Eleven days on the (great) island

We planned this trip in January during one of the hottest summers in Fiordland on record. On 1 June, we would fly to Great Island in Chalky Inlet, service 200-odd traps, 100+ tracking tunnels and cut and mark tracks. Eleven days later, the Southern Winds would pick us up from the beach for a further six days’ work on other islands in Chalky and Preservation Inlets. This would be our eighth conservation-volunteering trip to the Inlets over 12 months. It meant that we could do some maintenance work on Great that there wasn’t time for on the regular Southern Winds trips. Had we forgotten that June, in this hemisphere, is in winter? That Fiordland is a long way south? Could we have underestimated just how cold it would be, and just how short the days really were? We asked this of ourselves more than once during those 11 days. Come June 1, Dale, our pilot, asked us to turn up well before dawn. 7:10am. We flew by moonlight across the snow-covered mountains of southern Fiordland, past the Dark Cloud Range – yet again!7:50am. Still before sunrise We are on the beach at Great Island, and Dale is heading off to collect a load of crayfish.The beach on Great Island – population now 2 – is a glorious spot to watch the sunrise.And the surf break is meant to be pretty good too.But we weren’t here just for the scenery. DOC – with generous sponsorship from trap manufacturer Goodnature – is attempting to eliminate stoats from the island. The traps on Great Island have been live for 18 months now. We cleared six stoats from the traps this trip. Stoats were introduced to New Zealand to reduce rabbit numbers but they have had a devastating impact on the local bird life, and not that much impact on rabbits. Stoats have spread to pretty much everywhere, including islands within swimming distance of the South Island mainland. And that certainly includes Great Island.A small mushroom forest is all that’s left of an older kill.Time and weather take their toll on the trap network. Here we needed to relocate the trap to a more vertical tree. On the right you can see a tracking tunnel.Another task is cutting and marking tracks. We nailed up a couple of thousand more triangles on the island.The island’s vegetation is generally thick, and there aren’t many good viewpoints away from the coast. Here’s one gap looking northwest towards the Kakapo Range.And another looking south along Chalky Inlet towards the Passage Islands.The island features some lovely small lakes, but we didn’t have much time to stop and admire them. There was so much to do, so little daylight, and we were under strict instructions not to be caught out in the dark.Our campsite behind the beach. We sat outside and cooked under the tarp on the right. Five layers of clothes with a hot water bottle tucked underneath and a glass of mulled wine in hand (did we mention that Moroccan spice is a great mulled wine ingredient?) and we were toasty!On day 11 the weather was perfect. The Southern Winds arrived mid afternoon. With the tide out Chris was unable to get his zodiac near the beach. Colin bravely stripped off and carried our equipment out past the “breakers”.Meet Hiroshi, one of Goodnature’s engineers.And here is one of the beasties that this effort is all about: a yellow head or Mohua. They are becoming increasingly rare on the mainland, and so these Fiordland islands are a critical refuge.A bay on one of the islands.And a gaggle of seal pups who came ashore while we were having lunch. No, they weren’t running from us. They seemed to be having a race to their play pool.Our taxi service!This is the other type of stoat trap: the DOC 150. We were surprised to find a catch in both traps. Stoats are wily creatures and not easily trapped.And here’s Indy, one of DOC’s rodent-detector dogs. She’s a Foxie-Jack Russell terrier cross and she won all of our hearts. She checked out the islands for signs of rats and mice. Some islands were clear, some weren’t. She wasn’t that fond of boat travel and was sea-sick on the last day. Now we know what ‘sick as a dog’ looks like, alas. Don’t you love her little Drizabone?And meet Hannah, Indy’s owner. Prior to working for DOC, Hannah handled a biosecurity dog in Auckland airport. She said that there, she would come across 4-5 finds in a day so it was easy maintaining her dog’s interest. However it was challenging working on a pest free island as there was nothing to interest the dog. On days when Indy searched an island where pests were present, she would come back exhausted!Winter in Dusky and Doubtful Sounds. Calm conditions are not unusual at this time of the year and it would make for fantastic kayaking as long as you don’t mind the cold. And the short days. Five cold, tired and satisfied conservation workers on the boat back across Lake Manapouri. From left, Hannah, Hiroshi, Pam, Sue and Dave. Photo by Rose Collen.Whilst on the Southern Winds, we received the news that Dave’s father had died. Everyone was very supportive, especially the DOC staff. A big thank you to them all. Thanks to DOC, and to Dale of HeliMyWay, for the opportunity to do this wonderful trip. Posted 8 July 2018.