Host to one of the largest accessible island bird sanctuaries in New Zealand, Kāpiti Island is looked after by two Department of Conservation rangers, Lee Barry and Neil Anderson. Kāpiti News reporter Rosalie Willis spent time with them on the tranquil island bird sanctuary north of Wellington.
Rangers Lee and Neil live in a hillside cottage surrounded by ocean views and endless birdsong.
With the help of volunteers throughout the year they look after the flora and fauna paradise stretching out over 2000ha.
Their job is to manage and maintain the nature reserve and ensure it continues to be a predator free haven for wildlife and a great place for visitors to spend the day.
Fifteen minutes from the mainland, Kāpiti Island is accessible for visitors through two authorised tour operators.
Making a trip over to join the rangers for the day, I step on to the Kāpiti Island Nature Tours boat and travel 5km through the Kāpiti Marine Reserve.
After a slightly bumpy ride, I meet Lee and Neil at Rangatira, the centre of the island, ready to experience a day in the life of a DoC worker on one of New Zealand's most prized nature reserves.
Job sharing the role, Lee and Neil spend 10 days on the island together, with a four-day weekend spent at their house in Houghton Bay on the south coast of Wellington.
Their role includes monthly jobs like rebaiting and checking the condition of 240 trap boxes and maintaining visitor facilities such as tracks, toilets, visitor shelters, signs, historic places and structures like bridges and the summit lookout.
Also on the list of monthly jobs is checking the hydro and solar power systems, the sewerage tanks and fresh water supply.
"We also directly help out a few of the special bird species on the island with extra food," Lee explains as we head towards the takahē feeding station.
"Our hihi need a constant supply of sugar water and we also provide food daily to our two takahē to keep them healthy."
The island is a bird watcher's paradise.
Walking with Lee from the boat, I hear about the many different species of birds found on the island.
Weka are constantly hanging around us, scrounging along the ground as we head to the volunteer quarters and when I later depart for the summit I see a number of hihi, tūī, saddleback, kererū, bellbird and silvereye, just a few of the birds I can name by sight.
"There are a range of other species we keep an eye on for different reasons, from the fruiting pattern of trees to feedback for researchers, to the breeding success of the summit titi and sooty shearwater colony," Lee said.
Reaching the volunteer quarters, we find Neil mixing sugar water.
Made from brown sugar and water, it can take hours of mixing, Neil said.
The water has to be lugged up the hill to where the hihi hang out, so the stronger the concentrate the better – fewer trips.
While mixing the sugar water can take hours, the view from the kitchen looks out over the marine reserve.
"At least we have a view while doing it".
Lee then takes me out to feed the takahē, one of the daily morning tasks, followed by routine checks on the hydro and solar power systems - the main source of power, followed by the generator and back-up generator checks.
It's a gloomy day on the island and as I'm invited into Lee and Neil's home for a cuppa, I hear about what it's like to live on an island.
"It's an incredible privilege to be here on this island," Lee said.
"We are grateful every day for this opportunity to live on and help care for such an iconic, historic place with such mana.
"It really is Te Motu Rongonui – the famous island."
Starting their contract in mid-July, Lee and Neil are yet to experience a busy summer season.
"We both have previous careers in events and production management, working on international arts festivals, theatre and music shows.
"It's surprisingly similar - always being ready for the unexpected, ensuring the show must go on and toiling in the background to let the real stars of the show shine.
"In this case the stars are the birds."
Both also have conservation experience with Lee being in a community ranger role for the last three years, before that at WWF-New Zealand as the conservation manager and Neil being part of the conservation and operations team at Zealandia for much of its 20-year existence.
"We've always got contact with the mainland, reception is great.
"It's only 15 minutes by boat and two minutes by helicopter so it's actually not that remote.
"The practicality of getting a job done and ringing someone up to come check it out to give you a quote is not quite the same."
When things need fixing the logistics involved are more complicated.
In fact when I return from walking the summit later that afternoon I find out Lee had spent the afternoon organising for a helicopter to come in with new gas bottles.
"There's a lot of paperwork involved with the job. It's not outside all the time."
While Lee and Neil's job description includes a bit of everything, their main job is to manage the nature reserve and ensure it continues to be a predator-free haven for wildlife.
"Our most important role is the biosecurity of the island," Lee said.
Before heading across, self-checks are made with the help of the tour boat operators Kāpiti Island Nature Tours and Kāpiti Island Eco Experience who operate visitor tour services to the island.
Heading to the quarantine room, Neil shows me how thoroughly their food and gear is checked.
Recent finds include seeds caught in shoes and slugs among lettuce.
Extensive checks are done from the mainland for visitors with quarantine checks on all staff, volunteers and contractors gear.
"All tools, building materials, machinery, equipment and furniture - you name it," Neil said.
"Our stuff is checked the same even though we are constantly coming on and off the island."
These checks are added to the "ring of steel" Lee and Neil maintain around the island.
Made up of rodent bait stations on all vessels accessing the island and at the highest risk locations on the island, there are also around 240 coastal trap boxes regularly checked and maintained.
"If anything unwanted makes it to shore – on a floating log, or off an illegal boat landing for example, we want to know about it and ideally trap it as soon as it arrives."
A nature reserve since 1897 and predator-free since 1998, one of the main reasons for maintaining the biosecurity on the island is to retain the many native species that are either very rare or absent from the mainland.
In the early years when Māori migrated here they brought with them rats and dogs and later other mammals.
With between 800 and 5000 people thought to have been living on the island in its heyday, the place thrived for a while, before it was later turned into farmland.
However, in 1897 Prime Minister Richard Seddon introduced a bill to Parliament in order to acquire Kāpiti Island to conserve the flora and fauna of the island.
Species like the little spotted kiwi were then brought out to the island which proved a safe haven for them, with the birds now being exported to bird sanctuaries around the country.
Now, Kāpiti Island is one of the oldest and most secure publicly accessible nature reserves in the world.