By Jo Fearn, DOC volunteer
It's rather daunting for an amateur bush walker like myself to be navigating down from Moehau mountain in the dark and the rain, but that's the price you have to pay when you are entrusted with the job of listening for Coromandel North Island brown kiwi.
I have just returned from a three night adventure assisting DOC with their local annual kiwi call count. The journey started on Tuesday when we were flown into the remote Te Hope hut by helicopter.
Three DOC staff had spent the morning with the helicopter gathering rata seed from the bush surrounding Stony Bay, this task is currently being carried out over much of the country as the threat of myrtle rust is now upon us. The idea is to collect and bank as much seed as possible to prevent extinction of any of the native species effected by this recent plant disease to hit our shores.
The five minute helicopter ride saved us a long walk and it was able to take up all the gear needed to spend three nights in the bush. We arrived around 3 pm at the hut and it was a hurry to set up camp, eat an early dinner and then set off in search of our kiwi listening positions before the 6 pm start time.
The conditions were pretty favourable the first night as we headed off armed with our maps, GPS and torches. The tracks were pretty challenging for a novice like myself and it got dark quickly under the dense vegetation in the bush but we eventually found our allocated spot and settled ourselves down to listen.
We heard 6 calls the first night between 6 - 8 pm, we had to record the time the call was heard, the direction the call came from and the approximate distance the call came from. The male and female calls are quite different. The male has a higher pitched squawk similar to a seagull whereas the female has a much lower guttural call that we likened to how you would expect a pterodactyl to sound.
Heading off in the helicopter
Jo at the base of Moehau mountain
It had been my first ever ride in a helicopter and it was also my first time in a basic hut with no power. Thankfully our hut did at least have a long drop toilet!
Our days were spent track clearing and marking, hut maintenance and generally enjoying the peace and tranquillity. The view from the helicopter drop off above the hut was outstanding, we looked down over Sandy Bay, Port Jackson and out to Cuvier and Great Barrier Islands a spectacular landscape to enjoy whilst eating our morning porridge!
The second night's listening was a little more unnerving for me as I was off on my own. My listening spot was quite exposed and at around 6.30 pm the wind picked up and the rain started and it was hard to hear anything other than the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the raindrops falling on my jacket hood.
I only heard three calls that night and the walk back to the hut by myself in the dark was challenging as the cloud had dropped down low over the mountain making visibility limited. Luckily the tracks are well marked.
The third night was the best of them all. No wind and a clear, cold night. It was wonderful watching the sun set over Auckland as I settled myself into position below Moehau mountain. It was also the most active of all the nights as I heard 12 calls in total that night.
We had planned to be helicoptered off first thing on Friday morning but alas the weather wasn't playing the game. We were surrounded in low cloud and drizzle and so I didn't get a second go in the chopper. Instead myself and the rest of our party packed up our stuff and headed off the mountain on foot. The journey back to Stony Bay took around 3 hours which wasn't bad considering the tricky, often steep terrain.
It was an amazing experience that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to be part of. It certainly pushed me well outside my usual comfort zone, but I am also glad to be home in front of a nice warm fire having had a long hot shower, listening to the rain hammering down outside. I wouldn't like to be a kiwi living up on Moehau tonight!