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Ropeable weather and Rhamnus control

On Wednesday the 20th of October, an Auckland Council-funded weeding trip to Ōtata Island was undertaken to control Rhamnus (Evergreen Buckthorn) on the north-facing cliffs. Due to the location of these weeds, it was necessary to send out a ropes team to access these dangerous areas. The team consisted of Gavin and Ben Carr (Extreme Height Ltd), Richard Margesson (Free the Tree Ltd), Jessie Dean (my partner), and myself Kyle Darwin (The Noises Trust). The following is my rambling recounting of that trip.

At 8 am Wednesday morning Jessie, Richard, and I met Steve from Auckland Sea Shuttles at Matiatia wharf. We loaded up and cruised over to pick up brothers Gavin and Ben from Rakino, along with their mountainous pile of gear. The pride of this colossal collection being a large blue crate weighing somewhere in the range of a baby hippo. Luckily, the weather was cooperative and the main beach calm, allowing for a relatively painless unloading process, not counting the slip and slide clay staircase up to the track.

As no one had been out to Ōtata Island since the end of July, the bach resembled something from a B- rated horror film. Shed gecko skins decorated the walls and floor with liberal scatterings of Wētāpunga excrement throughout. Luckily, Jessie being the legend she is had offered to come out to play camp mum, and promptly had the bach cleared of the offending deposits.

At this stage, the rest of us had begun the somewhat entertaining process of preparing for work.

To give this a bit of context I will note that a solid three months had passed since Richard and I had completed our ropes course, and due to our old friend Covid-19 we hadn’t donned any of the gear since. Unsurprisingly there was a fair bit of head-scratching from the two of us as we assembled our kit under the patiently amused supervision of the Carr brothers.

Once we had the safety briefing done and gear on our back, we began the trudge up to the cliff track to begin the day’s work. I say trudge because it is the only way to fairly describe the process of lugging harness and ropes up a steep slope with less than adequate caffeine levels. Rope access gear is surprisingly heavy. Luckily once we had it up there it didn’t need to come back down until the job was completed.

Abseiling to clear weeds on the northern cliff of Ōtata Island. Photo by Kyle Darwin.

We had a successful time of it. With four of us dropping down the cliffs at a time we were able to cover 25-40 m per run and managed to find all marked points that had been flagged by Auckland Council back in August. As well as cutting and pasting the Rhamnus we found we were also able to remove a fair bit of Boxthorn from the cracks and crevices of the cliffs. For those of you who don’t know it, Boxthorn is a hellish poisonous shrub with long hard spines that will grow almost any place it can get its feet down. It makes for an uncomfortable surprise when backing rump first down the slope.

The experience however was incredible. Hanging off the edge of a cliff, watching the waves crashing on the rocks below was exhilarating. Huge grins all around. Although there was the odd moment where I wished I had worn my brown pants.

Jessie, busy while we were on the ropes, cleared the tracks around the bach, unpacked and organised the camp, planted the gardens, got firewood, and started the water boiling for evening washing up. The list goes on, thanks Jess.

With the wind howling in from the East and getting stronger by the day, we cut the trip a bit short, leaving Friday morning rather than evening as planned. Finishing our adventure with a rollercoaster of a boat ride back to Matiatia.

A huge shout out to Auckland Council for funding and making this trip happen, to Steve for getting us there and back safely and to Gavin, Ben and Richard for the manpower and knowhow. It’s great to work with a team that are enthusiastic about conservation. And of course, Jessie without whose efforts we would have been living like cavemen.

You can read more about Rhamnus and Boxtorn on the Weedbusters website.

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