To be, or not to be

Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any better, they did.

I rode my bicyle out of Milford sound and with low clouds and people hanging out of their bus windows to take pictures of me I managed to get back to the start of the Homer tunnel.

The tunnel I looked up against cycling back into after my 50km/h descent through it a few days earlier.

This time I wouldn’t be so fast. But with my lights repaired and my high vis vest I figured I might survive. On both side’s there is traffic lights so traffic comes only from one side at the time and about 20 minutes after I entered from a slightly drizzle & cloudy world I came out the other side in glorious sunshine.

It is a beautiful road, I thought so on the way in when I could hardly see through the mist. But on a clear sunny day it isn’t too bad either.

I planned to ride back to Te Anau in a day, there I went to Harry’s place where I’d stored a few bits and pieces.

“Are you in a hurry to keep going?” He asked.

After covering only a tiny part of the South Island in about two months time I was keen to hit the road and keep moving North.

“We’ve got a space in the helicopter, if you like to come”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( my exact reply as I recall it)

Harry works for DOC.

He also has a pretty cool car, in which we cruised around a little.

His job is to design and build board-walks and bridges. Not only for the most visited area’s. Also where DOC workers do a job and must have easy acces. And save the land from becoming one big bog.

This particular job  happened to be at Anchor Island.

Tucked away in a far south west corner of the Fiordland National park, Anchor Island is not easy to reach except by helicopter (a 40 minutes flight from Te Anau)

It is not only the side of the first European dwelling in New Zealand (1792) ,

it’s also home of about 40 kakapos

The kakapo is nockturnal and the world’s largest and only flightless parrot. It was very close to extinction a couple of decades ago, but thanks to the Kakapo recovery program  there are now 126 kakapos in the world. This makes it the most endangered bird in the world.

They are also one of the longest living birds in the world. They can reach the age of 120!

In the mating season the male kakapos try to outdo each other and attract as many females as they can by making a low frequency ‘boom’ sound that can be heard 5km away.

When they do attract a female they only meet one time and the males will have nothing to do with raising the little ones afterwards. But keep booming ’till the next female comes along.

The island is a good place, for it has been pest free since 2001. Although there has been a stoat-scare in 2007 that resulted in all kakapos being taken off the  island untill the coast was clear.

To keep the island clear and and free of unwanted pests, either animals or plants, there is a strict quarantine process.

Before getting on the helicopter all clothes, shoes and gear must be thoroughly cleaned.

Pockets and velcro checked for seeds and weeds. All food and other stuff packed in airtight containers to prevent any unwanted guest sneaking in.

And when you arrive on the island, everything goes straight into a closed room and before you can settle in, all gear, food, etc. needs to be checked for stowaways.

I got my own little hut for the time I’m here.

There were 6 of us on the island.

Tim and Sarah were in the chopper with us.

They are members of the kakapo recovery program and have been living and working on the island before. This time they were flying out for a three week stint.

Daryll was in charge of  health checks, vaccinations and taking bloodsamples of the birds to see if everything is going well.

Surprisingly I wasn’t the only Dutch person on the island. There was Joris.

A biologist. His job was to shoot branches of trees and count the seeds. Well, that’s what I understood anyway. He also is very good at monopoly and randomly running into kakapos that have been missing for years…

All the kakapos should have a little transmittor, so they can be found and checked. But a few years ago some of these transmitters were faulty with the result that two kakapos have been missing ever since.

They are not easy to spot. With their excellent camouflage you can still miss them when they sit a meter away.

So it was a small miracle that Joris manage to run into, and catch kakapo ‘Jude’ (all kakapos have been given names)

The day I spent at the island four parrots had to be found and checked. So we split up in two teams and set off into the scrub.

The island is very hilly and covered in rainforest.

There is a few rough walking tracks, but funny enough the birds don’t sit in the middle of the path or in a clear space.

Together with Tim & Harry I hiked to the top of a hill to get better reception on the kakapo antenna that Tim was using.

It was also a great spot to take in the views over dusty sounds.

When he finds a signal we moved in the direction it came from. This involved a good amount of bush-bashing. At one stage we had to climb down a steep side of hill, the branch I was holding onto decided to snap which landed me about 3 meter lower down the hill with the branch still firmly in two hands… Lucky it didn’t scare away Trevor (Travor was the one we were after first) It did give Harry a fright I believe.

Then, when we got nearer to the bird we split up to circle it and try to catch him.

My first view of Travor was of him sitting right in front of me on a branch! Really quite exciting.

Tim managed to grab him and I got to hold him while Tim did some of the checks. Like taking swabs, looking under the wings and I-don’t-know-what.

It was a little scary, because it would be very disappointing if I accidently squeeze to hard and only 125 kakapos would be left…

It took about an hour and when we let him go he gently strolled away, not fussed or stressed at all.


So after having lunch with a view we hiked a little further

and went through the same process with Kiwai. Kakapo number two.

He was hiding in a very dense scrub and in order to get him we got very scratched. He held on to the tree with his beak but Tim managed to get him  alright.

We only walked 11km that day, although Harry guessed 25 and I guessed 9. They were pretty tough and to keep up with Tim was a task in itself.

Back at the hut the guys had some office work to do while Tim & Sarah entertained us with their guitar/whistle play.

It’s been great spent a few days in such a special place.

Before the chopper came back in the morning there where a few other jobs to be done. One of them was digging a hole so the toilet could be moved when the helicopter arrived. With taking turns that was done in no time at all.

Sarah chopped up some trees for fire wood.

And then came the time to bid Sarah & Tim farewell and climb back in the helicopter to make our way back to Te Anau. The weather was even better than on the way down when there were a few clouds around, so while flying over the rugged mountains and with my nose glued to the window we made our way back.

It was the most wonderful experience I could’ve had.

So thank to Harry and thanks to the members of the kakapo program. (Travis & Kiwai too)

Will they survive?

That is the question.

12 thoughts on “To be, or not to be

  1. Hoi Mirjam.

    Geweldig verhaal weer! En wat een prachtige close-up van Kiwai..
    Er zullen een boel mensen jaloers zijn na dit te hebben gelezen, en terecht. (en prettig dat Travis het overleefd heeft…)
    En dat het dan op de terugweg zulk prachtig weer is is ook uniek. Ik heb via Google earth wat foto’s van die omgeving bekeken, en overal was het op z’n minst erg dik bewolkt.
    Nou, op weg dan maar weer naar een nieuw avontuur 🙂


    pap & mam

  2. Hallo Mirjam,
    Wat een bijzondere ervaring, prachtig..en weer zulke mooie foto’s erbij. Ik heb het weer met veel plezier gelezen en heb me verbaasd over de Kakapo, heel bijzonder…
    vriendelijke groet van Ingrid

  3. Wow what an amazing experience.. That will stay with you forever.. Looking forward to more updates xx Sarah xx

  4. Nog nooit gehoord van een Kakapo! Tot nu…. Wat en bijzondere ervaring!
    Een kleine update:
    We hebben je ontmoet in Mnt Elisabeth in de Kimberlys. Daarna heeft onze oudste dochter Eveline, een half jaar gereisd door Australie, inmiddels studeert ze aan de Erasmus
    Uni in Rotterdam.
    De travel bug is opgepakt door onze jongste dochter Annemarie (inmiddels 19) die op dit moment door Australië reist. Over 10 dagen gaan wij haar opzoeken in Perth, en we kijken er erg naar uit.
    Groetjes van Gerdo en Wilma

  5. Hello Mirjam, I first picked up your site when doing some research on the Diemals area in West Australia. So you have met old Tony McPherson – he is quite an old time character and will talk till all hours of the night or day. I reckon he must have been vaccinated with a gramophone needle at one time or another. Actually he is same age as myself. I first came to his abode in 2002. Anyway enough of that.

    Being a keen cyclist myself I would like to ask “Just how do you manage to mount your fully loaded bicycle. Do you carry a fold up step ladder ?” I’m just plain curious.
    Take care.


    Brian Kings, Geraldton, W.Aust.

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