Written by Maggie Evans
Even though I didn’t actually know what I was in for, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I found out I was heading to predator-free Codfish Island/Whenua Hou to be a kākāpō supplementary feedout volunteer for the 2016 breeding season.
I met Freya and Jen—two of the kākāpō rangers—in Invercargill at 6am, and after they thoroughly quarantined my gear we packed into a fixed-wing plane and flew over Foveaux Strait to Whenua Hou, landing on the sandy beach of Sealers Bay. I smiled at the sight of penguin footprints crisscrossing all over the beach as I disembarked, excited to have finally arrived on Whenua Hou.
The first day, Freya trained me on the work and for the remainder of the fortnight I enjoyed a pretty magical life as a ‘feedout volly’. Every morning around 6am, I would climb out of my sleeping bag and head out to Sealers Bay to enjoy the sunrise and watch the yellow-eyed penguins waddle out to sea. Then I’d return to the hut around 8am to get ready for my feedout run, which I always looked forward to since it was my opportunity to explore the island and enjoy all its amazing landscapes, soundscapes and wildlife. I had never seen or heard so many kākāriki, kākā, tūi, korimako, miromiro, mōhua, snipe and teal. I relished my purposeful adventures along the trails amidst all the birdsong, embracing the physicality of it and enjoying the time to myself. And even though kākāpō are nocturnal and incredibly good at hiding from us, there was a hopeful part of me that anticipated a surprise encounter with one. It never happened, but hoping it would, made the adventuring just that much more exciting nonetheless.
I was usually pretty excited to arrive at a feeding station since it meant I could unload some of the weight I was hauling around. However, a few of the kākāpō were impressively messy eaters, and although I enjoyed getting to know the individual kākāpō better through their feeding styles, I wasn’t as excited about cleaning up after the messy ones. After dutifully cleaning and re-stocking all the feeding stations for the day, I would radio the rangers in hope of planning a rendezvous since they almost always let me join them on their afternoon kākāpō-catching missions. The kākāpō were being caught for health checks, which they tolerated but did not enjoy. One lovely female named Pearl was being given daily fluid injections to treat her high uric acid levels, and although the treatment worked, she was visibly unimpressed and even refused our apology macadamia nuts, unlike some of the others.
After a long day on and off the trails, dinner was a welcomed social event, and by 9pm we were yawning and ready for bed. At least the kākāpō crew would be…the Fiordland-crested penguin researchers would usually be gearing up for the start of their work day. As they set off, I’d climb into my bunk with the intention of reading a few pages of my book, but within minutes my eyes would refuse to stay open and I’d fall asleep listening to the sound of diving petrels and little blue penguins feeling absolutely content. I was in my happy place.