As Aidan and I head towards Nelson Lakes National Park, Jen (a DOC worker) points out the scorched hills where massive fires have raged for weeks. Although I am lapping up the beautiful sunny weather here, the land is in desperate need of some rain. We arrive in St Arnaud’s to meet the DOC team that we will be living with and working alongside for the next three weeks. Everyone is very welcoming and the house we have been allocated is 3 minutes from Lake Rotoiti and about 30 seconds from the DOC office. Aidan and I drop off our gear and a truck load of groceries (hopefully we brought enough for two weeks) and head straight down to the lake to dive off the wharf into the refreshing, clear water. Massive eels lurking around in the shallows is not enough to put me off having a good long swim in this lake. We flipped off the wharf and watched the sun go down over the forested hills that surround us. I breathe in the fresh air and swat a few sand flies off my leg and smile. I think I am going to enjoy my time here.
Emma (a DOC ranger) and I throw on our daypacks early the next morning and begin walking into the forest. We soon cut off the path and start following the blue tracking markers that meander before us into the depths of the beech forest. Today we are checking and resetting 68 possum and stoat traps. The possum traps hang on the trees and are baited with an aniseed flavoured food while the stoat traps use dried rabbit meat. To rebait and reset the traps takes a large amount of strength and concentration, and I am very careful to make sure that my hand doesn’t accidently get caught in one (yikes).
The morning is already warm and after slogging uphill over fallen trees and through thick brambles, I realize that it’s going to take just about all I have to keep up with Emma who sets a blazing pace. The work is hard, and we move quickly through rough terrain that Emma navigates nimbly, while I crash behind her twisting my ankle with every second step. Despite the sweat dripping down my face and my breath coming in heaves, I’m having the time of my life. Emma quite accurately describes the landscape around us as ‘a fairyland.’ Piwakawaka (fantails) flit around our heads puffing their chests and flashing their tails at us as we walk by. I also see many fluffy miro miro (tomtits) that cock their heads in interest. Korimako (bellbird) song chorus’s all around us and a kaka flies overhead, calling loudly. The beauty of the landscape and the birdlife around us puts it all into context to me why we are here doing this work. The hard work being done by DOC in Nelson Lakes National Park is giving these bird species a fighting chance to survive, and I am honoured to be contributing to even just a small part of this effort.
BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2018