It sits out there in the harbour, humming quietly to itself, waiting for the visitors.
I surmise that a vast majority of Wellingtonians have never been there. There are no shops, no entertainments, nothing but some hills, some bush, some tracks and some birds. Oh, and some wonderful views. Mary and I took the East by West ferry from Queens Wharf to Matiu/Somes Island yesterday. The trip itself was a pleasant beginning since the day started out fine and relatively calm. Rowing crews were out in their racing shells being barked at by the coach in an outboard powered boat. A few yachts were making good progress. As we neared the Southern end of the island, traffic in the harbour suddenly became quite busy.
The tugs Toia and Tiaki were out there waiting to take the lines from an inbound container vessel. The pilot-boat Tarakena was making rapid if somewhat bouncy progress across the wave tops having delivered the pilot to the “E R Brisbane”, a Liberian registered 2,517 TEU container ship of 30,280 registered tonnes. Grim thoughts of the ill-fated and now almost dismantled Rena which wrecked on Astrolabe reef near Tauranga came to mind.
Suddenly the turning point seemed quite congested as the Interisland ferry Arahura came charging up the channel much faster than the larger ship, turning inside her course, presumably in consultation with the pilot. Both vessels started to swing and I found myself staring straight at the bow wave of the oncoming Arahura. She had, as they say in nautical circles a nice “bone in her teeth”. Fortunately she was more distant than she looks here.
On landing, all visitors to the island receive a mandatory lecture from the DoC Rangers on the island’s biosecurity measures, together with a close inspection of all bags to ensure that no unwanted pests find their way ashore. After a climb from wharf to the path that circumnavigates the island, we watched the Black-backed gulls (Larus dominicanus) which are the dominant form of bird life on the island, wheeling and soaring in the drafts above. Hundreds of them were on the nest, since it is the season for it. In fact this is their major nesting place in the region.
At the South end of the island, we paused and I took a series of seventeen photographs which I stitched together with the aid of Photoshop, to create this panorama encompassing about 180 degrees of the view to the South through the heads.
After a visit to the old lichen covered gun-emplacements on the island’s summit, we resumed our circuit, moving to the Eastern side of the island. Here with heavier bush cover, the birdlife was more diverse, and we saw parakeets, and heard the unmistakable grey warbler.
I am not particularly expert at bird identification, but this next little fellow had a beautiful song and I think (and hope) that it is an Australasian pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae). He hopped along the path in a way that made me suspect we were too close to a nearby nest. Next we encountered one of New Zealand’s most beloved natives, the fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa), flitting around and enjoying the feat of sandflies that were stirred up as we passed. At one stage this bird almost flew down the barrel of my lens … just inches away. They are a very mobile bird, and it is hard to catch them in the air, so here it is, a tiny little ball of fluff with a splendid set of tail feathers. Sadly this image didn’t catch the fan fully spread. Never mind.
Down at the wharf once more, we enjoyed our lunch at a nearby picnic table, in a spot sheltered from the rising wind before returning to the city.
If you are in Wellington, and haven’t been to Matiu Somes Island, then take advantage of the easy access afforded by the ferry and enjoy a very special place.