The intrepid trapper: Week eight – 28 Feb – 1 March

28 February – Knights Track service

After not much sleep, and a too early start on a Monday morning, Gerry and I got up to meet Nina in Feilding for a trip to the Limestone Carpark and up the mountain. We were due to check the traps on that line.

The weather forecast looked okay, even though predictions for some windy and cool weather were on the cards. And perhaps even a few spits of rain.

Knights Track involves two stream crossings. I took an extra pair or running shoes again for the first couple of kilometres, after which I swopped into my hiking shoes. Fortunately, the stream levels were down enough that we could rock-hop across, so the extra shoes were redundant.

The steepness of the hill has unfortunately not magically changed. It’s still goes straight up. We were cruising along nicely, huffing and puffing up the mountain, with nothing exciting to report, when I got the distinct smell of ham. We were reasonably high up the mountain, but still in the bush. For a short stretch the flavour accompanied us, making my mouth water.

When we finally made it out of the tree line and not far from the top, we stopped for a few minutes to catch our breath and have a snack.

Unfortunately, there were no pests in any of the traps. We did replace the mouldy bait as well as where the bait was missing, with dehydrated rabbit. Just as an experiment, I replaced the bait in one trap with the core of an apple I was eating. Would be interesting to see if it lures any pests into the trap. On a previously occasion I noticed that the bait looked like it melted in the trap. I thought might be the heat above the treeline, or the humidity. But on closer inspection, I saw that it was the work of maggots processing the bait to look like it was ‘melting’ away.

Mist was rolling in over the ridge, but we had near perfect conditions again. While walking up and down the mountain, my mind kept drifting to Squadrun head honcho Kerry Suter, who had a very serious MTB accident the past Saturday, when he broke his neck. The thought that he will likely be paralysed and not be able to walk again, is too much to fathom. He is a good athlete, a coach, an active individual. It is heartbreaking to imagine the outcome, the trauma and a forever changed life and future he and Ali will have to work through and deal with.

In an instant, life as we know it, can be something of the past. I am grateful to be able to still walk up the mountain, and will try to never become blase or take it for granted.

1 March – Cone Creek

Can’t believe how time flies, but it’s been a month since we set out the traps in Cone Creek. Since it is on Jim’s property, Ian arranged that we pick him up in Apiti at 9am.

I met with Ian in Ashhurst, and together we drove to Feilding to pick up Nina. The season is starting to change, and it is only starting to get light at 6:30am. The night temperatures have also dropped somewhat and I had to put on a few layers when we left home. Fortunately there was no wind, and as soon as the sun was out, the day warmed up. In the shade I still felt cold and was glad I kept my polyprop top with me.

We parked the ute and started walking the line not far from Jim’s private hut. The first section is through the forest and down into the valley to follow the stream. As usual, we criss-crossed through the water going upstream while stopping and checking a trap every 100 metres.

The dehydrated rabbit was again either missing or mouldy in most traps. They do seem to do the job, as we caught a few pests.

In one of the traps, I cleared out what looked like it could have been a black possum. Initially I thought it might be a cat, but the verdict between us four was that it was a possum. It was so decomposed, that it only came out in drips and drabs, making the cleanup quite challenging. Bits of possum were stuck to the bottom of the box, underneath and on top of the trap mechanism, in the mesh where it negotiated the small hole to get to the trap, and it was generally speaking a gigantic mess of rotten possum, maggots and dreck to get out of everything. As I was covered in rotten animal, I couldn’t take my phone out for photos, but Nina and Ian took some.

Not too long after, we reached the far end of the line and turned around to return the way we came.  This trapline remains a mystery to me, and I know it will take me three times as long to find my way up and down the creek. With slips, fallen trees, side streams, and little waterfalls, you have to know your way to be on the right side of the stream for each section. Due to all of this, we cross the stream all the time to find the best path. Fortunately Jim knows this valley like the back of his hand, and despite often not walking the exact same route, he always finds the exact spots where we need to cross the stream, or clamber in or out.

Back out of the valley, we had our respective quick lunches and a cup of tea, courtesy of Jim, at the hut. From there Nina and I walked down the fence line to check the traps, while Jim and Ian drove up ahead to service a couple of possum traps and check the traps lower down the farm.

All up, we killed eight hedgehogs and one each of a rat, a stoat, and a possum.

On the way back to Apiti, we checked seven of the nine traps at Sixtus lodge (a school group was busy at the buildings and we didn’t want to intrude) that are also now part of our project. It’s been a couple of months since they were last checked, so things were a bit rusty (one trap didn’t work at all), and none of them had bait anymore. Some of the pests were quite decomposed, but we got rid of one hedgehog, two rats, and something unidentifiable.

A good day, and a good few less pests to worry about.

On my third work day for the week, Nina had a sick child to look after, so plans were made to work on the Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it this time, so will have to use some of my time in lieu.

The intrepid trapper: Week seven – 20-24 February

Day 21 – Mid-Pohangina trapline service

And just like that it was time to service the Mid-Pohangina trapline again. I will admit that this is not my favourite. Apart from the fact that a 4WD is needed to get around the farm, the first couple of kilometres involve puttering through a muddy, pooped, swampy paddock, before jumping a fence and making our way up the Pohangina River. This river will of course be problematic when it rains, and will no doubt be super cold in winter. Furthermore, the track is not maintained and runs along the edge of steep drop-offs or slips. Deer running down the mountain exacerbate the slippery areas and erode the track. Some areas are quite overgrown and I still have a niggle in my neck from our previous trip when I walked straight into an overhanging tree stump.

Nina and I met early in Palmy, drove to Ashhurst where we met up with Ian for the drive to Kim’s farm. The temperature dropped the previous night, and was still cool in the morning. It was also rather windy at our place, and by the time we reached the farm, the sun was out (apart from a thick bank of cloud on the mountain), the wind was still reasonably fresh, but the temperature was okay.

Ian came along to show us the locations of the traps on the farm side (true left) of the river, as well as doing some track clearing. On our previous trip, we searched for them, but couldn’t find any. The area is between the river and a bluff/ridge, but little creeks, trees, ongaonga and lots of windblown trees, stumps and branches are scattered everywhere and tall grass, flax and toitoi make it hard to see where one is going. Add to that rocks and trenches and uneven ground, and it makes for slow, arduous progress. We nearly stepped on a wasp’s nest while trying to make our way through the dense growth.

Once we finished bundu bashing to find the first four traps, we had to cross the river. It looked okay from the top, but of course it is a different story standing right next to it. We cross at one of the wider spots, which is usually more shallow and therefore safer. Still it was a bit over my knees in spots and each time I lifted my foot, the pull of the water would pull my foot downstream. It was still fairly okay, but just to be safe and to ease my nerves, I held onto Nina.

The traps on the flat area on the true right of the river again had the most action. On each side of the river we killed a hedgehog, and on the true right we also killed our first weasel, which was quite exciting. Crossing the Piripiri River I could rock hop. Not that it mattered, as I had wet feet already.

We made our way up the mountain and into the valley on the narrow track with too many dodgy spots for my nerves. The traps were baited with dehydrated dried rabbit the previous time, and again in more than 50% of the traps, the bait were either missing (eaten by mice?), or it was completely mouldy. I am of course a total amateur at this, but to me it would seem that the dehydrated rabbit might be a waste of money. The climate is probably too humid, and/or the rabbit is not dry/dehydrated enough?

We rebaited all the traps with eggs which Ian brought along. Carrying 36 eggs on difficult terrain with some river crossings is risky business, so I took rabbit bait along, just incase one of us arsed over and broke all the eggs.

The muddy patches and little stream crossings were more muddy and some areas that had been dry on some of our previous trips, were now also muddy. We heard deer again higher up, roughly in the same spot as where I heard it last time.

The trip back turned into a bit of a race. It was pedal to the metal and in places I had to break into a few steps of jogging to keep up.

After crossing the rivers, and back in the flats on the true left again, we tried to follow the track Ian showed us, and marked it to some extent with pink tape, but I’m quite sure I might not find the way again next time.

Disappointing that we are not getting more pests up the mountain, apart from the odd rat. Maybe the pests haven’t discovered the traps yet, there’s not enough food for them, or there might be some other explanation we do not yet know about.

Day 22 – Jock’s farm trapline service

Another big day for us, covering at least 12kms with 750 elevation – similar to Mid-Pohangina (11km, 625 elevation).

It’s been three weeks since our previous service, so we headed out to Jock’s to check the traps on his farm. Since we cannot expect the farmer to take us around on his quad bike every time we service that line, we opted to walk to see how long it takes. We managed to do it in 4.5 hours, but that was going at quite a clip. And in good weather; warm, no wind or rain, just a calm, sunny day.

We met with Jock before we set off, and also dropped off 20 traps in his shed that will be deployed in the bush behind his hut at a later stage. Some work needs to be done in this area first, as it’s all overgrown.

After a short little downhill to cross two streams, the track goes uphill for the most part until we reached the hut after 4k. Being that high up the mountain, and being wet from sweating, it was quite cold. We stopped for a quick bite to eat, and some much needed water.

Going back down the mountain, the wind was less and it quickly became very hot again. We rebaited all the traps with eggs, as some of the dehydrated rabbit was missing or mouldy again. One trap was knocked down the bluff and had to be retrieved, but the one we hid in the ongaonga to stop the cattle from knocking it into the wetland, stayed put. It is a bit challenging to service though, and unfortunately (fortunately!) it also contained a dead hedgehog, making the whole process of servicing it even more tricky.

We numbered all the traps to respond to the numbers on TrapNZ, and between traps 24 and 25 we saw two deer only a few metres away, dashing off further into the bush when they saw us. The final stretch through a paddock, we had to walk part a few heifers. Initially they approach us, but then proceeded to carefully watch us until we disappeared over a small rim.

All up, we caught five hedgehogs and one rat.

Day 23 – Travers’ pine forest trapline service, DOC Pohangina Base trapline service, trap checking and building

The trapline on Travers’ farm was new to me. It was in a beautiful pine forest with streams and ridges. The farmer already had some traps in the forest from various other sources and projects. Ian set up a few more traps with the farmer a few weeks ago, and the whole trapline is now part of our project in terms of servicing and recording data.

Ian brought his dog with and near the Te Ano Whiro Stream (after checking the first five traps) we saw three deer which of course set the dog on a chase. Two went to the right and another one dashed upstream with the dog short on its heels. Earlier we could hear the deer ‘bark’, which sounded like they were on the other side of the stream up on the ridge. It may have been the two others we saw earlier, or maybe just an echo.

We also saw a pair of falcons perched on a tree in the middle of the stream. They are not big birds, and Ian mentioned that stoats sometimes go in the nest and attack the young, other times the falcons would catch the stoats. Payback, baby.

On our way up to the highest point on the trapline, we passed a wallow hole which might be used during the roar by deer to ‘cool down’. I’ve never heard the animals during the roar, but apparently it is earth shattering when you are close-by.

The weather was good, calm in the forest and just a light wind on the ridge facing Mid-Pohangina way. It would seem that the wind always blows in this valley.

All up, we only caught two hedgehogs on this trapline. Trap #16 has the nails to hold the bait (often an egg) on the wrong (entrance) side. Not sure how that slipped through quality control! Haha.

Afterwards we drove to the DOC Pohangina Base to service the line there ahead of our project launch which was also happening at the base the following day. These are all double traps. The second one killed both a rat and a stoat, but there was nothing in any of the other traps, which is always a bit disappointing.

Ian was cutting and clearing the track as we went, to make access slightly better for guests who wish to see a trapline in action.

Following that we went to Ian’s for a hot drink, a quick bite to eat, and some trap checking and building for the remainder of the working day.

Day 24 – Launch of the Southern Ruahine Kiwi Habitat Restoration Project

After work the past few days, I was still busy making wee kawakawa balm samples as gifts for all the delegates at the launch. The leaves have been seeping in grapeseed oil (cold extraction) for nearly a week before it was gentle heated to 70 degrees Celsius to extract the final goodness. I then strained the oil and added the beeswax.

On top if that, I also offered to make some gluten free cake to accompany the cake Nina made for the event. That ended up to be the only thing I could eat, and I believe there were at least one other person who also had a gluten allergy. It remains to be a very unfortunate allergy to have, as most people don’t recognise it as a problem, and hence don’t take it seriously. With celiac disease, the food should ideally not even be on the same table.

We arrived a bit before 3pm to help if help was needed, and I quickly showed Gerry the first bit of the trapline. Afterwards, we pitched the event banners, and the guests, board members, and other team mates arrived.

It was great to meet some colleagues and board members whom I’ve only ever heard the names of. Drinks were served and guests were mingling, when the official proceedings got underway at 4:30. Selwyn was the compere, Rani talked about the team and their work on the eastern side, Ian talked about our team and work on the western side, and a representative from DOC said the few words. Finally Stewart and Arapera handled the cutting of the cake, after which food and more drinks were served.

Guests who were keen, were taken into the bush to the first trap, and Ian talked everyone through the ins and outs of trapping. Media representatives were there to cover the event, and a write-up from Stuff can be read here.

Around 6pm the proceedings officially came to an end. Pack up and cleanup followed and by about 7pm when we were all out of there.

Everything went smoothly and well, I think, but unfortunately not many farmers attended. They are instrumental to the success of the project, and it would have been a good opportunity to acknowledge and thank them.

The intrepid trapper: Week six – 14-17 February

After a couple of very warm, muggy weather days, ex-tropical Cyclone Dovi moved in over the country early on the Saturday morning. It created havoc everywhere; trees down, power lines down, and a neighbour’s huge pine tree cracked in half and fell down a slope. Fortunately, no trees were down at our place this time, despite other neighbours also mentioning tree damage.

Unfortunately, two of our guinea fowl girls’ babies popped out a day (and the other a few days) before the cyclone hit. It rained non-stop, the wind was blowing a gale and the temperature dropped considerably. Timing could not have been worse. Despite the dads helping out by also sitting on the chicks, they couldn’t manage. Both mums and dads were drenched and finally the babies started trailing off and were left for dead. During the course of the day, and in terrible conditions, I was frantically searching for the half-dead babies all over our property, in tall grass, under trees, etc, to try and save them. Trying to find these tiniest of babies on a couple acre property is no easy feat. By nine at night Gerry picked up the last five and with the help of warm water bottles and a heater, all twelve came back to life. Sadly, three of them died a couple of days later.

Day 17 – Jim’s and the Deerford Loop

Very early on Valentine’s Day, Nina and I were off to collect the monitoring cards from Jim’s property. We stopped at his house in Apiti to fetch the keys to the gates taking us on private land. Arriving at the first gate, it was still drizzling and everything was wet. After the second gate, Nina cleared some windfall out of the way in order not to scratch the ute. We quickly collected the five monitoring cards, some of which were along the farm road, and the others on a private track. Four of the five cards had a decent amount of footprints, and the fifth card had insect prints only. Afterwards, we went back to Jim’s to return the keys, and showed them the outcome.

Then we were off to Deerford Track to insert monitoring cards to ascertain what sort of pests are roaming in the area. It was still overcast and quite cold. I had four top layers on, as well as a rainjacket and rain pants. As always, we had a stream-crossing early on. With all the rain, it was deeper than usual (calve high), and very cold. My feet were freezing, which was a reminder that I need to figure out a plan for winter. We’re still in summer and I’m already cold in the forest in wet conditions.

The previous time we tried to locate the monitoring tunnels, we couldn’t find them. But this time we were more lucky and found the first four relatively easily. The last one (which was the first one coming from the top, which we couldn’t find the previous time) was again a bit of a search. Lots of windfall made it even more tricky to negotiate the terrain off the track. We decided to create waypoints to make it easier for next time.

After placing the last monitoring card, we went around Deerford Loop to check all the traps, but found no dead pests. Some traps were set off due to windfall – large branches landing on the traps, others were without bait (critters and mice probably got to it before anything else could). We reset and rebaited everything that needed attention with dehydrated rabbit before returning to the car. The drizzle became a bit more persistent, and by the time we took off our wet rain clothes, shoes and socks in the carpark, it was raining.

Day 18: Team meeting/workshop

We drove to Ian’s for a team meeting and catch-up with the Dannevirke team. Ahead of their arrival, we counted out half (200) of the nuts and bolts to go with Rani, including trap mechanisms, for the traps they’re building on that side of the mountain.

Erana replaced Shawn on the team, and it was the first time I met her, and a chance to have the whole new team together. Rani talked about their side of things, progress, dealings with land owners, etc, and Ian explained what we’ve been up to.

Afterwards, Ian went through the TrapNZ site, showed some of the functionality; how to add traps, edit trap placement and info, the traplines, stats about animals being killed, etc. We discussed options for traplines, what an area might really be like when you get there, even though it sometimes looks fine on Google maps. Discussions ensued about the traps that are performing really well, the different projects in the Ruahine Forest Park (Northern Ruahine, Southern Ruahine, Manaaki, and Whio whio), and all things related to trapping.

Afterwards, we gathered around an outside table to have a first go at identifying the different footprints on the monitoring cards we’ve collected so far. I downloaded the PDF file with samples of the footprints of mustelids and other pests, including critters from the gotchatraps website. The animals that’s most prevalent in the traps by far, are hedgehogs, so it was no surprise that we found mostly hedgehog footprints. There were also rats, mice, possums, and stoats, and lots of critters. One card only had critter prints. We compared notes and mostly agreed on the prints we identified, but where there were disagreements, we rechecked and had a discussion about it to try and get to a conclusion. In one or two cases it was really too difficult to know what we were looking at, and it would be good to get an expert in to talk us through it.

While still outside, we did a five-minute bird count, and identified seven birds from either the sounds they make or from spotting them in a tree. Apparently afternoons/middays are not the best time of the day to do bird counts, but it was still a good opportunity.

We all moved to Ian’s garage where he keeps frozen samples of mustelids (which I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of): a ferret, stoats and weasels. The ferret was quite smelly, despite being frozen, but had quite an interesting fur.

From there we walked down a ridge on Ian’s property to look at different types of traps, from smaller versions for rats and mice, to self-resetting ones for stoats and weasels, to catch traps for cats. In two of the traps there were dead mice. At the far end, away from any buildings and in the forest, we did another five-minute birdcount, and again counted at least six different birds. Some of them, like tui, mimic other birds, making it hard to know which is which.

Afterwards, we took a group photo, before we went our separate ways at the end of the day.

Day 19: Carrying traps up Shorts Track

Not sure how it came about, but as we were leaving the previous afternoon, a quick decision was made for Nina and I to carry more traps up the mountain. We are less than ten traps away from the top, and I was under the impression that the top ones would be dropped at the top to be carried down, rather than us killing ourselves to get it all the way up there from the bottom. Understandably, we need to identify quantities and traplines, and have enough traps ready and everything consolidated to be dropped off by helicopter in one go instead of paying for multiple trips.  This has unfortunately not been finalised yet, so in order to not twiddle our thumbs, we keep hauling traps up the mountain.

Late the previous night, I collected the pack-frames from Anthony (from the Manaaki project) who kindly let us use his.

Early in the morning, we met in Feilding for the trip out to Limestone Carpark. Although it wasn’t very cold, I had a thermal top on for the first couple of kilometres. The track is a familiar site by now, and after the first few hundred metres, we reach the first stream-crossing. Going up Knights Track, meant we have another crossing a kilometre or so down the track. To not spent the entire day with soaking wet feet again, I took a pair of trail running shoes for the first couple of kilometres until we crossed the second stream. These I hid in a bush, while putting on semi-dry boots and socks. The boots did the same stream-crossing on Monday, so wasn’t completely dry yet.

And then the relentless hill carried on up the mountain for the next four kilometres. With each trap weighing just shy of 6kg, of which we each carried two, plus a backpack containing emergency gear, warm clothing, raincoats, first-aid, food, snacks, water, bait, spanners, tongs etc to service the traps with, I reckon all up I carried 16-17kg up the mountain. Normally on tramps I try not to go over 10kg for my size, weight, age, etc, which already makes the tramp less enjoyable than when carrying a lighter weight. Needless to say, this was hard work.

We made good progress on the constant uphill, and after about 4km of slogging up the mountain, my shoulders and shoulder blades started to be really uncomfortable and sore. Another kilometre and a half, and we’d dropped off our four traps (#9, 8, 7, 6 from the top down – 1 is on top of the mountain) and were at the highest point for the day at 1300m.

While catching our breath (my heart was racing like mad, and I guess the altitude might also have played a small part), we had a bite to eat and a sip of water. There’s no access to water on the mountain and everything has to be carried up.

On the way down, we checked and serviced all the traps, and only one contained a hedgehog that looked like it was going to explode. We used dehydrated rabbit as bait, and one thing I noticed is that a lot of it gets eaten by, presumably, mice. Which is a terrible waste at almost 50c per piece, me thinks.

On the upside, Nina chatted to a chicken farmer about a possible sponsorship, and they are keen to get on board, which is fantastic. Details need to be ironed out still, but we should be sorted with eggs as bait for a while for a lot of the traps in future.

We passed Teddy Bear slip again, and I tried to see from the top if it is possible to get an idea of what it looks like, but by the looks of it we were standing on its ear. A massive chunk of land slipped and when viewed from Jock’s farm on the other side of the valley, it apparently looks like a teddy bear. Will definitely see if I can spot it when next we’re out that way.

Nearly back down the mountain, I changed back into my wet shoes for the last two kilometres and two stream-crossings. Less than a kilometre from the car, and on a reasonable well-groomed track, I stepped onto a tree root or something, and ended up on the side of my foot with my ankle bent at a 90 degree angle to try and stay upright, which of course didn’t happen and I landed on my arse. I had visions again of my friend breaking her leg on a track 2k from the car, and what an ordeal it was getting her down the mountain and to hospital. Fortunately (in other respects unfortunately), I have ‘floppy joints’ making it possible to bend joints quite far before breaking them, I guess. However five days later, the ligament (?) on the side of my leg was still quite sore.

On the trip back home, we discussed the next day’s work. The monitoring cards we installed on Monday had to be fetched from Deerford (they usually only stay for three days). I wasn’t meant to work (I only work three days a week, normaly Mondays to Wednesdays), but offered to go with Nina, as she cannot go in the mountains by herself, and Ian had a meeting. It is a health and safety precaution, as anything can happen at anytime, and being out in the bush by oneself is never a very good idea.

Nina offered to carry more traps up the mountain, but with a somewhat crook ankle and sore shoulders, I wasn’t up to it. Instead I would check and service the traps as we go, on the way up.

After fetching Gerry from work, we took the packs-frames back to Anthony, as they needed it again. This is something we really need to buy for ourselves, as we cannot keep borrowing from others. It is, on top of everything else, a terrible waste of time fetching and returning borrowed stuff. The time and money on fuel spent on that, could have bought us a couple already.

Day 20: Carry more traps up Shorts and service the trapline

We met bright and early again in Feilding, and drove to where Ian was waiting with traps and old tramping backpacks. Nina took the one backpack, and two traps.

The trip to where we work, is usually about an hour’s drive. The weather was really good, sunny (even though we drove through fog) and warmer than the previous days. When she tried to strap the traps onto the outside of the backpack (it couldn’t fit inside either), only one could fit. One is better than none, and we were on our way. I took the soaking wet shoes again for the stream-crossing, after which I changed into my semi-dry boots for the slog up the mountain on Shorts Track.

These two tracks follow on from the Deerford loop, and both goes to the ridge at the top of the mountain. Knights track is on the left (North) and Shorts is on the right (South). Whereas Knights track sort-of eases into the steep climb, Shorts Track gets right too it. Both are super steep, making the going slow, especially carrying a heavy weight.

With all the traps from the bottom up already in place, the only ones remaining are the ones above the tree line. I was huffing and puffing up the mountain again. With both of us being runners, we are servicing traplines rather quickly, so can cover more ground and get more traps checked, in more difficult terrain.

At 1300m altitude again, we set the new trap, caught our breath, had a snack and a drink of water before starting on the way down again.

En route we collected the five monitoring cards on Deerford of which one had no prints, and another where something (hedgehog?) went into the tunnel, seemingly not happy with dried rabbit, as it was all still there, and went out again on the same side. Bizarre. It’s a narrow tunnel and makes sense for something to walk through. Must be a clever animal who knows that if it goes for dried rabbit, it will die. Haha.

At the stream, I swopped back into my wet shoes for the last kilometre, before swopping back into dry shoes for the drive back home. There seems to be a lot of changing gear going on with these trips. I guess that’s how it is if you work in nature; sunny, cold, rain, rivers, etc.

After picking Gerry up from work, we went to the Summerhill trails to collect kawakawa for balm I’m making for our project launch.  I’m using the cold extraction method, so the leaves will have to stay in the oil for at least a week. Nina is making a cake, decorated with kiwis, which I can’t wait to see, and I will throw in some gluten free, chocolate cake on the side, just to cover our bases. Looking forward to the event next Thursday.

The intrepid trapper: Week five – 7- 9 Feb

It was another long weekend with lots of rain in the forecast. We tried frantically to get some water tanks up on our hill, to fill with water collected from the hothouse roof. The roof is a reasonable size, and we only have three cubes (1000 litre each) collecting water at the moment, so we lose heaps of water just running off.

With a tonne of willpower, adrenaline and effort, Gerry and I managed to roll the 3000 litre tank up the hill. I felt like ol’ Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, but luckily it didn’t came down, only to be repeated to infinity. Wish I could video the palava, as the nerve-wracking experience added a whole lot of grey hair. If we slipped, which happens on a soggy, slippery slope, the tank would have run us over and come thundering down the hill, across a road, potentially rolling over a car, to land in a six metre deep ravine in our neighbour’s property. There is no way we would have ever been able to get it out of there. At least the cubes, that we normally “roll” up the hill, have flat sides and won’t just roll straight down, making it a bit less stressful.

Gerry was still working on the Friday, so this drama happened after work. It was late Friday night when we finally had the tank in place. We still needed a tap, which we could only buy the next morning, so we were hoping the rain would give us time to affix the tap and start pumping water before bucketing down. But time (and rain!) waits for no man, and just after eight on the Saturday morning, it started to rain. And boy oh boy did it rain. Coupled with that, the wind also picked up and blew down yet another part of the pine tree behind the chook house. (Yonks ago, the centre of the tree blew out, and the tree grew a whole heap of new branches from its centre. Slowly but surely, these are now coming down one by one. Especially after half the tree was blown over last year, exposing the weaker branches in the middle.)

All up, we measured about 110mm (the rain gauge overflowed, so it may be a bit more) over two days.

Fortunately, we still had a few 1000 litre cubes lower down the property, and could connect the hothouse overflow to fill these. It will make getting the water to the top of the hill a double pumping process, first to the hothouse which is halfway up the hill, and then to the top. But at least we managed to collect most of it – about 2500 litres.

When we finally got a break in the weather we carried our water-pump to the hothouse. We bought the pump ten-odd years ago to pump water we collected from a pergola into our house water tank, but have since connected the overflow to go straight into the house tank, negating the need for a pump. Since the pump stayed in storage all these years, unfortunately not in a dry place, it got rusty and now won’t start. So there’s another added complication to try and figure out. But that would have to wait until the end of the working week.

Day 14 – Public holiday

With the poor weather, it was just as well that the Monday was a public holiday, Waitangi Day observed. Rivers and streams were obviously in flood and too high to cross, and we’ve serviced almost all the traps we have in place the past too weeks. Trapping remains a slow process: identifying a grid of potential traplines, recce’ing the area as some of it is not on active trails, or even remnant trails from the past that are disused, building tracks, ground-truthing, getting the waypoints onto the national traps website (to keep tabs on what is killed in which trap) building traps, carting and carrying traps to their spots, to then be numbered and marked, baited and set. And then checked on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, we also couldn’t progress with our water works.

Day 15 – Trap building

I met up with Nina in town for the drive out to Ian’s place. Since we are out of traps, and the weather was not expected to be too flash, we agreed to build traps for the day. Arriving at Ian’s, it was already quite warm and muggy. The forecast could not have been more wrong. However, even though the weather looked good, streams would probably still be reasonably high so just as well we could spent a day in the workshop.

During the weekend Ian had sawn a lot of the timber already to the correct sizes for bottoms, sides, spacers and lids. He also cut the wire for the entrance points, leading the mustelids to the trap. With only assembly to be done, we immediately got to work. Drilling and hammering is sometimes such a nice stress reliever. Haha. Occasionally we would run out of spacers and Ian would cut some more. Unfortunately, we only had 16 trap mechanisms, so while many more traps-cages were finished (some still require lids), they all still needed trap mechanisms. The supplier can’t keep up with demand due to Covid restrictions. Fortunately, our order for 200 mechanisms was delivered that same day, but at the office in Palmy, quite a long way away from where Ian lives in the Pohangina Valley.

All in all we built about 50 traps, near completion, apart from our logo that still has to be spray-painted on the lids.

Afterwards, I drove to the office to collect all the trap mechanisms. Twenty boxes with ten traps each which I gave over to Ian the next day.

Day 16 – Recce on Jock’s farm

The weather forecast looked iffy for the rest of the week. I was hesitant about going up the mountain, but fortunately, farmers usually know their stuff. The plan was to recce a ridge on Jock’s property, but I fully expected the weather might derail our plans.

Jock said he would have a look in the morning and confirm at 7am. Nina suggested she and I meet in town at the same time to start bright and early. Shortly after we arrived in town, the phone rang and Jock confirmed (to my surprise, as the mountains looked pretty gloomy from town) that it was going to be a good day. Nina confirmed with Ian, who still needed to get his quad bike onto his ute, and then discovered the one wheel needed a pump, which delayed him a bit. While Nina and I waited for Ian, we bought a takeaway coffee for the trip to Ashhurst from where Ian would pick us up.

Shortly after 8am, Ian arrived. The trip out to Jock’s takes a little under an hour, and shortly after nine, Ian was unloading the quad bike at the farm. The sun was out, the mountain ridge was visible, and there were not so much as a breath of air. I couldn’t believe it. The forecast I saw earlier must be measuring the Ruahine Range at a totally different spot, as this was as perfect at it comes. Wish I could look at the sky and clouds and predict weather like that!

For the trip up to the hut, Ian took his quad, while Nina and I lifted with Jock on his quad, which is slightly bigger. At one of the steep uphills driving up, Ian realised his backpack’s zip came undone, and his stuff was flying all over the place. He went back for it but missed a couple of items, which we picked up on the way back down at the end of the day. Unfortunately, this meant Ian was missing out on his favourite fizzy drink for the recce in the forest.

From the hut we hoped to create a workable track on Jock’s farm to place traps. But it turned out to be quite a bundu bash right from the start. Bracken and ferns were head high, making it difficult to see where to place one’s feet. Add to that treefall, and completely overgrown leatherwood, and the going gets really tough. Often times, while looking at foot placement, bush lawyer would grab you by the head or shirt. Not nearly as nasty as ongaonga, but also not nice to get caught up in.

Ian was ground-truthing as we went and even though we only progressed about 2km in total (19 way points), it took us more than two hours to get to that point. We crawled in places, and cut down fallen and overgrown trees as we went to make coming back somewhat easier. At one stage the bush became so dense that we just couldn’t get through. Jock’s pushed through leatherwood and ripped his shirt to shreds. Some muddy patches and black mould on dense bushes, made us look quite the sight by the time we got back to the hut.

We saw and heard a few birds, which is a good sign. Quite a few wax eyes, and a few others I could not recognise. Which reminds me, I need to brush up on NZ trees and birdlife identification. The deer almost destroyed all the totara up there, but they don’t touch the pepperwood. Jock showed us some kaikawaka (NZ cedar, part of the conifer family) as well as a Prince of Wales fern.

We stopped near the far end for a drink of water and a bite to eat. I still couldn’t believe that there was no wind. It was super hot and muggy.

Walking back, Jock took us on different path which might be better to navigate in the long run. This would also cut out having to walk over three slips, but meant we had to sidle around a little hump which was terribly overgrown. It was hard to move at all in places (imagine having to bush bash through some dense flax bushes and toitoi, covered with fallen branches and bush lawyer. Haha, you get the idea), but on the other side of the little hill things opened up slightly, and we could move a bit easier.

Nine months ago, Jock had a hip replacement, but looking at how he moves, you would never think that. Still, after five hours of bush bashing, and coming down a steep gravelly road on the last few hundred metres to the hut, he looked a bit sore. No doubt the outing was somewhat taxing, but I’m positive it was good for him. Move it or lose it, as I like to believe. Not that I always practice what I preach!

Back down the mountain, Ian loaded his quad-bike again, and we said our goodbyes and thank you’s before the trip back to Ashhurst. Gerry opted to meet me there, which meant we could hand over the trap mechanisms to Ian, saving me having to make a special trip to Pohangina on the weekend.

What I thought might be a challenging day in the mountain, turned out to be a beautiful day, albeit hard work in super warm weather. At least we’ve recce’d a chunk of the bush on Jock’s farm against the mountain ridge, and have a better understanding of what needs to be done.

The intrepid trapper: Week four – 30 Jan – 2 Feb

Day 10 – Knights Track, Toka Peak to near Tunupo Peak

It was a beautiful Sunday morning when we set off to Limestone carpark for another trip along Deerford and Knights Tracks, and up the mountain. Jonathan came up from Wellington, and Gerry offered again to help carry traps up the hill, both as volunteers. Since we only had three frame packs to carry traps, Gerry took my two traps, and I carried  all our snacks, water, warm clothing and safety gear.

The weather forecast looked favourable, and since we still needed to ground-truth the ridge between Toka and Tunupo Peaks, this seemed like a good opportunity. During our previous attempt, it was drizzly, super foggy and quite cold. And that was only three weeks ago. That is the nature of the mountain beast in NZ.

The steep uphill hasn’t miraculously flattened one bit. The relentless hill just goes up and up without respite to the top of Toka Peak, and beyond. Walking up the mountain with a heavy pack is, of course, slow going. It took a couple of hours to reach the place from where we had to start dropping off the traps (trap #15-10) and bait them. Some of the traps we set out were above the tree line already, in the dense leatherwood.

Once we got rid of the weight of the traps, we moved a bit easier as we headed further up the mountain. Another kilometre or so, brought us to the top. Once on the ridge, it is another few hundred metres to reach Toka Peak. The temperature immediately dropped, and I had to add a couple of layers, especially since we were soaking wet from sweating going up. The wind was also quite cool, which didn’t help. But, all things considered, it was actually very good up there – no adverse weather conditions.

We started ground-truthing when we reached the ridge and set a waypoint on Topo maps every 100 metres as the crow flies. A good few climbs on the ridge kept our hearts pumping and lungs burning. And a few steep clambers up and down on steep, tricky terrain, really engaged the attention. The ‘track’ is almost non-existent and unmarked, with leatherwood and tussock to walk through and over.

By the time we had marked twenty spots, we decided to turn around. It was already two in the afternoon, and we still had to make our way back along the ridge and down the mountain. After a quick snack (we left our sandwiches in the car), we started heading back the way we came. We were going at a reasonable clip, and it still took more than three hours (without stopping) to get back down the mountain. Every single step is a step down. Apart from a couple of super small and short wee uphills, there’s nearly nothing that is not a quad buster.

On the way up, I managed to go through both streams dry-footed, which was a welcome change to a usual day. But going back, I stepped on a loose rock at the last stream about half a kilometre from the car, and managed to get both my feet soaking wet. Yet again. No mercy for the wicked.

We arrived back home a bit before seven, and after sorting the animals, I was ready to go to bed. But of course we still needed to make dinner, finish cooking the preserve I was going to do during the day, get ourselves clean and myself sorted for work on Monday. I only managed to get into bed by midnight, and with the heat and wind, sleep wasn’t very flash, so I knew I’d be starting the new new week tired already.

All up, we covered 16km, with 1600m elevation.

Day 11 – Cone Creek

We met at the usual spot in Ashhurst, where Ian picked us up to collect 17 new traps from Ryman Residents. Afterwards we drove out to Ian’s farm to check that everything was working as it should, and spray-paint them with our logo.

It had been overcast when we woke up, but by the time we met in Ashhurst, the clouds dissipated and the mercury started rising already. By midday it was blazingly hot. Even with all the car windows open, we still arrived in a dam of sweat at Jim’s place in the small town of Apiti.  Driving out to his farm, some clouds started to roll over the mountain from the east, but they were few and far between overhead.

We drove all the way to just above Jim’s private hut, named Edelweiss, from where the trail starts. Luckily Jim offered to help carry traps and show us the way. Despite having been up the creek to ground-truth some of it, I wouldn’t know be the best route to take.

The four of us each carried two traps, and Ian had an extra one under the arm that was dropped at the first spot. Luckily most of the walk is in the forest so we were sheltered from the sun. I was a bit sunburnt from the day before, and was happy to be under the canopy of the trees.

Slowly but surely we were making our way up the creek, criss-crossing through the water. One by one we dropped the traps off, until the first nine were all in place. On the way back for a second round we baited, tagged and recorded them.

Back at the ute, we had a quick bite to eat, before setting off with another batch of two each, so another eight traps. This time we had to pass the first nine traps before we could start dropping off the new batch.

It is quite slow going, as the track is rather technical with heaps of fallen trees to clamber over. Not to mention all the stream crossings, slippery rocks and other obstacles. I managed to step on a slippery rock in one such stream-crossing and gave my shin a good knock on a sharp rock, which developed a massive bump and turned all shades of purple by the evening. Finally we reached the spot for trap number 17, our final destination for the day. We turned around and on the way back, baited, set, and tagged all the traps.

It was after six before we got back to the ute. Nina and I checked two traps on the farm (we checked the previous week) that was en route, and found a hedgehog in the one. After Nina cleared it out and reset the trap, we were on our way. The hilly drive through the farm also takes a bit of time, before we headed home, dropping off Jim in Apiti and driving back to Palmy.

Another very long day, and quite challenging to boot.

Day 12 – Jocks and Pohangina Base

I have not met farmer Jock before, as I only started working at ENM after Ian and Nina had already met with him.

Nina and I met bright and early (7am) on another beautiful, warm, day, got a cup of take-away coffee before we were off to the farm to check the traps. Despite roadworks, and slow speed limits on the way, we arrived a few minutes earlier than agreed at the farm. Farmer Jock heard us coming, so came down on his quad bike from the house to where we parked.

Nina introduced us, and while I was still thinking we might be walking around the farm to check on the traps, farmer Jock offered to take us around with his quad bike.

With bait, gloves, spanners and tongs at the ready, we were off. I haven’t been on a quad bike much (and have never driven one) before, but sort of knew what I was in for. Some of the places we went seemed quite steep or at too much of a lean, and if you’re not used to it, it feels a bit scary at times. But it was obvious farmer Jock knew what he was doing, so I needed not worry at all. And he is very entertaining, as well as knowledgeable about farming and the environment.

We started checking the traps, and quite a good few of them had killed something. Mostly it was hedgehogs, but also a few rats. In one of them, only the head of the rat remained. Something else got hold of the body and ate everything – bones, guts and all, or dragged it away.

Being on the slope of the mountain, we went further and further uphill, until we reached his private (hunter’s) hut. From here it did not seem too far to the top of the mountain, and Jock offered to take traps as high as he could with his quad bike, for the line on top of the mountain. This will save us a lot of effort, which I for one am very grateful for.

The hut has a beautiful view down the mountain, and is well equiped. Jock showed us around while we checked the two traps at the hut. The firewood for the hut comes from a huge old fallen tree (totara?) that they dragged up the mountain. Each year they saw off a ring to split to provide wood for the year. I quickly used the loo – with a lovely view! – before we started heading down the mountain through paddocks, and towards a more sheltered, forest area. Jock has quite a few trees and sheltered areas for his sheep, including streams and wetlands to ensure his stock is well looked after.

Some steep ups and downs, a few lessons in tree identification, and weeds and feed, and we had made it back to the farm house a bit after lunchtime. Jock gave us a few faulty traps that needed fixing, and showed us his fridge with deer that was shot recently.

A good day, great weather, entertaining company and a good few kills. Roughly every third or fourth trap had some or other pest and all up we got 10 hedgehogs and 2 rats.

After finishing up at Jock’s, we drove to Pohangina Fieldbase to check the trapline there. Over the 15 traps, we ended up with another 5 hedgehogs and 2 rats.

This trapline follows the edge of the bluff, and at one point, Nina showed me a viewpoint in a clearing, with Ski Station just across the gorge from where we access the Mid-Pohangina trapline. The latter was on the agenda for the following day.

Unfortunately this trapline is also somewhat overgrown (which seems to be the norm), but one can’t really get lost; you with either end up in the gorge or in the road.

Near the end of the trapline we took a shortcut out to the road for the walk back to the car.

Day 13 – Mid-Pohangina

Back to the Mid-Pohangina trapline to check the traps for the first time after deploying them some three weeks ago. Arriving at the farm gate, some sheep were being mustered into a different paddock, and we had to wait a couple of minutes before getting access. The rough 4WD road through a few gates took us to the furthest point we can drive to. The walk from the ute across the farm and down into the valley to the start of the Ruahine Forest Park is about 1.6km, with some decent elevation.

Since we deployed traps along the river in the last few hundred metres towards the park, trap-work started as soon as we crossed the river. With the lack of rain the past few weeks, the river is even lower than when we deployed the traps.

This track is fast becoming a familiar sight, but some of it remains a bit nerve-wracking. One particular scree slope looks like it has become a way for deer to dash down the mountain, exacerbating the erosion. My worst nightmare is slipping on the slippery slope and sliding off the mountain. Sidling up the valley remains a steep and exhausting climb, including some hairy bits.

A couple of traps were set off which could have been due to tree branches falling on them, or deer kicking them accidentally, or whatever other random reason. In some, the bait disappeared mysteriously, so we had to rebait them. But a few had killed rodents – four hedgehogs and two rats. One was still quite fresh. Poor bugger.

The rope we attached to a tree the previous time, was luckily still there. The trees hanging over the track was unfortunately also still there, and with a cap on, I could not see that it was perfectly positioned at the exact level of my head, so I walk straight into it, knocking me back on my arse. I heard something that sounded like a crack and hoped it was the branch. A couple of days later my neck was still sore, probably (hopefully only) from the knee-jerk reaction, causing some tightness in my neck muscles.

I was quite surprised at how steep uphill the last few traps were. Somehow I had wiped this out of my memory. Once at the far end, it was just a matter of getting back to the ute. Servicing traps take up quite a bit of time, so going back was a notably quicker.

Back at the ute, it was very warm, as it has been the past few weeks. On the drive back to Palmy, we had lunch. We finished a little bit earlier, which was a welcome change to our routine.

I will not be working the following day, which will be Nina and Ian going back to Knights track to deploy the last few traps up the mountain, and checking the trapline as a whole so far.