Stoat trapping

Track inspection & a cautionary tale

Last week Ali and I took to the hills to inspect the accumulated winter damage on the Hump Ride track and lodges, and complete the second stage of GPS marking from Stag Point to Port Craig.

Later in the day we would be joined by Hump Ridge Trust Treasurer, Les Johnston, as well as Johan Groters and Joyce Kolk (of Wairaurahiri Jet) for a well-earned steak supper and a few obligatory tinnies. The next day we would all continue the journey, checking stoat traps and marking points of historical note along the tramway approach to Port Craig. Hopefully this will eventually lead to the creation of an interpretative information leaflet for the Percy Burn to Port Craig tramway walk.

Happily, we managed to miss the winter storms that battered the south coast either side of our trip, and had two glorious days’ on the track. Neither lodge had suffered much winter damage, track repairs being limited to windfall and mud removal: a big relief for Ali! Johan and Joyce also found a large haul of stoats and rats in their traps – fantastic news for their ongoing trapping operation.

On a less positive note, our trip also brought us face-to-face with the dark side of tourist trampers in New Zealand. While Ali and I were checking over the Okaka lodge, a young male tramper wondered in carrying an enormous pack, wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt, flimsy canvas trainers and with very little food to last the trip. He (who will remain nameless) had set out from Rarakau at noon the previous day, was unable to reach Okaka before nightfall and had bivvied at Stag Point. He had no map, no adequate wet-weather kit, no locator beacon and no mobile phone, had left no notice of intentions, had not registered with the Hump Ridge Track to undertake the walk, and had not told anyone of his whereabouts.

Ali and I warned the tramper of the foolishness of his actions to date but he was determined to continue around the track. Having been briefed on the track and its condition, he set off – promising to notify us after he had got off the track. It was with considerable relief that the tramper came into the office a few days later, cold, exhausted, extremely hungry and with feet covered in blisters from his inadequate footwear.

This tramper’s negligence not only endangered his own life but could have resulted in considerable financial and emotional repercussions if a Search and Rescue operation had become necessary. More than likely, though, as the young man had not notified anyone of his intention to walk and had no means of calling for assistance in case of difficulty, rescue (and even recovery) would be extremely unlikely if he had walked off the track.

Sadly, this incident put a severe damper on our lovely two days on the track. Please, if you are coming to New Zealand and plan to go tramping, bring adequate kit/supplies and tell someone where you are going (and when you return). Don’t become the next statistic.

Written By Kate Hebblethwaite, Operations Manager, Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track

Okaka's view of Te Waewae Bay on a beautiful winters day

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HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Joyce and Johan – Wairaurahiri Jet

These two caring kiwi’s took out the 2010 Southland Environment Awards Environmental Achiever prize for their volunteer stoat trapping program, great work guys!

Joyce and Johan are very passionate about the bird life in our untouched piece of Fiordland National Park.   They have been successfully trapping stoats and rats along the Wairaurahiri River where their Jet Boating business (Wjet) operates since June 2006.

On average they catch approximately 300 stoats and 300 rats every year.   Stoats kill whenever possible – even animals bigger than they are.  Every opportunity they get to rob a nest of eggs or kill a native NZ bird, they take – even if they aren’t hungry!

The traps all have bright pink spring loaded flags which pop up when the trap is set off.   Every time Johan takes a boat trip down the river he stops at all the traps which have their flags flying to reset them so they can catch more.  Every trap has a sponsor and there is a tally of how many dirt rotten rats and slimy stoats each sponsor has caught in their trap.

As well as down the river, Joyce and Johan also have stoat traps along the South Coast track and another 80 made for the Hump Ridge Track.  We are just on the lookout for further sponsorship so we can fly them to the top and get the traps into position, helping our beautiful native birds.

The most common question asked about their trapping program is – why do you trap the stoats in the first place?  Well, stoats were introduced in New Zealand to help control the growing rabbit problem back in the late 1800’s, unfortunately they like it here a bit too much (especially in our native forests) having no natural preditors!

If you want to know more about Joyce and Johan’s stoat trapping program or their must-do exhilarating jetboat day trip down the fast flowing Wairaurahiri River go to their website www.wjet.co.nz.

Joyce checking a stoat trap
This dirty rat didn’t get away!