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.