This week I started at a new job – as a trapper for Environment Network Manawatū, working on the Southern Ruahine Kiwi Habitat Restoration Project. Since it involves going out into the bush and mountains, I thought writing little anecdotes about my days in the outdoors might make for a good memento in the years to come.
My first day involved meeting everyone, and getting the admin sorted. So an office day. I guess I won’t be having many of these.
The Southern Ruahine Kiwi Habitat Restoration Project runs over three years, and the aim is to recover threatened species like kiwi, whio (blue duck), native snail, and long-tailed bats, as well as the northern rātā, a forest tree endemic to New Zealand. In a few years, kiwi will be reintroduced to this part of the mountain range where they will hopefully be safe from predators.
We are a six person team, divided into two groups: three to mainly work on the eastern side of the mountain (three strong, young blokes), and three on the western side of the mountain (two girls and a boy, all a bit older). The three of us on the western side are Nina, myself and the project coordinator, Ian.
On day two, Nina and I were meant to go ‘ground truthing’ (which in this context essentially means determining the positions where traps will be installed) a section on the ridge between Tunupō and Toka Peaks in the Ngamoko Range. The two of us will be working together for the most part, especially in the mountain. On the farms in the foothills we might be going out separately to check, document, clean and rebait traps. However, on this day, we met at the office from where we drove out together into the Ruahine Forest Park. It was an early start, meeting at 6:30. While Gerry is still on leave for the week, he decided to tag along.
From Sixtus Lodge we followed Knight’s Track to the junction with Deerford Track after which we continued on to Toka Peak (1519m). It was overcast, but otherwise the weather seemed okay. The stretch amongst the trees where we were sheltered from any potential elements, had some stream crossings (no getting away with dry feet on NZ walks), but was otherwise an enjoyable walk.
It is six kilometres from the carpark to the peak, of which only the first kilometre is flat. The next kilometre is uphill, and after a brief downhill respite, the next four kilometres all go straight up. And reasonably steep to boot. After about three kilometres we were on a spur which we followed all the way to the top.
By the time we reached the leatherwood and were effectively above the tree line, the weather had changed significantly. It started to rain, horizontally, as the wind had also picked up quite a bit. As is typical of the mountain ridges, the temperature also dropped and by the time we reached the peak, it was pretty cold, partially also because we were wet from sweating up the hill, as well as from the rain and walking through tall, wet grass and tussock. If that wasn’t enough, it was also very foggy, to the extend that we couldn’t really see further than a few metres ahead. The whole point was to mark the spots for the traps every 100 metre on the ridge, but there is no point when you are unable to see where you’re going.
We had to call it quits and make our way back down the mountain. The ground truthing will have to wait for another day.
On day three we carried traps up the Mid-Pohangina track. The Dannevirke team came over to help, as well as a couple of volunteers – Gerry and Amanda.
It was another early start, and we all met in Ashhurst at 7am. Since the drive to the start of the day’s track required a 4×4 vehicle, some of us had to catch a ride with the 4WDers.
We divided the group of eight people into two groups of four each. Four of us, the three girls and Gerry, were going to carry two traps each along the track to the furthest end, deep into the mountain. The other four boys were going to start at the bottom, carrying the traps from the farmers paddock down into the valley, up the river for about a kilometre, before also heading along the track and valley to distribute traps at the previously identified spots marked with pink triangles (at 100 metre intervals). All in all, this trapline from the farm to the Mid-Pohangina Hut will have around 50 traps. We will only know the exact amount once we finish getting all the traps in place.
Unfortunately, by the time we reached the sign that reads Ruahine Forest Park (about 1.5km in), Gerry’s boots had fallen apart. What started off as just an unnoticed loose bit of sole, ended up with the whole boot in tatters. Apart from the knobbly, rubbery part of the sole that came loose, the rest of the sole completely disintegrated. There was nothing left apart from a thin layer of fabric and the flapping rubber. Disappointed, he had to stay behind and help the other four to get the traps to the bottom of the park once he could patch up the pieces with strapping tape and shoe laces. So us three girls set off on our walk into the valley.
Since the farmer cut-off entry to the park, the track has been in disuse. It is not too bad though, and the DOC orange triangles are still in place for the most part. The Mid-Pohangina Hut is maintained by the Palmerston North Tramping and Mountaineering Club, so I guess the track might also get some attention? However, due to slips, some sections of the track are quite eroded, others slipped away, leaving a few hairy sections on the verge of the chasm. Being not particularly good with heights, I found these parts a bit scary. All along we were gaining elevation as the track makes it’s way up the mountain. Carrying heavy wooden traps added to the stress of the sketchy bits, but we made it safely there and back. With the track being in the state that it is, it took us roughly six hours to cover the 10km out-and-back from the Ruahine Forest Park sign. This, of course, included baiting all the traps as we went, including the ones that the boys carried in from the bottom, and placing five monitoring cards (to identify types of rodents in the area) in the middle of the trapline.
Only eight remained to be done the following day – more or less in the middle stretch of the trapline.
We all walked the 1.5km down the river and back up the hill to the paddock, before heading home. It was a good day, with the weather playing along, and low river levels.
Another early start, again meeting at 7am in Ashhurst, our team comprised of the six official trappers and again two volunteers: Gerry and Nina’s son Liam this time.
It rained during the night, so everything was wet. A mist spray and cool wind made us don rain jackets for the first stretch of the walk. This soon became too hot, and being under the canopy of the trees for the most part, we could stay dry, apart from our legs collecting the water from the overgrown grass and ferns.
With all the traps already carried from the car to the Ruahine Forest Park sign, the first 1.5km over farmland and up the river was easier going without the weight of the traps.
This time six of us carried traps in, while two (Ian and Shawn) remained behind to cut a track through the overgrown farmland. This is to partially avoid having to walk along the edge of the river for a kilometre each time, which is wet, slippery and will be very cold in cooler months.
After collecting traps, Gerry, myself, Nina and Liam went up ahead, while Rani and Rangiwhera followed. This made carrying far easier, so instead of four people having to carry eight traps, some could only carry one trap each.
Since I knew what I was in for and the terrain was somewhat more familiar, it felt like we were moving faster than the previous day. According to GPS data, this was not really the case, as it still took us about five hours to cover the 7km out-and-back.
However, I felt more comfortable the second time around and we placed the final eight traps at their assigned spots. Rani fixed one that was assembled incorrectly, and Nina and I baited them all. Bait in these wooden DOC200 traps consists of dried rabbit. Looks a bit like minced up and pressed together beef jerky – boots and all.
Back at the park border, we met up with Ian and Shawn who walked us out on the new track they cut. We finished a bit earlier than the day before. And lo and behold – one day after Gerry’s boots took a turn for the worst, the same thing happened to Rani. This track is not kind to shoes it seems. 🙂
All up we covered about 35km for the working week, which doesn’t sound much, but with 2300m of elevation and some rough terrain, it certainly made for a pretty good workout.