Paul Ford is Trade Me’s community guy and he recently took part in an amazing project inspired by donations from the Trade Me community, and dubbed Project Nightfall. It involves a flock of great New Zealanders, a road trip, and a spritely young bird called Kevin.
6:30am: The irony of having my plane trip cancelled en route to a flightless bird initiative is not lost on me. I’m going to be late to Rotorua but that’s OK.
10am: We’ve touched down in Rotovegas. I change into my newly embroidered ‘Kiwi Courier’ gear and grab a taxi to Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs. My taxi driver isn’t interested in my kiwi chat, he just wants to talk about Kiwi cricketers and the Indian Premier League.
10:17am: I meet the other kiwi couriers – Josh and Mearle – and together we find out more about our special mission. It’s going to involve transporting a 2-week old kiwi chick from Rotorua to a special place that I’ve never heard of, Rotokare Scenic Reserve in South Taranaki. It’s a 349 kilometre journey across 6 hours, and it will make for a bloody great work story.
10:19am: Paul O’Shea from the wonderful Kiwis for kiwi charity gives us our kiwi transportation briefing. There are lots of important rules to keep these special creatures comfortable when we’re on the road. It reminds me of all that stuff about tour riders for rock stars. Not many of Kevin’s requirements are designed for keeping the human couriers comfy though: it’s got to be quiet so no beats, it’s got to be cold so no heater (inconvenient in Stubbies), and no overtaking because kiwis don’t like overdrive. To be honest I am quite worried about the burden of delivering Kevin safe and sound to Rotokare, it’s a humbling experience and a privilege to be entrusted with the task.
10:21am: The feathered beast is uplifted from the hatchery. Kevin’s Rotorua carer Emma (the husbandry manager at Kiwi Encounter) sends him on his way. “Good luck Kevin” she says and tucks him into his dark, fern-filled cardboard home for the next 6 hours. The kiwi box is tucked safely behind the passenger seat and we are on the road west.
11:47am: We take a bumpy left turn from State Highway 5 to State Highway 28 at Tapapa. We’re reassured by the kiwi snuffles coming from behind the passenger seat.
12:33pm: Paul O’Shea tells us the remarkable story of the Kiwi House in Otorohanga as we sit through a road works hiatus in the King Country town. It was established by a bricklayer, a chemist and a doctor back in 1971, as logging of the local forests spurred them into action. They built their New Zealand edition of Noah’s Ark and did an extraordinary job given the lack of kiwi science around at the time.
1:28pm: Piopio goes by in a flash of a red corner shop then we are into the twists and turns of the Awakino Gorge. The scenery is amazing unless you’re feeling car sick. What if Kevin makes it through but we lose one of the couriers to dysentery along the way? It’s going to be an ethical dilemma but Kevin is surely our priority.
3:11pm: We stop in Waitara for a Powerade and a pee. It is a peak New Zealand scene as kids erupt out of the school gates in bare feet and on scooters, skedaddling to the dairy in the sun to spend their lazily earned pocket money on lollies and ice blocks. There are some sideways glances as they see the Kiwi Courier car roll on through the ‘Naki.
4:07pm: We’re nearly there. Through Inglewood and Stratford and Eltham. Whoops we went one town too far. We throw a slow motion U-turn, apologising to Kevin all the way. Then it’s right turn down Anderson Rd, and follow your nose to the big Rotokare Scenic Reserve sign on the Sangster Rd corner. Kevin is nearly home. We’re surrounded by the rolling green hills and cow hoof spattered tarseal of rural Taranaki, as the famous mountain looms in the rear view mirror. Farmers doff their caps and give us ready smiles.
4:11pm: The imposing electronic gates of Rotokare appear. This place is both a fortress and completely accessible. It is a community-owned, community-driven facility managed by the Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust and includes the Taranaki Kohanga Kiwi project* in cahoots with the Taranaki Kiwi Trust. The reserve is open 24/7/365 and has an onsite live-in manager. It is surrounded by a monstrous 8-kilometre anti-predator fence. We go through the gates and through the forest filled with kiwi, moreporks, karearea, tui, bellbirds, wood pigeons, warblers, saddlebacks and robins. There’s a ‘mind the kiwi’ sign painted on the road. Kevin is home – but still in a box.
4:14pm: We rendezvous with some of the Trade Me team responsible for helping share information about the fantastic work that Kiwis for kiwi do. There’s Cat our charities coordinator, and Evan from our Top Seller team, and Holly from our Advertising team in Auckland. Like me, they’re having one of those work days that you won’t forget in a hurry.
4:15pm: We meet the wonderful people responsible for making this place what it is. There’s Simon Fiona and Deborah from the Rotokare Trust, plus Sue and Michelle from the Taranaki Kiwi Trust. Deborah has also teed up some sensational post-release catering from the Maata Women’s Institute. The kiwi gurus check Kevin and make sure he’s his normal cool, calm and collected self. Simon advises that he appears to have arrived in good nick, but also makes the point that when a bird is stressed you can’t tell until it’s too late. That stops us from getting too cocky.
5:03pm: We uplift Kevin and we’re heading into the bush for the official release. It’s a magnificent evening at Rotokare, sun blazing across the lagoon, hardly a breath of wind, nature is everywhere and the signs of civilization are all but absent. It’s a stunning 230-hectare “forested hill-country catchment with extensive wetlands”.
5:28pm: We head up a hill into the dense forest, we’re off the beaten track in so many ways. Kevin is home – he even has a sign ‘Kev’s Place’ above his new burrow. A transmitter is popped on his little leg as he emerges from his cardboard home. There’s some nice words exchanged and we acknowledge the generosity of the Trade Me community for supporting the great work of all the organisations involved.
6:07pm: Kevin is in his burrow and we quietly head back down to the track. Simon tells us there are about 80 kiwi in Rotokare so he will be making friends pretty quickly. The transmitter means the kiwi kōhanga team will be able to keep track of Kevin’s mostly nocturnal activities – we’re looking forward to following his progress and sharing this with the Trade Me community along the way.
6:53pm: We head back to have a toast to Kevin. Phase one of Project Nightfall is over thanks to a little bit of effort from a lot of great New Zealanders across the Trade Me community, the kiwi conservation community, and Trade Me HQ.
* Taranaki Kiwi Trust and Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust established their partnership ‘kōhanga kiwi’ project in 2012. Kiwis for Kiwi have supported them all the way, and the partnership has supported the annual Save Kiwi auctions on Trade Me.
** Awesome pics by Evan Morgans