Friday 27 November 2020

Loo view

Pardon the indelicacy, but when I sit on the loo in my bathroom at night, I can see, flashing out in the blackness, a lighthouse signal, every 15 seconds. So it was satisfying, yesterday, to go to Tiritiri Matangi Island to spend the night in a bunkhouse just a hundred metres or so from that very lighthouse.

That wasn't the main purpose of the visit - although it's a classically attractive lighthouse, the oldest one still operating in NZ (since 1865), and stands next to an even more appealing watch tower. No, the main draw to Tiri for its visitors is birds. Once extensively farmed, cleared of almost all its virgin forest, it was the first island to be the subject of an intensive, and unique, revegetation and pest-removal programme that started nearly forty years ago. 

Volunteers and government agencies worked together and planted over 300,000 trees in just ten years, most of them grown from seed collected on the island. Now, it looks wonderfully natural again, and the birds love it. So did I - especially after the noise and chaos of the endless roadworks on Quay Street, it was so lovely to be delivered by ferry to the island where all you can hear is wind, waves and birdsong.

There are over 70 species resident on the island, including kiwi and takahe, and also, I was really thrilled to hear, kokako. This is a hard-to-see bird about the size of a tui that has the most beautiful call: haunting, melodic, so tuneful. When you return to Auckland airport after an overseas trip and walk through the carved archway on the way to immigration, that's the song you can hear. It's gorgeous.

Not quite so gorgeous is the accommodation there, for spoiled people like me. It's a bunkhouse, with rooms sleeping 4-6, with a shared kitchen for preparing the food you have to bring yourself. But an island visit is all about being outside, exploring, bird-watching and listening, so that didn't really matter. 

It was a short night anyway - we were all out after dinner, wandering around in the dark hoping to hear and see kiwi. Which I did, thanks to some kind and sharper-eyed people who pointed it out to me, scuttling across the track. Then, we were all up early next morning to go and hear the dawn chorus in the bush: just glorious! So loud, and varied, and musical - perhaps not quite what Capt. Cook's crew complained about down in Fiordland back in 1770, disturbing their sleep, but much better than most people have heard. The same nice people as yesterday showed me a tuatara they'd spotted that I would certainly have walked right past.

The island is very pretty too: it helped that the pohutukawa is just coming into flower now, but the beaches are lovely, the cliffs dramatic, the sea a beautiful blue, and the views long and wide. If not quite clear enough today to see Waiheke Island from there, let alone my toilet. Probably just as well.

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