Monday, August 31, 2009

Back in the water

We have been back in the water with the snorkles a few times over the last week, taking advantage of a pleasant spell of weather (sorry, mainland NZ, but it's been quite balmy).

Here are a couple of shots from the many I clicked off. More to come soon.

Dave and Bigboy the massive and very approachable grouper

Colourful fish at Egeria Rock

The answer lies in the soil

Our chiller supplies are dwindling as the annual re-supply draws near. All that is now left of the last fresh food shipment are onions and potatoes; we feel a little like the Irish did in the famine of 1848.

We do have plenty of frozen, dried and canned foods. Fresh food is always preferred, however.

Since arriving here, Neil and I have “taken over” the bottom vege garden. We have been enjoying salad meals of rocket, radish and lettuce and recently broccoli, beans and coriander from Chauncy’s garden. The supply of red and green chillies has been constant and they are a welcome addition to our curries, pizzas and the odd Mexican meal that is served up on our historic large red Formica dinner table.

Chauncy and some of the garden goodies

We grow all our plants from seed and it has taken me until now to realise I need to think ahead and have things in the seed raising mix at least six weeks ahead of when I intend to plant them out. Germination and growth has been slow with some of the cool wet weather we have had until recently. Things should be humming along nicely for the next guardians of Raoul Island when they arrive here in mid-October.

Pook-proof fence

Our bottom garden is well fenced against the pooks as they have mercilessly ravaged it in the past. The kakariki still visit at will and a few seeds are lost to them, but on the whole they don’t do a lot of damage and in fact are helpful as they nibble away at the oxalis corms. We know they’ve paid us a call when we discover the silver beet plants stripped back to the stem.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Problems we do need to worry about

To observe that risks and hazards are a part of everyday life here is to state the bleedin’ obvious. After all it is an isolated active volcano and the island sits precariously on one of the most earthquake-prone areas on earth.

Our guardian angels from the world of DOC officialdom do take our health and safety very seriously though. When we arrived we sat through hours and HOURS of risk management paperwork, carefully initialling each of the many hundreds of pages in the mighty tome that ultimately keeps us all secure. We covered every potential hazard and quickly learned that what cannot be controlled tends to be banned. Well, mostly.
Health and Safety are taken very seriously on the island

Yes, we read that we cannot visit the flagpole if an excess of alcohol has been consumed (someone once drank too much, fell off the cliff there and had to be evacuated with a broken arm)

But who warned us about encountering overprotective pukeko parents like Lone Wolf and Georgina? No-one.

Future residents of Raoul, please take the following short clip as your official caution.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Problems we don’t need to worry about

In 2001, the European Union conducted a survey which had amongst its findings the fact that 33% of shoppers surveyed had a "high level of addiction to rash or unnecessary consumption." Researchers at Melbourne University have advocated the classification of "retail therapy" as a psychological disorder called oniomania, or compulsive shopping disorder.

We have no need of money on Raoul Island. No-one here carries a wallet or a cellphone. Our requirements are pretty simple and we have a marvellous facility that is designed specifically to cater for them – Arkwrights.

Fans of the golden age of British TV will remember Ronnie Barker’s classic comedy, the one in which he lives in fear of the savage till in his grocer’s shop and spends much of his life dreaming about Nurse Gladys from across the road. His character was the original Arkwright.

If it's your night to cook or you want a snack of any kind all that is required is a quick trip to the building behind the hostel. It’s stacked to the roof with a year’s supply of food.

The only drawback to all this is that sometimes this delicious fare gets a little past its use-by date.

The ant- and cockroach-proof containers provide access to the top shelf

Gaye and I have recently spent a few hours in this mighty establishment, completing the annual stocktake. We were under instructions to "be ruthless," so previous inhabitants of the island may be disappointed to read that the cans of nutmeat that arrived nine years ago have now gone, that shipment of canned food that fell in to the sea has been disposed of (they rusted out) and there is no longer an opportunity to enter the competition advertised on the Banana Nesquik containers, the one that closed last century.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Giants of old

As mentioned previously by Neil, Denham Bay has a long history of early settlement in the 1800’s and this was reflected in some of the historic trees we monitored as part of our weeding programme last week.
The shaddock tree
One such magnificent old tree is the shaddock, the origin of today’s grapefruit. It is also known as a pummelo, but acquired the name from Captain Shaddock who brought it to Jamaica from the West Indies in the 1600’s. The tree at Denham Bay was thought to have been planted by whalers in the mid 1800’s and was probably the source of fruit taken to New Zealand in1887 by Government officials for public display. The shaddock looks like a large grapefruit in appearance, but is inferior in taste, having a thick pith with dry and bitter flesh.
A pithy shaddock
Another stand of magnificent trees are the cherimoyas. The fruit is oval 10-20cm long and 7-10cm in diameter. The flesh is white with a sherbet-like texture. Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to man” but unfortunately we were unable to confirm this as the ones at Denham Bay are not fruiting at the moment. We pulled out around thirty seedlings from under these trees, although it would have been tempting to pot one up to bring home!
Cherimoya trees
Behind the hut there is an almost impenetrable copse of citrons. These trees have long needle-like thorns and were grown for their peel by the Bell family.
On the North side of the hut a number of candlenut trees still stand. These are very tall and can reach 15 to 25 metres. Candlenut trees have been used for a variety of purposes, such as as a mild laxative in the case of the oil from the nut. Also, boiled leaves or pulped kernels have been used to treat fever, headaches and even gonorrhoea. However, the settlers on Raoul mostly used the nuts themselves for lighting. They were strung on palm leaf midribs, an end was lit and they slowly burned as a candle would, but from the bottom up. As each nut took approximately 15 minutes to disappear they were also used as a measure of time.

The bay contains a variety of other old trees including oranges, limes, a turpentine tree and a date palm.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Pot of Gold

This image pretty much sums up our week in the tent at Denham Bay: windy, cool and a little wet but with many compensations!

Rust in Peace

The Kinei Maru No.10 was a Japanese fishing boat that was wrecked at Denham Bay in rather mysterious circumstances. It ploughed at full speed into the very steep beach early in the morning of 12 August 1986. Raoul Island is about 6km wide from the angle of approach that the ship’s course had taken; you would have thought it would have been reasonably easy to miss in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s hard to say whether the rather gloomy history of settlement in the bay has coloured people’s perceptions of what took place, but the first account we heard suggested that a crewman had committed suicide on board and his shipmates then decided that the vessel was cursed and resolved to get off it “with extreme prejudice,” as they say in the movies. DOC people on the island at the time apparently looked down from the top ridge and noticed a group of 15 to 20 Japanese seamen wandering aimlessly along the beach, looking lost.

My attempts to discover the truth that I knew was out there were initially rather fruitless. Two links to Lloyds Shipping Register went into automatic internet loops and ultimately failed. The only other reference I could find to the boat was that one of its portholes had been sold on TradeMe in 2008. A user called “SubMaureen” was quite interested in the purchase, but missed out.

Eventually we tracked down a book called ‘New Zealand Shipwrecks’ which had a rather more prosaic explanation for the disaster. The captain had been the only person on the bridge at the time and had elected not to use any of the navigation equipment or warning devices, despite it being pitch dark. He was described by the investigators as “negligent and incompetent.”

Perhaps a little too much Suntory whisky had been consumed that night?

Footnote: November 2009

Just before we left the island a document arrived detailing the Team Leader's memories of the stranding of the Kinei Maru No 10. It makes fascinating reading, not least because the subtext is that the group on the island at the time had some tensions between them. Most of these were exacerbated by the departure of the ship's salvors with their task unfinished. That led to a decision by the island's residents to get stuck in themselves.

First, the boss and one mate slipped across the island in the dead of night, intending to be first on the boat with all the attendant rights to what could be salvaged. Then the captain of the ship presented a magnificent bottle of cognac to his counterpart - apparently worth thousands of dollars. This led to so much resentment from the troops that a compromise solution was arrived at - give the grog to someone back in NZ who had been supportive of the programme.

I was intrigued by the list of what was on the boat. Apparently the catch of tuna was worth more than the ship itself, safely frozen to -50 degrees in the hold until the engines stopped working. And then there were the electronic goods, 300 cartons of cigarettes, 20 dozen crates of spirits (mostly whisky and brandy), wine saki and liquers and let's not forget the 100 dozen cans of beer.

I imagine they had quite a party with that lot!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pukeko Sex Change Shock

Island ornithologists were stunned at the recent hatching of two chicks to the ‘civil union’ Pukeko couple of Lone Wolf and Boy George. Earlier confident predictions that the two birds were a same-sex union that was doomed to permanent breeding failure have been hastily revised. Boy George has been renamed Georgina.

In keeping with the spirit of New Zealand’s politicians and their limitless ability to preach restraint at the same time as they claim generous expenses from the public purse, Lone Wolf has decided that the feeding of his offspring is as much our responsibility as it is his own. He has taken to standing on the kitchen doorstep and screeching until the food arrives, then scuttling off to the little chicks with their breakfast in his beak. Whatever he gets, it’s never enough.

Both parents have also become very aggressive, which occasionally makes hanging laundry on the line outside the kitchen a challenging activity. One of them even had a pecking attack at a towel that was revolving insolently in the wind in the vicinity of their progeny.

The surprise development will make for interesting adjustments to the balance of power in the ongoing pukeko wars that rage around our homestead. The Eastsiders have also recently given in to their own need to breed, and are sitting on yet more clutches of eggs.

Undoubtedly they have done this in the hope of retaining their numerical supremacy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

In the tent with the graves for a week

Gaye and I are working across at Denham Bay this week, hence the flurry of posts before we are out of reach of all technology.

Actually, the second of our three generators blew up here yesterday so we are limping along on a solitary source of electricity at the moment. The island may well be permanently incommunicado by the time we return.

Denham Bay has been the centre for many of the abortive attempts to settle Raoul Island, mainly because the water supply is more reliable. It is also one of the few areas on the island which has flat ground and if our experience of Sunday’s preliminary visit is anything to go by, it is a wonderfully sunny and peaceful place to stay.

It also has a rather tragic history.

The Herald, a Royal Navy ship surveyed the island in 1854 and the bay was named after its captain. He had with him his 17 year old son and unfortunately the boy died of a fever while the ship was moored in the bay. His grave is still maintained just beyond the sand dunes.
Fleetwood Denham's grave
....and the inscription
Then in 1863 a Peruvian slave ship the Rosa Y Carmen called into the bay with 271 Pacific Islanders aboard. These unfortunate people were the victims of a blackbirder, a captain who tricked naïve villagers into coming aboard his ship and then sailed off with them locked in the hold, to be sold into slavery. Many of these islanders had contracted an infectious illness, perhaps typhoid, and some 156 of them died and also are buried here.

The settlers in the bay at the time were infected with this illness and many of them died too. The survivors were taken off the island by Captain Marutani on the Rosa Y Carmen, and their cattle, chickens and other provisions were appropriated by him at the same time.

Nice guy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flies on the wall

Our little island has an impressive and explosive geological history, as Gaye has written elsewhere.
Gaye and Bas using ropes
Bas looks for the sun
One outcome of the multiple "pyroclastic events" is a landscape of extremes with very little easy ground. As Craig observed in disgust, Low Flat Gully is neither low nor by any stretch of the imagination is it flat.

Our weeding task took us through Bell's Ravine last week. This is a steep-sided slot in the hillside that is characterised by multiple waterfalls. Working your way up to the top of the ravine means you have to be happy to do without the sun for a while and also to do some compulsory rock climbing.
Will she go all the way?
Gareth at the next step
The big waterfall at the top, with Gareth posing for scale effect

Friday, August 7, 2009

A night out catching crabs

When we first arrived on the island we all accepted responsibility for a variety of additional tasks. For example, Neil is our fire chief and undertakes monthly inspections of all the hydrants, hoses and extinguishers, Bas collects the CO2 readings and insect samples and I’m in charge of maintaining our evacuation food and water supplies.

Another role that fell to Neil and I is the co-ordinatation of the annual land crab survey. This is a research project initiated by Kala Sivaguru and Alison Botha, which aims to find out more about the recovery rate of land crabs following the eradication of rats here, along with their population density, sex ratio and other bits and pieces.

The nocturnal land crab (Geograpsus grayi) is endemic to Raoul and our island is the only place in New Zealand where they can be found. The crabs live in burrows and are 30-40mm in carapace length.

During daylight hours we went to the designated research areas, marked out our plots and familiarised ourselves with our areas (it always looks very different at night). The search areas usually involve the floor and sides of ravines, which makes for an interesting time in the dark with torches covered in red cellophane so as not to frighten the little creatures.
The Crab Crew
Our work began at 7.00pm and each plot took about 40 minutes to search. We recorded the number of crabs we saw out and about as well as the number in each burrow, along with any other interesting observations. We caught any we could, determined their sex and let them go again. The information is then collated at base and emailed back to NZ.
The nocturnal land crab (Geograpsus grayi)
It sounds like a sad and sorry sort of observation, but this was a great night out on Raoul island.

Harbingers of spring

These signs are always keenly awaited by folks desperate for evidence that winter is on the way out. Back in Christchurch people look for the daffodils or the lambs and they listen for the Shining Cuckoo’s song.

Here on Raoul we have a different set of signals, including the one spotted no fewer than three time in the last couple of weeks – whales. We have seen both Minke and Humpback whales close to the shore in front of our home, sometimes only a hundred metres or so away.

They have migratory paths that track through the Kermadec Islands as they head south to the food in cooler waters. One had a calf with her and seemed to be interested only in lolling around in the sun.

Fantastic to see - such impressive creatures!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surfing Jargon

We have had a magic weekend of warm, windless weather and the lure of the surf proved irresistible.

Surfers can be an exclusive clique. This is reflected in the distinctive terminology that weaves its way into their conversation – grommet, dropping in, out the back etc etc

In this picture from Saturday afternoon Chauncy gives us a visual illustration of the surfing term ‘Beach break’….

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Low level attractions

When out searching for weeds we are either scanning the horizon for passionfruit creeping through surrounding treetops or looking down at the ground for seedlings. While at ground level I have been appreciating the beauty of some of the islands ferns, mosses and fungi. Some of the species found here may be known to North Islanders but are not found in our colder corner of the South Island.
My favourites are the many varieties of Maidenhair fern. In bush clearings and under the cliffs these ferns provide a fabulous display of lush green.
Rosy maidenhair (Adiantum hispidulum)
Another favourite is the rather unusual Fork fern. These plants do not look like ferns, are very primitive and may even predate the dinosaurs. They are unusual as they have no true root system. The sporangia fuse in groups of two or three and as they mature to yellow, so they look quite striking.
Fork fern (Psilotum nudum)
Clambering over logs in the gullies we often stop to admire the mosses and fungi.


Friday was a stunner of a day, so the troops celebrated its close with a swim in the pool.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Chop Chop

The permanent staff have now been on the island for eight months and us vollies for three. As you can imagine the neatly-trimmed locks are no more and we’re all starting to look like we did in the sixties (those of us who were alive, then). So it was tidy up time for Craig and Gareth.

Was there kicking and screaming? Not much!The finished product would have delighted any mother and there’s only one of those on the island at the moment.