Possums and Vines – Te Taho Station

“A Mish a Day” #179 Te Taho Station. Whataroa. 24.7.2009. “Drive to Hororata, meet up with John Smith”, “…and remember to bring a claw hammer”. That was the instructions given to me as I continued my winter job battling with the introduced pests that have decimated our native bird population here in Aotearoa…

During the winter months of 2009 I got a winter job working for a pest eradication scientist named Ray – a battle-hardened soldier on the front-line fighting the fight for the people to bring our birds back. Our work was mainly on developing species-specific baits (poisons), and I had joined the possum eradication program, located in Whataroa, on the sunny West Coast. I was going to be shown the ropes by a fella named John Smith, who had worked with Ray before. We met up in Hororata and together we started the drive over Arthurs Pass to the West Coast. I still didn’t really know what I was doing as a job, but I was excited and ready for anything. And now I was committed to the mission that would eventually take us into the lush rain forests of Whataroa. The sun was setting by the time we rolled through Hokatika where we stopped for some excellent fish & chips. Then, after making our way over the zigzags of Mt Hercules, we arrived at Te Taho Station. Our base was a very old camper located just beyond the forest edge at the end of a farm track up Dry Creek (Little Man Creek). After following the old track to a small clearing we finally found the camper, and in the darkness we unloaded our gear, and settled into our home-base for the next eight days.

The Whataroa River from the edge of Te Taho Station

An early-ish start the next day was greeted with a thick layer of frost on the INSIDE of all of the windows of the camper and on my sleeping bag. The sight of my breath thick in the cold morning air kept me in my sleeping bag for a few extra minutes before finally getting up. I began the day with a crash course in the art of ‘possuming’, and was about to find out the reason I was told to bring a hammer. For the next couple of days we set up trap-lines in the jungle-like forest along the farm’s perimeter fences, and then would return to the ice box camper at night. The point of our work was recording animal numbers before and after the dispersal of the bait. Our trap-lines were in some of the most dense concentrations of New Zealand’s nastiest forest plants, including the legendary rope-like Sapplejack. I was told to “work with the forest, not against it” by John Smith, and this advice would be crucial for navigating the tangles of unbreakable Sapplejack vine when setting traps. We recorded our numbers, and with a few less Brushtail Possums in the Whataroa forests, and a couple bags of fur, we headed back to Christchurch. After leaving, the area was hit with an aerial drop of bait and the stage was set. We came back a couple of weeks later to repeat the process to see the effectiveness of the baits, and after two separate weeks of jungle bashing the results were: inconclusive!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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