What it is like to live and work on Raoul Island/ Rangitahua

Living on Raoul Island

The following excerpt was sent to us from Ben a DOC worker on Raoul Island. He describes his work and experiences living on a volcanic Island. If you want to see more photographs from the Kermadec Islands pop up to the wonderlab.

I arrived on Raoul Island with my friend Di on the 5th of March 2015, so we have been on Raoul for 369 days at the time of writing. During this period we have shared the Island with 15 other ‘Raoul rangers’ and volunteers. Soon we will be returning back to mainland Aotearoa – our part in the guardianship of Raoul for DoC completed. Two more ‘full year’ rangers will be traveling up to take over from us, with more temporary Rangers arriving as well to complete a shorter term. There are always four ‘full year’ rangers on Raoul.
The majority of work that we undertake aims to safeguard the biodiversity of Raoul by restoring the endemic flora of the island. This involves us gridding through the bush in teams, literally combing it, to discover invasive weeds which we record and remove. ‘The bush’ is a catch-all term that we use to describe everything from sand dune forests, to sheer bluffs, to nikau dominated ‘cloud forests’, to aeons-old pohutukawa ‘cities’. There are several ‘nationally threatened’ plant species that are endemic to the Kermadecs, that we actively promote by collecting seed, raising seedlings, and dispersing these into promising homes in the nooks and crannies of Raoul.
We release a radiosonde attached to a hydrogen-filled balloon daily. This lighter-than-air balloon takes about an hour and a half to reach the middle of the stratosphere, 30km up, and the radiosonde sends data back to us about the air composition, temperature, humidity, and wind speed during the ascent. This data is used by MZ meteorologists to help predict the coming weather, including tropical systems that may be moving south towards mainland NZ and which may appear on the televised news forecasts. We contribute data to the CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation) by taking atmospheric samples of air that is blowing down to us from the tropics. This air is sent back to NZ and analysed to keep tabs on atmospheric radiation due to nuclear fallout around the globe.
We also take thermal hot water samples from within the caldera and around the coastline which are sent to GNS to help understand the volcano, and to monitor what it may be up to. We experience frequent earthquakes up here, and have had two fairly large shakes since we arrived, which were both very freaky. It pays not to forget that you live and work on an active volcano up here – even while writing this letter I have felt a small quake go through the office…
We love to get out and explore our island-home, taking in all the wildlife and beauty that makes Raoul Island so special. There are four huts spread out for us to visit, and we often go camping with a tent if we see a good spot. During this past year I have seen hundreds of humpback whales and dolphins, dozens of sea turtles (even swam with one), plenty of sharks and fish, as well as thousands upon thousands of seabirds. The first time I saw a humpback whale breaching was one of the best moments of my life, something I will never forget. It is impossible to describe the feeling that comes from sitting on a high bluff at sunset, watching the seabirds soar over a vast ocean full of jumping whales, then watching all the stars come up. At times like that this island is a true paradise for those lucky enough to live here. We have two boats that we take to the nearby Meyer Islands for weeding and snorkelling when the weather and our schedule permits.
That is all I can think of for the moment, but please do get in contact with any questions. All of us are thrilled for the public to be learning more about the northern-most point of our country.
Best regards,
Ben Blain

Elizabeth King