Saturday 7 November 2020

Good luck, Koanga - kia kaha!

I went overseas today! Well, across a bit of water to another island, so that counts, right? Even if it was only a 10-minute trip. It started a bit excitingly, as the tide was high and the ramp up onto the ferry was angled at pretty much 45° but after that it was a super-quick slide across from Waiheke to Rotoroa Island.

It's a pretty little island, only about 80 hectares, with some sandy beaches, a couple of hilly bits, and lots of bush and birds. That was why I was there: today they were releasing onto the island a kiwi chick called Koanga. The island is a pest-free sanctuary, and it's used as a crèche for kiwi chicks, till they're big enough to stand up for themselves against a stoat or other predator. Operation Nest Egg collects eggs from the wild, using radio transmitters on adult kiwi males (who do all the hatching - fair enough, too, since the female has to grow and lay an egg that's about 2/3 her body size. Ouch!)

The eggs are hatched at Auckland Zoo. The chicks then come to Rotoroa for a year or more till they're up to 1200g, and finally they're returned to their point of origin. It's a lot of bother to go to, and expensive, too, but the kiwi is unique, and a national icon, so there's no choice. Besides, it's fun and interesting.

There was a big crowd there to see the release, and learn all about it, and a somewhat sleepy Koanga (kiwi are nocturnal) was paraded around for everyone to see, which was pretty special. Then he was popped into an artificial burrow in the bush and left to emerge tonight in his own time, and explore his new home.

Then we all went off to explore it too, first on a tour with Milly Lucas, the resident and very enthusiastic ranger, and then by ourselves. Even without the kiwi, it's an interesting place to go to, since for over a century it was used by the Salvation Army as a retreat for thousands of addicts - first alcohol, then drugs - where they would be sent to do a hard withdrawal, spending their days working, and expected to go to church at least once daily. There's even a set of two jail cells for those who got bolshy.

The farm they worked is gone now, the cleared bush replanted by volunteers and growing impressively well; and most of the buildings have been demolished. I enjoyed exploring the various tracks, spotting other birds, and especially coming across a dam (pond) where I couldn't see, but could certainly hear, many many bell frogs croaking fit to burst. At one end of the island is a striking memorial sculpture of granite rocks, with lovely views over towards the Coromandel Peninsula, where the kiwi eggs come from.

And then it was time to head back to the ferry, everyone relaxed and chatty, having had a good time. Me too - which is just as well, since I'll be back here again in a few weeks, to stay overnight. But not in a cell.

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