The Marlborough Sounds is a big backyard. And they are home to some of the world's rarest species. As part of the Summer Sizzler series ANNA WALLIS heads to where they are being kept safe.
Maud Island is owned by you and me.
Sitting in the outer Pelorus Sound it is another example of how the early settlers attempted to farm everything in sight.
And having exhausted farming, the island was bought by the New Zealand public through a Forest & Bird-sponsored appeal for funds.
They still keep a few sheep to keep the grass down. The takahe on the island need conditions similar to their tussock homeland, hence the flock.
Today there are no takahe; they are tucked up nesting somewhere. There actually is no wildlife, apart from some energetic tui. Well, of course, there is, but they have not come out to greet us. Maud, proper name Te Hoiere, is a wildlife reserve. Its isolation is guarded stringently, but occasionally at this time of year the public can come aboard.
It's a grey old day with intermittent rain and gales. The trip to the island on the MV Toroa, run by Pelorus Tours' Gary Orchard, is smooth most of the way from Havelock, but kids on the trip love it when water comes over over the bow.
The Department of Conservation's Mike Aviss helps out with some commentary on the trip, which takes a few hours.
We stop at Waimaru's gannet colony that has sprung up in the last 20 years or so. We are told they dive at 125kmh an hour after spotting a fish, close their eyes and do a final tuck of their wings before slicing the water. The fish is gobbled up before they surface.
They come here just to breed and there are a few downey chicks in a nest made of twigs and coloured rope.
On the island, everything is brought to the group in plastic boxes. The DOC family who live on Maud rounded up the critters last night. Most of the exhibits are nocturnal.
The star of the show are the giant weta, giants of the insect world. They look like one of the nasties from the Alien movies, overlapping plates on their bodies, long things to probe with and hairy things to cling on with.
Ten-year-old Cameron Hoult, who's become a kind of trip mascot in a short time, is the first to handle the weta. They are harmless and while slow at first, warm up quickly and try to skittle away as people pass them from one hand to the other.
There are slugs and stick insects, shells of the giant snail powelliphanta, gecko and skink.
It is comforting to know they live a predator-free life on the island, given the way New Zealand birds, insects and reptiles are massacred elsewhere by stoats, ferrets and rats.
After examining the natives, we take a short walk along the edge of the island to an old World War II gun emplacement. Built to watch over the Sounds for Japanese trying to infiltrate the area, it serves its purpose well with a long view up towards the Chetwodes and out to the Tasman Sea.
It is built staunch, with tonnes of concrete. Legend has it, according to one of the DOC rangers, that three test shots were fired from the position.
The third and longest, managed to find an island several kilometres away and set the grass on fire.
Soldiers had to up sticks and fight the scrub fire for a few days. It may have been their only battle of the war.
After the tour of the gun mount we troop back to the boat.
It's been a long day but a good day.
For those who have not ventured out into the Sounds, the trip up the Pelorus is a good enough reason to go.
Top that with the beauty and purpose of Maud, and the enthusiasm of the DOC rangers who care for it, it's a rich exploration.
There are further trips available this month. To book ring Gary and Ellen Orchard, 5734203, 0274345488 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Marlborough Express