The intrepid trapper: Week two – 17-19 January

Day 5

The week started off with another trip to Mid-Pohangina Track. The goal was to distribute a few more traps, particularly in the flat section on either side of the river, as well as the newly cut track, and to collect the monitoring cards from the middle section of the trapline.

For the task, it was only Ian, Nina and myself. We decided that both Nina and I will each carry two traps from the ute down and up the river, from where Ian will ground-truth, place and bait the traps. In the meantime, NIna and I made our way up the mountain again to collect the monitoring cards. 

When we parked in the paddock, it was super windy. The sun was out though, and the gloomy weather prediction from the previous week, was fortunately a miss by MetService. As we walked down the farm track, it became evident that it might be a hot day. Down by the river, criss-crossing, getting properly wet, we got to the point where Nina and I had to start following the track. We dropped the packs with traps and were on our merry way.

The newly cut track is so much easier to navigate and made for a far more enjoyable trip to the start of the Ruahine Forest Park. 

Thankfully it didn’t rain and things dried out since last week, which also made the going more comfortable. By now I’m getting used to the sketchy bits, and try not to look down the ‘straight down the mountain’ stretches. Unfortunately, I had yet another brush with Onga Onga. This seems to be my nemesis – I manage to get zapped by this pest way too often.

I also carried a rope in to attach on a tree at a gnarly spot that goes straight up/down on eroded soil. We’ve thus far managed to clamber up by hanging onto the grass next to the eroded bit, but a rope to hang onto will make it far easier, especially going down. Fingers crossed it stays there, and someone doesn’t decide to take it down for whatever reason.

We reached the far end in about two hours, collected the monitoring cards (near traps 20-24) before turning around to walk back the way we came. The day just got hotter and the wind less, so an enjoyable walk in the valley.

Back at the ute, we packed up and was ready to make our way out on the rugged farm road. Ian had to speak to a couple of farmers, so we drove to a neighbouring farm to catch up with Travis and George. They seem keen and are on board with the project, and also offered to help distribute traps with their four wheeler. So all good on this front.

Now just to get enough traps made so they can be distributed in the project area. While we can build the wooden boxes, the trap mechanisms are manufactured in Auckland, and due to COVID-19 restrictions, they have not been able to keep up with the demand. This is somewhat problematic, but at least Ian still has quite a few ready and waiting at his place. Carrying traps into the mountain at only two per person, is in any case slow and hard work, and not something that can happen overnight.

Day 6

The evening after our day in Mid-Pohangina, Ian was painting the Ruahine Kiwi logo on the remaining traps at his place. With this job done, the next step was to check the traps. The traps are made for free by some folk at the Ryman retirement village, which is awesome, as every trap they make is a huge task taken off our hands, for which we’re grateful. Before the traps can be distributed on the mountain, they need to be checked and tested to make sure everything works perfectly. The occasional adjustment may be required.

In the morning, we all (Nina, her son, and myself) met up with Ian in Ashhurst, from where we took his ute to his farm in the Pohangina Valley. Rows and rows of traps were laid out on his front lawn, which we wheelbarrowed to the shed for checking and adjustments. Every so often, the mechanism of a trap would be too close to the side, rendering it useless. But moving it a wee bit solves the problem in a tick.

By lunchtime we were ready to get 40 of the traps into Knights Track, at the furthest northern edge of the project area. On the way, we stopped at local farmer Jim and Sandy’s. Sandy also run a horse trekking business in the area. Jim offered to take us through his property, which borders on the DOC land, shaving off a few hundred metres of carrying traps. Jim also offered to carry a few traps up to the junction on Knights-Shorts and Deerford Tracks, which was very helpful. We did three trips and managed to take 30 of the traps to the junction. The others we left at the forest park entrance.

The walk starts with a short stretch downhill, after which we cross a stream before going up a steep little hill. Parts are narrow, with fallen trees across the path and of course a little Onga Onga bush right at my eye level. Luckily Nina warned me about it, so I could miss it with each trip out and back. She tried to break it off with a piece of stone to no avail. Will have to bring secateurs to get rid of it.

The day was super hot, and we spent half of it in the sun. But the part in the forest park was mostly shaded and a lovely, albeit steep, walk.

Day 7

While the weather gods remained kind, we decided to go back and start moving the traps up the mountain. Gerry had a day off, so he volunteered again. We left before seven in the morning to pick up Nina in Feilding. After buying a quick coffee to go, we set off driving out to the Limestone Road carpark, a kilometre or so past Sixtus Lodge.

We collected six of the ten traps we left at the park entrance the previous day, for the trip up the mountain. And boy is this mountain steep. From the stream-crossing we walk the first very steep stretch to the junction (the same stretch we did the previous day multiple times), before heading left around the Deerford track. Although the track still goes uphill, it is not as steep as the first bit. But after this short respite to the junction on the other side of Deerford Track, the mountain climb starts in all earnest. The relentless uphill had us puffed (pooped!) and winded. It makes for slow going with the weight of the traps, but I think we did well, moving 15 traps into their resting places. Nina made three trips, and Gerry and I did two, while also baiting and setting the traps, and signposting their positions. A numbered pink triangle goes on a tree where the trap can be found, to make future check-ups and documenting easier. Each time something gets killed, it is noted on a website containing the network of traps, to keep up-to-date stats on the killings and progress. Quite cool, really.

Another good, full day of hard grafting in the mountains. If I can keep this up, I’ll be fit and strong in no time.

For this week, I covered about 30km and 2180 elevation.

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