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 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.

The intrepid trapper: Week one – 10-13 January

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.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

Day 4

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.