Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ata Whenua, Land of shadows...and earthquakes?!

Hello Everyone! This week I had the opportunity to do some travel down to the South Island and work in the Te Anau Area Office. The Te Anau office looks after Fiordland National Park or as the Maoris' call it Ata Whenua (Shadow Land).

Monday I got a tour of the office and was introduced to everyone. Afterwards I went over to the wildlife sanctuary just through the woods from the office. There my boss showed me some of New Zealand's native bird species including the Takahë (there are only 220 of these left) and the Kakapo, (only 123 of these birds remain) a flightless parrot. In fact many of New Zealand's birds are flightless due to the fact that the only native mammals here are two species of bats and many birds lost the use of their wings due to the lack of predators. This all changed however when Europeans introduced the rabbit because of the lack of mammals in the country. When the rabbits began to overpopulate and destroy the natural vegetation stoats and weasels were introduced...this was a BIG mistake. They did kill of some of the rabbits but they also had a thirst for New Zealand's birds. It has been a huge chore ever since to rid the country of these pests. I also learned about all the Stoat trapping programs that have been put in place by DOC throughout the country. It was really amazing to be able to see some of these birds up close and personal.On Tuesday I had the opportunity to work with two other Department of Conservation employees at a local school teaching elementary school kids about marine reserves. This involved me dressing up in a diver's suit and one of the Department of Conservation rangers dressing up as "Rocky" the Rock Lobster. The kids absolutely loved the program and it was so cool to be able to excite these kids about the marine reserves right in their backyard.

Wednesday was probably the most exciting day I have had since I have been in New Zealand! I got to spend some time working in Milford Sound, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world! I investigated the probability of attaching a kayak landing to the Piopiotahi Marine Reserve/ Milford Sound underwater observatory. It turns out that the marine reserve I had been teaching the kids about the day before was the one I ended up visiting. The reason we had to check out the area was because to operate any kind of commercial activity on conservation managed lands you need a concession (a permit). The kayak landing would be on top of a marine reserve and in Fiordland National Park it must get approved by the Department of Conservation first. After checking out where the floating dock would be and talking with the employees of the Observatory & Reserve, it looks like the concession will be approved. We then hopped back onto the boat and headed towards land.The real excitement however happened that night. I was in my room around 9:30 pm at night when I thought I heard what sounded like a car crashing through the building. All of a sudden the entire room began to shake back and forth violently, like being out on a ship in stormy seas. Well, it doesn't take a genius to guess that an earthquake had just occurred. The next day I found out it was 7.8 on the Richter Scale! It was the biggest earthquake New Zealand has had in over 70 years. The earthquake was reported to be a wave type and not a sudden drop in the earths plates. The epi-center was reported to be 60 km south of where I was located. Scientists believe that the nearby glaciers buffered the shock wave. Thankfully no one was hurt and minimal damaged occurred. It was definitely one of those unique travel stories!

With the area was so indescribably beautiful, I have taken over 150 pictures. I loved that I was able to gain work experience and do a bit of sightseeing at the same time! This was definitely an experience I will never forget!

Thursday was my last day down south and I spent the majority of the day in the Department of Conservation Visitors Centre. The interpretation used in the Centre along with the knowledge of the staff made this one of the best Visitor Centres I have ever visited. I learned a lot about visitor safety. From avalanches to flooding and just being downright prepared, the staff has a very important duty to advise travelers how to best be prepared when hiking in these remarkable areas.That is all I have for you now! I can't wait to see what my last two weeks have in store!


Nicole Collins said...

Great Pictures Erin. So glad to hear you're safe.

Caron Peters said...

Sounds like perfect work for you, some teaching, the kayak dock project, all ther marine life. Is that land GORGEOUS enough? Love the pics! stay well, caron and all