Martin Tonks describes the time he got to hold a wild kiwi as one of the most wonderful experiences he's ever had. "Just holding your national icon in your hand... It was one degree, 700 meters up. It was a special moment. And when he pooed all down my leg it was an even better experience. One, it was so cold it actually warmed my legs up, but two, not many people can say they've had a kiwi poo on them."
He laughs, proving he's a natural-born optimist, as well as a boots-and-all conservationist.
Martin is a salesperson by day and in his free time he coordinates 15 volunteer trappers for Restore the Dawn Chorus - part of the Rimutaka Forest Park Trust, a group of about 90 volunteers who are helping bring back native birds and plants to the park.
Martin and his team set and check trap lines, clearing the way for kiwi to come down from the hills into the lowlands of the Catchpool Valley safe from introduced predators.
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It may sound like hard work - that's because it is. But Martin and his team love it. Not only because they get to spend time outside in the beautiful forest park, but also for what it gives to other people: "I think 95 per cent of New Zealanders have never seen a kiwi, other than in a nocturnal house in a zoo. So the ability for someone to come here, only half an hour's drive away from Wellington, and know they could see, or at least hear a kiwi in the wild I think is fantastic."
And if you are one of the 100,000 or so New Zealanders that visit Rimutaka Forest Park every year, you can also see flocks of kereru, countless tui and piwakawaka, to name but a few of the many species seen in the skies or heard in the park.
The volunteers' efforts to keep the predators at bay means that you could spot weta and geckos in the undergrowth, and as Martin says - if you're here at night you may hear the calls of the hundred or so brown kiwi that live up in the steep, bush-clad hills.
The team at Rimutaka Forest Park Trust is always on the look out for new volunteers: "In general for checking and clearing the trap lines, kiwi monitoring and distance tracking we require people that are physically fit, can work independently and are dependable, not squeamish with dead pests and have a love of nature and protecting our native wildlife, plants & forest," Martin says.
And nature lovers who are more desk-bound than outward-bound are also welcome: "We are all volunteers and we like to fit people in where we can. We're always very happy to talk to anyone that is willing to give up their time and effort to help."
Melody McLaughlin volunteers as coordinator of the kiwi programme and is also on the Trust's committee. She says the group is looking for volunteers to be involved with acoustic monitoring, tracking tunnel monitoring, trapping, fixing traps, either in situ or by removing and replacing. "Someone with marketing experience and someone good with databases - so a whole raft of expertise required," she adds. "Often the challenge is people having the time."
To find out more about volunteering at Rimutaka Forest Park Charitable Trust, go to www.rimutakatrust.org.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find a conservation group near you supported by WWF and The Tindall Foundation and run by volunteers at: http://www.wwf.org.nz/what_we_do/community_funding/