I had already lived in New Zealand a few years before I saw a living possum for the first time.
I was driving my fiancé back home from a wedding in Dargaville.
Creeping along windy Houto Rd in the pitch dark, I suddenly spotted a pair of eyes, shining like tiny reflectors, at the fringes of my headlights.
As we drew nearer, the fluffy outlines of the possum crouching on the dirt road became visible.
Always keen to assimilate in the local culture, I felt torn between my duty to accelerate and my natural instinct to stop and spare a life.
After a second of rumination, I slammed on the brakes, deciding I wasn't ready to be that Kiwi just yet. I swear, if possums could make facial expressions, this one would have looked utterly astonished.
Nearly four years on, the Kiwi spirit runs stronger in my veins and I'm prepared to see what real conservation work in New Zealand looks like.
It's Tuesday morning, 8am, and I'm meeting Ard Schraag who, together with his wife, owns a dairy farm in Parakao.
Ard and his son Ricky are well known in their community and beyond, for being skilful possum trappers, and Ard has agreed to show me just what that entails.
While I'm still in a sloth-like morning state Ard, dressed in the quintessential Stubbies and Red Bands uniform, is bursting with energy and greets me with a firm handshake and a warm smile.
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Without further ado, he starts the engine of his quad and mounts the bike. The quad has two large baskets attached – one in the front, one in the back. This is where the possums will be loaded on to, Ard explains.
Before I can even zip up my jacket, we pull out on to the gravel towards the neighbouring property where Ard has laid out poison the previous night.
To the east, the sun is still hiding behind rain clouds that sent showers down the previous night.
In the valley below, mist billows from the depth of impermeable bush hanging thick between the treetops.
Greenfinches and flocks of mynas are on the hunt for a breakfast worm and sing their cheerful morning tune.
As Ard dashes around corners, cool air lashes my face, making my eyes water. Hastily I wipe away the tears, not wanting to give a Kiwi bloke the impression that dead possums make me cry.
We leave the main road and turn on to a grass track leading into the bush. Not a hundred metres into the forest, Ard stops the quad, hops off and runs towards the trees. This amount of energy in the morning is astonishing.
I hesitate not sure what to do until Ard turns around, gesturing me to follow him.
He halts underneath a tōtara tree and as I come closer, I can see what he's pointing at.
Mouth wide and tongue still sticking out from its last meal, a possum lies stiffly on a bed of rotting leaves. It's the first of many that we find today.
Ard became a possum hunter shortly after moving to Northland, 30 years ago.
The zeitgeist of the 1990s still had allowances for fur fashion and a soft possum pelt paid well on the international market.
Nationwide, possums reached their population peak in the 1980s, when officials estimated 50-70 million possums in New Zealand – around the same number as sheep.
In the most profitable year for trappers, 1981, they sold $3.2 million worth of skins overseas.
Though Northland was largely spared by the Australian invader until the 1960s, the population rapidly expanded and by the mid-90s, there were 10-15 million possums dwelling in the region.
The booming possum population in Northland created lucrative opportunities for skilled trappers and Ard jumped on board to make up for lean times in their farming business.
Ard says that when he started trapping, they used to pull truckloads of possums out of the bush; a quad with a couple of baskets wouldn't do the job.
While the numbers of possums (there's no current estimate) and the price have dropped, Ard still makes $130 for a kilo of fur.
"On average you need 20 possums to a kilo, that's $6.50 a body," Ard explains as he plucks a stiff possum from the ground.
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We have driven a few kilometres deep into the bush. While the first sunrays are breaking through the leafy canopy up above, the morning fog still lingers here on the ground.
Ard hops off the quad to collect another few carcasses, lying within a few feet from the bait and tosses them into the basket behind my seat.
With his gumboots he disperses the leftover bait. He works thoroughly with a confidence born out of years of practice.
"Why do you do that with the bait?" I ask.
"Cyanide disintegrates when it comes into contact with moisture," Ard says.
"That's why we don't trap when it's raining. And also possums don't like to get wet."
Cyanide kills quickly. Possums die within seconds, maximum within 15 minutes. The poison manipulates cells to stop oxygen intake, which is lethal if the dose is high enough.
A pea-sized drop of cyanide bait can kill five possums or one adult man. Working with cyanide is dangerous, and trappers have to hold a licence to use it.
Neither Ard nor his son Ricky have ever had any cyanide incidents. Ricky says it was a matter of staying focused and cautious when handling the poison.
While possums don't have a reputation of being the smartest animal to live, they are not foolish enough to ingest cyanide on a whim – you have to lure them.
In Northland, trappers use a brew made of flour, icing sugar, oil and curry powder combined with an ingredient that creates an irresistible scent like cinnamon, eucalyptus, peach or raspberry.
"Possums are fussy eaters. They only eat the best of the best, the youngest shoots of the tree," Ard explains. "Everything that's high in energy, as long as things are fresh. They are a mongrel."
While possums would naturally be too cautious to eat a foreign cyanide-soaked substance it's their sugar addiction that kills them. To keep them hooked, correct baiting is the key.
"You got to know where you put your bait. It's hard to employ someone who is really green in the business. Because the numbers have dropped, the signs are a lot harder to read today.
"It becomes a second nature when you can read the signs well. The best way is to look at nature and nature will tell you exactly how it works."
Ard says possums are living a basic life, always taking the path of least resistance to preserve as much energy as possible.
Since the furry night-dwellers are creatures of habit, an experienced trapper can easily recognise the paths they take through the bush.
Flattened grass, leaves that have been brushed away and bark showing scratching marks indicate a frequently walked possum trail or run, as Ard calls it.
Spacing the bait along the run is important, depending on the number of possums in the area you want to distribute it appropriately.
Along those runs, on dry spots is where Ard and Ricky put out their bait. They pre-feed the possums at least two nights in a row with their homemade bait and mark the spots with water soluble paint. On the third night, they add a drop of poison.
"We have been doing this for a while, so we know exactly where they run and what they do," Ard says.
"We know their habitat and what they are feeding on – it makes the job really easy and you're not going in blindfolded. It's all common sense. You got to think like a possum to kill a possum."
A trapper who doesn't recognise the grid of possum paths or misplaces his bait, runs the risk of making the possums bait-shy.
"You know you're doing a good job when the runs are disappearing. You see the bush has recovered here," Ard says as he points at the trees around us that grow fresh, young shoots.
"The possums would normally eat that. But because we have been trapping here a long time, we're keeping the numbers down."
After a few hours, the sun has fought its way through the clouds, pleasantly warming the air. Both baskets are loaded to the brim with dead possums.
Back at Ard's place, we have a cup of tea together with Ricky . They show old photographs from 10-20 years ago, when they pulled hundreds of possums out of the bushes.
I asked the men what their personal thoughts about possum were.
"I've got nothing against the possum," Ard says.
"If you could live your life like a possum that would be pretty mean. Sleep in the day and scavenge around in the night. People can't stand them when they eat off their fruit trees and I understand that, but they have been around for a long time. They were introduced before the Treaty."
Ricky says he appreciated them for being a hardy species that can survive in many different environments. He also believes that possum fur trading was essential for the country.
"If it wasn't for the fur industry it would cost a lot of taxpayers' money. The fur hunters are definitely keeping the numbers down. If something is worth nothing, then it becomes a major problem."
The total count of the day is 67 possums. Ard and Ricky demonstrate how their fur plucking machines work. In a matter of minutes, they have a pile of naked possums and a sack full of fluff.
Every fortnight, a fur trader comes to Whangārei collecting every trapper's fur which is being sold to a New Zealand company. They manufacture it into soft socks, sweaters or gloves. Some companies even buy the carcasses and turn them into dog food.
A day after my adventure in the woods, Ard calls me again.
"We had a much better run today because it wasn't that wet. We got 120 possum – a much better number," he says, worried I hadn't been impressed by our count the previous day.
"Also, if you mention my wife, she's the farm manager, not just a milker. She doesn't like to be called that."