Having had such a good time in Northland it was time to venture back down south towards the Coromandel. But before that we ventured off into the Whangaporaoa Peninsula which sticks out, like a bit of a sore thumb, into the Hauraki Gulf.
It's a bit of a commuter belt for Auckland so doesn't have a lot of charm. However, right at the end of the peninsula we had booked an excellent B&B run by Janice and Peter, who, it turns out, used to work in the NZ Inland Revenue. So we immediately had something in common, if only something we would prefer to forget!
Our reason for being here was to visit the offshore island of Tiritiri Matangi. 80+ million years ago New Zealand split away from the super continent of Gondwana and has been on its own ever since. As a result it developed a unique flora and fauna, some of which persists to this day. Unfortunately, the coming of man, first the Maori and later Westeners, has had a devastating effect because each introduced pests and predators against which the native flora and fauna have no defences.
Today, strenuous efforts are being made to protect native wildlife and plantlife by creating sanctuaries such as Tiritiri Matangi. Access to the island is by a ferry which comes out of Auckland and drops into Whangaparaoa. Tiritiri is not only a wildlife sanctuary but also an educational resource so it was no surprise that the ferry was full of teenagers behaving as teens do. I think we both wondered what we were going to get out of this experience with the noise from 50 or so secondary pupils let loose for the day!
Tiritiri is mostly staffed by a wonderful group of volunteer supporters with a few full time conservation employees. The school groups were assigned to a few of the volunteers and we teamed up with Fay and Jules, both vets. Jules came from Yorkshire but emigrated 17 years ago and just found the Kiwi lifestyle to his liking. We know why!
Our guide was a young volunteer, Mikey, who in his regular job was a landscape designer. As keen as mustard he led us off on a track looking for the normally elusive North Island Kokato. These birds are more or less flightless - they glide from tree to tree but their wings are too weak to carry them upwards. As a result they have been devastated by introduced predators, such as rats. Mikey explained that more often than not you only heard their mournful cry as the birds are a bit elusive. With that three showed up in the tree above our heads and we were able to get excellent views and even note down the ring markings.
We spent the next few hours happily wandering the tracks seeing Bellbird, Takahe, Parakeet, Whitehead, Stitchbird, North Island Saddleback, Tui and a great sighting of a Morepork - an owl with a call which is supposed to sound like 'more-pork' though I think that's a bit fanciful myself. We also saw the Kereru or New Zealand Pigeon which may not sound very exciting but Mikey explained how important this vulnerable bird is. It's a very large pigeon and as such has a large gape (mouth to you or I). Because of this it is the only disperser of large fruits from some of the native trees (at least 10 according to Mikey) and if the pigeon was to disappear so too would the trees. It's a fragile world out there..
Tiritiri proved to be a sort of magical place for us. Fantastic regenerating forest and bush, and a thriving avifauna. In fact, so succesful has it been that birds are now taken from the island to repopulate other areas of NZ. And all within a 45 minute ferry ride of Auckland. Sometimes conservation can work and it was great to see it at first hand.