Dave’s Odd Odyssey – Isle (Free) of Dogs

The Southern Hemisphere Summer is upon us! And I, booted from any permanent home that the University of Auckland could offer me, am obliged to wander the misty and mysterious hills of New Zealand, eternally in search of room and board. Something that I often forget is how remote and sparsely populated of a country New Zealand really is, for Auckland itself harbours roughly a third of the country’s whole population. As I leave what is the most bustling metropolis of New Zealand, the outskirts and backcountry are flanked by nothing but hills and hordes of sheep. Nevertheless, I persevere.

The first leg of my wanderings has brought me to the southern tip of the North Island, on the Kapiti Coast, an hour’s journey North of Wellington. A far cry from the burgeoning cityscape of Auckland, the Kapiti Coast is a quiet and unassuming set of communities stringing along a vast and winding coastline that terminates at some point beyond my view. My initial thoughts were of excitement as I embarked on a plane for the South. They gave me Tim-Tams and coffee on my flight, so surely that was a good omen! Life is slower here, and for me, it is a welcome change of pace, as it shall be the pace for the rest of my Summer. I disembarked my flight in the coastal town of Paraparaumu for a brief interlude between leaving Auckland and beginning my first work tenure of the several that I shall have over the Summer.

Dusk on the Cook Strait, Paraparaumu Beach. 

Just off the coast from Paraparaumu is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve which dominates any and all views out into the Tasman Sea. There, on the island, I shall be spending the days leading up to Christmas volunteering for the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The island is incredibly mountainous and is home to some of the greatest diversity of bird life in the country.

A view of Kapiti Island from Paraparaumu Beach.

I’ve come into this work knowing next to nothing as to what I would actually be doing, but this seems to be something characteristically part of any kind of work I have taken up over the course of my life thus far. Given that, however, I have enjoyed my time here immensely. There hasn’t been one particular type of work that I have been expected to do consistently, so I assist in most whatever needs to be done, which is highly variable, depending on the weather.

What I’ve found myself doing most regularly, much to my pleasure, is rising early in the morning, hiking up into the mountains, and feeding some of the rare and native birds that are found on the island. The most heavily conserved of these birds is the hihi, otherwise known as the stitchbird. They’re gregarious, with a call that is as remarkable as it is bizarre, but they are far from the only bird found on this island.

One of the many feeders used for Hihi birds on Kapiti. 

Kapiti Island is also home other New Zealand birds such as takahe, kaka, and, of course, the kiwi. Some of these species were introduced to the island strictly for the purposes of conservation and education, as there are few places on the mainland that have the ability to safely keep these animals safe for fear of pests and disease. Kapiti Island has the rare privilege of being completely pest and predator-free, by way of both animals and insects; something which few other islands in New Zealand are able to claim. Compliance with biosecurity for those that visit isn’t as rigorous as it should be, but it has been consistent and thorough enough that nothing that has been previously exterminated has reappeared. While I haven’t seen a kiwi thus far, I hope that fortune will turn in a favorable way before I leave in about a week’s time. If there’s any place where I could see them, it would be here.

The isolation of living on an island is of no issue, at least for me it’s not. So long as one is considerate with whatever food and supplies they care to bring from the mainland, one will seldom run into issues and it will feel as though they’ve ever left home. There’s even cable on the island, not that I ever have the occasion to use it (nor have I generally since 2015).

A misty morning up in the mountains of Kapiti Island. 

It isn’t always grand, however, some of the work can be defined as being a necessary evil. Cleaning toilets, mopping floors, washing containers; the sorts of things that hearken back to my first job in high school. These tasks are a small price to pay for the incredible opportunity to stay here for a few weeks. In terms of the rest of my Summer, I have the majority of my plans and destinations set and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences in these places in a short time!

Until I write again, take care!

Categories: Auckland, INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE, New Zealand

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