Our Hearts Beat For Kokako – Rotorua Trip with Chalkydigits
I arrive on the shores of the beautiful and peaceful Lake Rotoiti and meet up with Liz and Teresa from Chalkydigits. After a light lunch sitting in the sunshine and getting to know each other it was soon time for us to head off to Planet Bike
for some mountain biking through the redwoods.
Teresa (Chalkydigits), Dave (Planet Bike) and Liz (Chalkydigits)
Having never really mountain biked ever before it was with some trepidation I climbed aboard my trusty blue stead and practised the safety pose our guide Dave showed us. Luckily the first few tracks were easygoing and gentle and allowed me to gain some confidence before we hit the more challenging trails.
After a mighty slog up a very big hill (where I very nearly vomited but managed to hold onto that light lunch from earlier on, much to Dave’s disappointment, he’s slipping apparently - normally he has you spewing within fifteen minutes!) it was then a very fast, very bumpy, very fun ride back down.
Liz has some biking experience and so left us for dust while I kindly let Teresa know where all the very big bumps were as I shrieked and laughed my way down in front of her - flying through the air clinging onto my bike for dear life most of the time.
The redwoods have always seemed to me to be a very strange choice of tree to be planted in New Zealand but the forest is stunning and a track through a patch of dense pongas next to a clear babbling creek was a definite highlight, especially when Dave tried to cycle across a single log bridge and ended up dangling from a tree above the water, a very good save on his part (he’s going to be practicing that bridge crossing some more in the future).
Just resting our bikes ;)
A very steep ride down a high bank took me a few attempts, it seemed fine from the bottom but looked like a sheer deathly drop from the top. Liz showed us how it was done and advised me not to close my eyes like I really wanted to! I kept them open and apart from sitting so far back I nearly ended up on the rear wheel it was all good and well worth it. Mountain biking is definitely something I am keen to do a lot more of in the future.
Doing some downhill!
Following our active afternoon we had a relaxing glass of wine sitting next to the lake admiring the view, although we did have to move quickly when the helicopter parked on the grassy lawn needed to take off!
Dinner that evening was at a funky little organic café called The Okere Falls Store,
which was located down the road. The owner Sarah drove out to pick us up and dropped us back after we had called her to find out where they were – talk about special service! They had a band on that night and it was the first time, hopefully not the last, that I saw a man play his own beard and was totally blown away by a beatbox and saxophone jamming session.
An early start on Thursday morning and the main reason for the whole trip; Anne, one of the founders of the Kaharoa Kokako Trust
, arrived to collect us and drive us out to the bush to hear the dawn chorus and hopefully see some of the Kokako they have worked so hard to protect.
We meet two more trust members at the entrance to the forest (Margaret and Graeme) along with DOC representative Nicky and her partner. A murky trek through some windblown trails and we arrive on a ridge overlooking a gorge just as it starts to get light.
To everyone’s delight the Kokako were being very obliging and calling away across the gorge to each other. Margaret says the feeling she has when she listens to their haunting song comes close to the feeling of praying. There is definitely an element of having a deep spiritual connection to the world when you sit in the soft grey light of a new day and listen to the beautiful, haunting calls of the Kokako birds.
Listening to the Kokako dawn chorus
Kokako have different dialects depending what region they are from and the Kokako here are said to be particularly mournful sounding. Fifteen years ago they were very nearly wiped out and at the time the trust was founded to save them there were only 24 birds left – a very good reason for them to sound so sad. I imagine their calls getting more and more poignant as the replies back to each other got steadily less and less.
Now it reminds us of what a harmful impact we can have on the native birds, plants and animals that surround us. Thanks to dedicated volunteers like Anne and Margaret (who decided that if DOC did not have the resources and budget to save these birds then they would just go ahead and do it themselves) there are now over 180 breeding-age birds over this area (this count was done in 2006 and did not include chicks so the number today is thought to be much higher).
Kokako from here are now sent to other areas to help establish new populations of birds and the money raised by Chalkydigits and from everyone who supported them by buying the Kokako badges will contribute towards a nest egg fund that will help protect these amazing birds for at least another fifteen years.
Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get a glimpse of any of the Kokako but that was as many as they’d heard calling in all the years they’ve been caring for them and I felt very privileged to have been there to experience the magic of it. Back at the start of the track Liz presented the Kokako Trust with the $10 000 cheque that Chalkydigits has so far raised for them. It’s very nice to know that some companies out there aren’t all just about profit and bottom lines (although I’ve never been that sure what a bottom line is in the first place?). A very inspirational and moving morning all round.
A kayak on the lake later was then followed by a slightly more luxurious mode of aquatic transport as we went for a sail with Pure Cruise
on the Tiua, a fabulous catamaran sailing yacht that cruises around Lake Rotoiti. We had a relaxing soak in some boat-access-only hot pools, cooling down with a quick slide off the jetty into the cold lake and a fast swim back to the hot pools to warm up again.
Lucky Liz and Teresa had to do all the work!
After breakfast with Liz and Teresa we said our goodbyes as they were off to a bird of prey sanctuary called Wingspan for the morning and I was waiting for my husband and two little girls to arrive. We went off for a quick look at some bubbling mud and a quick trip to Rainbow Springs.
My 1yr old loved the birds, although the Kiwi, Kaka, Kea and even the sleepy Morepork were all ‘ducks’ to her. My 3yr old loved the big splash, a ride that combined excitement with history and had a little lesson in conservation at the end, the pictures of all the extinct birds of New Zealand a good reason to remember why doing something, even if it’s quite a small thing like buying a $20 badge (as opposed to something massive like, oh – say, starting your own trust from scratch!) is still an important and worthwhile thing to do. I do believe Chalkydigits still have some badges available too!
Thanks to Liz and Teresa and all at Chalkydigits for an amazing few days.
Kathryn Troughton (Winner of Chalkydigits “Our Hearts Beat For Kokako” trip to Rotorua)