Thursday, 27 January 2011

Matiu/Somes Island

On my day off today a girl from work and I went to Matiu (Maori name)/ Somes Island (English name). Its a small island in Wellington Harbour which was discovered by the great Maori explorer Kupe over 1,000 years ago and he named the island after his daughter. Today it a nature reserve, isolated by water from mammalian predators introduced by the Europeans such as rats, mice, possums and rabbits which have devastated New Zealands native plants, insects, reptiles and flightless birds. We took the only morning ferry at 10am and when we arrived we were directed to a cabin and told to search our bags for any insects, plant material or animals. Apparently about 5 years ago on a similar island a mouse had actually found its way into someone's picnic and had to be 'isolated.' He then gave is a little safety talk and told us about the history of the island, the animals there. We were given maps and told to stick to the paths which made a circuit around the island with one going down the middle.

The island has not always been a reserve, it was used from the 1870's to the 1920's as a quarantine island for new people coming into the country. Any ship with ill people on board had to hoist a yellow flag and go the the island rather then Wellington, to keep smallpox and other diseases away. During WWII it was used as a camp to keep Italians, German and others suspected of being traitors. in most cases people were just there for having a different accent the it was much like the Americans keeping the Japanese in concentration camps only the conditions weren't as bad. The men worked for about 6 hours a day the spent the rest of there tie doing what they liked, just feeling confused as to why they were there. It was also an important defensive position for protecting Wellington and large guns were kept there to keep the German's away. After that it was used as an animal quarantine zone for any new live stock entering New Zealand before being turned into a nature reserve in the 1990's. introduced species such as rats were eradication and native New Zealand plant and animal species were re-introduced.

We saw the animal quarantine buildings, the small visitors centre, the lighthouse and the WWII gun bases. We also saw lots of skinks, geckos and birds. We also saw the Weta, a creature which the famous Weta workshop and Weta digital studios are named after. They are giant cockroach type creatures which are as old as the dinosaurs. They are ugly!!!! There is an iguana type creature called a tuatara (too-aah-tara) which is only found on New Zealand which was introduced to the island. On our first circuit around I saw the tale of one disappear into a hole, much to the disappointment of my friend who was desperate see one, having never seen one before. So after lunch we had plenty of time till the ferry and walked around the circuit again. We were just approaching the hole where I first saw the tuatara when my friend through here arm out to stop me and grabbed my camera. At exactly the same spot where we were earlier was the tuatara sitting out in full view absolutely still, watching for pray. We go a few pictures then left it in peace. The only downside to the day was that we didn't get to see any penguins, but we were told they were nesting and may not come out till the evening.

All in all a nice day out and it let me escape the city for the day and learn a little more about Wellington's history :-)

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