Our extended working trip to Rarotoka on Waitangi Day began early at Te Takutai o Te Tītī Marae in Colac Bay. The six participants (Sandra Cook, Cathy Onellion, Christopher Brankin, Joan Fluerty and David and Carol Clapp), had to have everything prepared for a 9am flight to the island.

While it was a short trip with a small group, a trailer load of roofing and building supplies was being lifted over with us and securing that to be helicopter safely was a priority. However the problem was solved when pilot ‘Hannibal’ Hayes decided the easiest method would be to lift the load, trailer and all. That gave us the opportunity to get good photographs of a trailer soaring over the bay.

Once the team had landed on the island, the settling-in process happened quickly and everyone set to work. All the team members had visited Rarotoka before, some as recently as Boxing Day, so pet projects were revisited

and continued, and a few new jobs were started. David put his handyman skills to work replacing the Lazerlite and iron roof above the entranceway to house one and hopefully now, it will be years before any more leaks appear.

Carol continued her pruning and beautification of the harakeke planting on the main track and then did significant time behind a weed whacker, clearing areas the mower cannot reach. She also helped Cathy trim the long grass from pathways and from around our young native plantings to prevent them being smothered.
This is a constant battle on the island but once plants become established and rise above the grass and weeds, they are strong enough to grow well.

Joan found that the weather conditions were perfect to indulge her inner firebug and several piles of accumulated branches and other rubbish were burnt. It was also a chance to clear out the woodshed and to remove a redundant brace, which has caused more than its fair share of bruised foreheads over the years.

Work was also done mowing and maintaining the tracks that go about the island. These tracks help volunteers move around the island with greater ease and given that it took a lot of effort to originally cut the tracks through gorse and bracken, it would be a real shame to lose them. The tracks also prove a useful starting point for clearing areas of gorse and bracken in preparation for replanting in native species.

The process for fighting back the gorse has become far faster since the arrival of ‘John’ the John Deere tractor. The front-end loader can be used to push gorse bushes back, saving the physical strain of cutting each bush down and shifting it; and areas that would have traditionally taken days to clear, can now be cleared in hours. Widening the tracks is also necessary to allow the new John Deere Gator ATV to safely navigate the island, although it is more than capable off-road. The Gator is great for carrying heavy and awkward equipment as well as the occasional tired set of legs.

As the trip progressed, a plan was hatched to make the most of the trailer while it was on the island. All three of the houses have had their roofs replaced and the iron from the last one to be done was tied in bundles to be taken back to the mainland. Once again ‘John’ showed his worth, as the loader was used to lift the bundles of iron onto the trailer. This saved us the laborious task of transferring it all, sheet by sheet. We were unsure of the weight and whether the helicopter would lift the load back but estimated it would be fine.

All too soon it was time to go home. We were lined up for a 9.30am pick-up, meaning the traditional final day cooked breakfast and pack-up needed to be done quickly.

Flying off the island gave us a chance to see the progress that has been made but it’s always with a touch of regret that we leave such a special place. After pilot Hayes had deposited his human cargo back at Te Takutai o Te Tītī Marae, he returned to the island for the trailer. We waited nervously for him to return. He eventually appeared over the hill and it seemed the load was right at the limit.

The team said their fond farewells and went home with more great memories and experiences from a truly unique and amazing place. Many thanks to Donna Flavell, my manager at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, for giving me the time to get down to the home marae and I would strongly suggest anyone who has an interest in participating on a volunteer trip to Rarotoka to express that interest to Ōraka Aparima Rūnaka and get involved. Nā Chris Brankin.

Joan Fluerty (left) and Chris Brankin hard at work.

Joan Fluerty (left) and Chris Brankin hard at work.

The trailer and its load being airlifted onto the island.

The trailer and its load being airlifted onto the island.