I will be back here to volunteer again
The last day brings with it torrential rain. Almost everyone is on dinghy duty as we finish the last coastal traps. I am soaked within ten minutes, but the waterfalls are astounding. Again, the sea life is on display and penguins are all over the rocks we are trapping.
The others have shot over to Breaksea Island to reset traps there, while Sandy and Gadget have been dropped off there to do some sniffing around. Pete and some others are removing some higgledy piggledy trap lines that were installed following a rat incursion in 2016 and tidying up the area around Disappointment Cove. We are done by late morning and reorganised into afternoon groups – some new A24s need to be put in and some maintenance is needed around the cove. I remain on the boat with Keith and Sandy and help clean up all the gear which is pretty filthy and smelly by now. Then we take the Southern Winds up the coastline in search of a gorse bush which was spotted on a beach on the previous trip. We are unsuccessful, and return late afternoon to pick everyone up. With Hamish to direct us, we manage to locate the gorse bush and miraculously someone else has already spotted it and dealt to it with some spray, no wonder we couldn’t see it’s yellow flowers! We have a final seafood feast, enjoy our last night surrounded by the Gilbert Islands, and fall asleep to Southern Fiordland Tokoeka calling.
The dawn chorus on our last morning in the sound is deafening. I’ll definitely miss it. Up early to make the trip home, we say goodbye to Dusky Sound as the sky turns pink in the morning light and make our way up the coast. It’s a calm day so we are able to sit on the top deck for the trip home. A few humpbacks leap out of the water only 10 metres from the boat while I unsuspectingly sit there drinking tea. I’m the only one to see them! The boat stops and the others race out onto the back deck to take some photos. We see the whales breech the surface a few more times on their journey south. Again, albatross soar above and as we enter Doubtful Sound two hours later, the smell of bacon and eggs lures me below deck. By now, the sky is bright blue and Doubtful’s mountains tower over us. The cruise ships are beginning to arrive and it’s our first sign we are back in civilisation. We pack up our bags and the last of the gear and enjoy tea on the top deck in the bright sunshine as we cruise back to Deep Cove. The return over Wilmot Pass is even more beautiful in sunshine, and more snow has fallen since we last came through. Similarly the journey across Lake Manapouri is completely different in reverse, and the good weather has everyone in high spirits. We finally arrive back in Te Anau after a full day of travelling and everyone is tired. I am feeling sad to part ways with this group of people I have come to know so well in the short week we have had together.
I spend the evening in Te Anau, and shuttle back to Queenstown and on to Auckland the next morning. I have plenty of time to reflect, and I find it hard to grasp the reality of the whirlwind trip. I have tried my best to describe the beauty of the Dusky Sound and Fiordland region, and the abundant wildlife it homes. But the real lasting impact has been the eye opener to conservation in action. The work DOC is doing is so overlooked and underappreciated. I am gobsmacked that 15 people have been required for seven full days of work to service traps on one island in Fiordland and the surrounding area. I had not fully comprehended the scale of these operations and their manual nature before this trip. Rangers like Pete invest so much time into the organisation and constant monitoring of these projects. The trip gave me a new respect for the dedicated DOC staff who go out and do this manual work in all weathers, all over the country, to protect our biodiversity. The astounding knowledge of the DOC staff about flora and fauna and their conservation projects meant I have come away with so much more knowledge. The resonating consequence is knowing I will be back here to volunteer again, and elsewhere. I can only urge you all to do the same, the experience will be life changing, I promise you.