Meet Pai and Piri, These two hard-working members of the New Zealand Department of Conservation met us aboard after we anchored about 50 yards offshore this morning of Motutapu, an island in the Hauraki Gulf. Along with their human handlers, the pups thoroughly inspected all quarters across Hikianalia and then Hokule’a for rats and other pets that would be invasive to this pristine place.
So you can guess what happened next: The crews of both wa’a pointing back at each other and yelling, “He’s the rat! The rat’s over there!” Etcetera, etcetera. When the conservation agents and their humans finally hitched a ride back on our inflatable raft, Hokule’a crew member Stanley Conrad went with them.
Cue the inevitable “they got their man!” jokes from the deck of Hikianalia…
The canoe’s crews actually enjoyed having the pups aboard — and appreciated the thorough job they’re doing here to protect the islands. According to the locals, Motutapu was once an significant Maori settlement, then it fell into European ownership and became a large farming and tourist area, where ferries would bring thousands of visitors over for the day for picnics and hunting.
Starting in the 1990s, an effort launched to eradicate the thousands of rats, possums, wallabies, feral cats and other invasive species threatening local seabirds and other native populations. In 1994 they started replanting much of the island’s lost forest land, too.
Today, farming still exists on the island but much of it is managed through a public-private partnership with New Zealand’s Conservation Department and the Motutapu Restoration Trust.
Conservation officials look to New Zealand’s smaller islands off the mainland as critical sanctuaries for the country’s native wildlife, community partnership coordinator Chris Charles told me. He showed me a group of New Zealand dotterel birds and chicks running around the shore — a species that’s threatened and highly vulnerable because it nests in the open on the beach, he told me.
This nation in general seems strongly conservation-minded. Even when you land at the airport, the spray the plane’s cabin with a special aerosol to combat invasive materials before you even deplane.
In the coming days, we’ll be meeting up with fellow voyagers in their canoes from all over the Pacific, looking to see Hokule’a off before she leaves the Pacific for the first time. Should be a crazy finish to a full month here in Aotearoa.