Kiwis for Kiwi


Whilst playing tourist in the south island, I had a really cool opportunity to volunteer with the Department of Conservation (DOC) on a project called Kiwis for Kiwi. Julia and Josh (a couple I met in Zion) are friends with one of the DOC project coordinators and suggested Kylie and I volunteer if the opportunity was still available. Luckily, it was and the dates worked out perfectly.

Like many native birds to NZ, kiwi have no natural predators and thus no real instinct to fight off the bad guys when said despots have initiated a hostile takeover. They also can't fly. The Kiwis for Kiwi project addresses the resulting population decline by placing baby kiwi on predator free islands until they are big enough to fend off predators. Then they are collected and integrated back into the main island areas.

In Picton, Kylie and I met up with the DOC crew from the Franz Josef office. Iain and Tracey were the organizers extraordinaire. Iain's dog, Rein, also joined. While some dogs are professionals at eating shoes and urinating on couches, Rein is specially trained to sniff out Kiwi. Like those dogs who hunt cocaine in car trunks or like me hunting for M&Ms in a bag of trail mix. We also worked with Sam, the adorable baby intern as well as Stacey, who had just started a contract job with the office. Other volunteers were John (our resident encyclopedia of fascinating facts), Inga (John's wife and the vet who assessed the birds), and Cynthia (another volunteer who is friends with Josh and Julia).

We spent the first day quarantining our belongings and then traveling to the island, Motuara. The boat to the island was actually a tour boat so between our coming and going, we had a full-on tour! We saw a bunch of cool birds, seals, and dolphins. The dolphins swam RIGHT up to the boat and were jumping alongside.

Motuara island itself is super small, which is nice if you have a tendency to get lost easily and have a poor sense of direction. Kylie and I didn't want to quarantine two tents so we shared her small two-person tent. Let me tell you, those two person tents are small with two people when you've been used to having it all to yourself! Luckily our tent site was correspondingly tiny with a slope that would make pro spooners out of the most reluctant of tent-mates. Because we could also only access the tent door on one side, I decided not to drink anything after 4:30. I was NOT going to get out of that tent to pee.  I'm certain neither of us would have escaped such a venture unscathed.

The following day we split up into groups. Iain, Tracey, and John used these crazy antenna radios (and Rein) to pick up the tracker signals and locate all of the Kiwi on the island. Kylie, Cynthia, Sam, Stacey, and I acted as runners to return the birds back to home base where Inga would take their specs and put them the cargo crates.

This island basically has one main track that's actually clear and easy to follow. The kiwi couldn't make it too easy for us so we were relegated to search through obscure side tracks and straight up bush. Also, because New Zealand, it had recently rained and the trails were sooo muddy and slick. That did not stop Tracey from leaping around like Katniss with her long braid and antenna, nor did it stop Iain and the other DOC workers from moving through the forest like those giant tree things on LOTR. Meanwhile, I, annoying-as-hell Jar-Jar Binks, found myself fumbling and slipping all over the place and moving soooo slow. I also at one point became temporarily disoriented...aka lost...which I was worried would happen since I inherited the directional sense of Dory the fish.

John said if anyone got lost, just head straight up the mountain since a main track follows the ridgeline. Well, I couldn't believe I actually got lost. I was so embarrassed and felt so stupid. I was of course practicing a lot of self compassion and calmly observing my state with interest instead of judgement. NOT! I totally felt like that girl-- like I was the incompetent chubster they got stuck with who now is lost, can’t keep up, and doesn’t pull her weight metaphorically or physically. I felt weak and inadequate. And I didn’t like feeling that way and I knew I was FULLY engaged in stirring this pot of self-pity and self-recrimination. So then I was mad I was ruining this awesome kiwi experience with my piss-poor attitude and playlist of most hated internal tracks!

Given my recent stint at the meditation plantation, I tried to practice accepting my current emotional state and giving myself permission to feel what I was feeling. It’s ok to not be loving every moment of something that isn’t turning out how you expected, right? I didn't realize all of this insecurity would blossom so prolifically. I struggle with my insecurity and comparing myself to others and hate how petty I feel when that happens. I HATE my own pettiness! I also hate that feeling when you know your attitude is more off-putting than the thing you're actually insecure about. I was being that person!!! But I just kept thinking “Hike your own hike, Tiffany. You don’t have to be anything else but what you are now. Stop comparing. Hike your own hike." I also told myself to shut the eff up a few times too but it's a practice, ok?  Deep down I know these waves of insecurity and emotion ebb and things eventually get better.

It did get better. I thrashed up to the top with all of that furious, angry energy and found my way back to the ridgeline and the rest of the group. Definitely pretended that didn't happen. The sun came out. The mud started drying up a bit. I scrambled through the bush with the others and started keeping up more. I had no serious injuries. I successfully navigated several kiwi via pillowcase transport back to home base. I did not fall on them OR drop them despite ample opportunity to do so. And I was shat upon thoroughly by the birds and not everyone can claim that!

By the end of the excursion, the birds had all been collected and safely transported off Motuara. I was sad I didn't get to spend more time with everyone since I felt I was just getting to know people. We had a fun boat ride back to Picton and a final hoorah dinner. Despite myself and the series of unfortunate emotionality, I am so so grateful I had the chance to volunteer with such a neat project and meet such a fantastic group of people. Heart me some kiwi and some Kiwis:)