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Raoul Island

On three trips to and from Raoul Island I have spent 3 weeks at sea. The wide ocean blue stretches, seabirds whirl, an amazing sense of remoteness, yet steady throbbing progress is made, plotted each day. I contemplate the horizon, trying to stave off the ever-present queasiness of seasickness. Forget alcohol – seasickness is the way to find the true colour of your bile.

 A week on a barge is a unique form of hell, with only a box of tomatoes and John Grisham thrillers to save sanity.  Two days on the frigate Canterbury (now sunk, what a shame!) are a thrill by comparison. Helicopters land, man-overboard drill, firing of the guns to splash on far horizons. Seasick sailors stagger with a bucket held around their neck by a rope, so they can continue their duty of polishing brass knobs regardless of quease.

 The Braveheart’s crew relate adventures as modern pirates, delivering water tanks and lawyers to remote Pitcairn Island, and National Geographers to Antarctica. Then there’s that memorable first trip, aboard the MV Toroa out of Port Tauranga. Ill never forget clinging to the cabin door seeming to stare vertically down into a wave trough as we staggered to Raoul.

 Arrival! Jagged promontory thrusts out of the warm ocean. Already the air is warm and humid. Several white buildings glow on bright green flat areas. Dark pohutukawa forest stretches up to mountainous interior. We pile into inflatables for the trip to the boat landing. (The navy flies us ashore by helicopter!)

 

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 There are the crew, stubbies and ragged t-shirts all round. Phil sports a long beard, Dave messy orange hair, Teenz’s blond ponytail; Drew a furry lower-lip objection I later find is called a “spondonacle”.  My second visit a huge mob – Arab the hunter with Sally the cat-dog, the vegan team of 5…. here for cat and rat eradication, and near-disastrous fox way cable replacement. The third time a great crew of Julia, Marion, Jono, Kevin, Chris and me for 6 months.

 Accommodation is the hostel, circa-1930; and a 5-room outside bunkroom tacked on. Inside plaques adorn the walls, with photos of the crews from each year since 1951. The faded pool table, scene of many a dance. Battered furniture, a mouldy VCR. Large kitchen, well equipped. A path leads to the flagpole lookout, a superb vista over Meyer Islands and beach.

 Inside an outbuilding, “Arkwrights”, a treasure of cans, dried stores…. all the food one could dream of. Giant walk in freezers, a surgery. Workshops and a generator shed where, of course, thousands of litres of diesel power our endeavour. Paid for by the Met-Service, in return for the daily release of Hydrogen-filled weather balloons from the Met-Station, 5 minutes walk away. A radio-sonde dangles beneath, relaying information back to Karen Olsen on TV 1.

 

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 Life soon settles into routine. Weeding is hard work but fun. I love scrambling through the bush and try hard to spot our most wanted: Brazilian buttercup, Black Passion fruit, Purple and Yellow Guava, Mysore thorn. My best finds are a monster purple guava, a giant yellow guava on a small island in blue lake, and a modest olive.

 Orange groves mingle with nikau forest behind the hostel. The old Met-service farm now serves as airstrip and site for airdrops from RNZAF Orions. A road winds toward Boat Cove, about 3 hours walk away. Most weeding takes place on the side of the island most inhabited, leaving the rest as unexplored wilderness.

 

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 Trips to Denham bay to destroy the evil Mysore thorn allow us to explore the wreck of the Kine Maru, a Japanese tuna long liner. Phil and I mindlessly smash the rusty hulk, exploring for treasure of brass or copper pipe. Steep cliffs drop to the flats below; massive dumpers pound the steep beach. Denham bay hut is a damp fug nestled in the bracken.

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Weekends allow exploration. The crater was endless fun for us, but is now impossible to enjoy after the volcano erupted just as a DOC team member was measuring temperature and lake levels. I think back to the times I spent soaking in the acidic waters of green lake, sleeping uncomfortably on the hot ground while fumaroles steamed and hissed, the long soaks in the smooth viscous hot mud bath, and the scary walk up fumarole studded gullies. It could easily have been me swallowed by that volcano!

 Fishing rock is the spot to snorkel. We burley up Giant Kermedec Spotted groupers, sharks and kingfish. Turtles pop up and we vie to spot the most exotic fish. Boat cove is more of an expedition, but offers the shipwreck “Sunshine” and the chance to find cowry shells. I find a glass buoy washed up, and dedicate incredible efforts to carrying buoys back to the hostel for our buoy garden.

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 Other hobbies include wood turning, swimming in our wonderful fresh water pool, boogie boarding, soaking in natural hot baths at low tide, making and drinking home brew beer (“Ross’s sporran twisting tit twiddling ale”), and exploring the musty Raoul library. Of course many an hour is spent relaxing on the hostel porch enjoying company and telling increasingly bawdy stories.

 I visit as many far flung corners of the island as I can. Hutchies Bluff, a steep drop. Mahoe Hut, high in the clouds. Sunshine Coast, with jagged boulders and pounding waves. The Meyer Islands covered in nesting seabirds. Grey ternlets float, Kermedec petrel chicks sit fat fluffy. I search for black coral and red-tailed tropicbird feathers. White capped noddies and Giant Boobies allow me to come close, and pukeko-like swamp hens strut on land. Unafraid of people, but forced into this corner by rats and cats.

  The isolation plays strange tricks. I feel myself becoming more reclusive, incommunicative, grumpy. I’m sorry especially to the girls I pestered. Yet the atmosphere and experience of sleeping the night on wild coastline, thousands of kilometres from land, while humpback whales wallow offshore and waves pound the rocks, is unforgettable.  Thanks to all of the people who helped me enjoy my time in paradise. I’m sorry for the times I was unbearable. Those times helped me to look a little bit deeper. I know that when I return to Raoul, I will be that much more relaxed and ready to enjoy the people and the place.

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