their way to the islands for winter. We also have a helicopter that’s flown here from Taupo – they are helping with the installation of equipment around the volcano.

At the moment we are still trying to keep out of everyone’s way, while finding our way around. Lots of fun!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Warkworth, north of Auckland.

Today we visited DOC’s quarantine station and re-packed our mountains of stuff into sealable plastic buckets. Each bucket was weighed, numbered and labelled. All our footwear was scrubbed, re-scrubbed and then scrubbed again so we don’t inadvertently import some noxious weed to Raoul Island.

Our most taxing question for this exercise was “How much chocolate should we take with us?” Bas, one of our fellow vollies decided the answer should be “One giant bar a week” ie 24 of them.

We have packed 12. What does that say about us?