Papakura Radio Club inc.
& NZART Branch 65, Papakura.
1 Great South Road, Papakura.
ZL2SEA Lighthouse Activities.
Mokohinau Islands Lighthouse Adventure. December 27th, 2009.Wow!! What a fantastic time!!
The Mokohinau Lighthouse adventure was so much fun; I don’t know where to start!! Camping over Christmas, hiking mystery trails, abundant birdlife, beautiful surroundings, great weather, great company. The poor little Canon worked overtime, we had a great time on the dive boat, the lighthouse is simply gorgeous and the cloud formations that came in only added to its beauty. And all that came as a bonus for calling CQ… CQ…
Nigel and I had been planning the Mokohinau trip for several months. It was the most valuable North Island lighthouse on the award and the most difficult North Island lighthouse to get to. Difficult added to the appeal of getting out to the lighthouse!
Nigel had done some research and came across a SCUBA diving company at Leigh and had booked a ride out to Mokohinau on the first of November. Unfortunately, that fell through due to the lack of numbers booked for the boat. That was half expected, but still disappointing to say the least. But it also made the Mokohinau Island trip all the more anticipated.
Excitement mounted when we finally received word from Goat Island Dive that the boat was filled and the Mokohinau trip was on! Paul (ZL4AX) and his wife Judy were joining us for the adventure.
We could have driven up the morning of the 27th, but Nigel and I decided to go early and camp closer to Leigh. Searching the internet, Nigel booked us into Tawharanui Regional Park for the 24th, 25th, 26th but the 27th was fully booked and we would have to break camp and meet the 0800 boat.
Nigel was buzzing with excitement as he pulled out the camping equipment and packed it into the car several days early. I rounded up the food and utensils needed for camping and organised my camera gear and was left to finish packing the car. Then Nigel dropped the bomb on me… he wanted me to pick him up from work HQ at Penrose! I’d have been happier driving to Invercargill than heading onto the freeway and driving towards Auckland where I hadn’t driven before! Aaahh!! Stress!
With written instructions I headed down the freeway and found my way into Penrose, but couldn’t find the second road on the right and seemed to be driving a long way. Just as I decided to pull over and check my directory, the mobile rang. It was Nigel… He was running down the footpath behind me trying to catch me!
With Nigel safely at the controls, we headed through Auckland, across the harbour bridge and onto the Northern toll road. We found Tawharanui Regional Park easily and set up camp in good time. All around our camping spot there were Tui birds singing loudly. On sunset we walked through the dunes to the beach. The colours were soft and delicate. The evening chorus was loud when we returned to the tent.
Funny things were happening at our tent while camping. People would walk down the road with puzzled looks in the direction of our tent and just stand there and stare. One fellow had it bad… he walked past several time suspiciously watching our tent in case it jumped out and bit him on the way past. I had been away from the tent and walked over to join him and he said to me “What do you think it is??” I told him “I dunno…, I think it might be an aerial…” “What makes you think it is an aerial? It could be something else!” I started laughing and told him I knew it was an aerial as it was my husband’s Amateur radio aerial. Amateur Radio? What’s that?? I gave him a brief explanation and he left satisfied that he was safe.
Waking early next morning, the bird calls were nearly deafening in the silent camp ground. The Rangers dropped by each of the tents to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Ranger Kate excitedly told us of a Mystery walk that was available and kindly dropped the brochure of instructions to us a little later. It looked to be an interesting walk, requiring the set of instructions to make it round the track and back.
Another fellow stopped by full of questions as to “what is it and what does it do”, referring to the flexi-pole mast waving in the breeze. Nigel left his radio and spoke with the guy and gave him an old NZART Break In magazine. The guy left quite excited as he had previously had a ham radio license he had let lapse.
Then two teens shyly approached our tent wanting to know what the big stick was attached to the tent. Nigel was on the radio at the time, so I answered their questions as best I could and they went happily back to their game.
Later in the day Nigel and I set out on our Mystery Walk. It turned out to be a real blast, getting us foxed on occasion, having to back track to make sure we had the right trail to find our next way point.
In a deeply shaded section of the trail we disturbed a family of little owls. It was fantastic to see the little Rurus. Ma and Pa Ruru flew fine, but their little tacker was so clumsy he crash landed and later crashed to the forest floor with quite a noise. I managed to film the Ruru I could see, but when I went to take a still photo, the camera shut down with the message CHANGE THE BATTERIES! Oops! None with me…
As we went to continue the trail Nigel saw a pile of downy feathers in the middle of the path and stopped to have a closer look at them. The pile of feathers launched itself off the track and clumsily made it to the trees across the stream where the parent birds were waiting and calling. Wow! That was such a precious moment of our walk!
Boxing Day we took a longer walk up to the trig and out to the end of the point. Nigel said it would take about 3 hours return, and leaving early we would be back before the hottest part of the day. Hmmm… we left at 0900 and got in at 1330. It was hot and I was feeling the heat. But it was a great walk.
The views were spectacular and we were sure we had found the Mokohinau Island group waaaay out on the horizon just to the left of the Barrier Islands. The Canon did its best to zoom on video, but just couldn’t reach them and the pictures turned to mush in the effort. I had pushed the poor little camera past its capability. It is not meant to handle zoom on movie setting. We still got some lovely photos though.
We also came across a rare tea-tree bush that is low growing and not found in many places. At the end of the point the bushes were growing well. I thought they were fantastic as they didn’t block the view like so many other taller growing trees so often do. In my opinion the bushes should be grown at all lookouts so the view stays clear.
The highlight of the walk was on the way back to the tent: we saw Brown Teal ducks in a pond near the generator. Trying to photograph them was hopeless through the bushes, but I did try. We thoroughly enjoyed our short stay at Tawharanui open bird sanctuary and look forward to returning there some time.
Sunday morning the alarm went off at 0500 while still dark. Fumbling by lantern light I started making breakfast and lunch while Nigel started breaking camp. Time seemed to go faster than the camp was being packed away. By 0710 we had shoved what we could into what spaces were available in the car till there were three bags left… my camera bag, Nigel’s radio bag and the garbage bag. The car couldn’t hold any more, so it was camera bag onto the floor, me into the seat holding the radio bag… we raced off to Leigh to meet the dive boat with the smelly garbage bag on my knee!
We met Paul and Judy for the first time in the car park of Goat Island Dive shop. After listening to Paul on the radio for so long it was nice to finally meet in person. Nigel was one of Paul’s first radio contacts in New Zealand about 2 or 3yrs ago. We ended up having a fantastic day together.
In the dive shop the paperwork was finalised, paid for and I went with Paul and Judy and the luggage down to the wharf. Nigel came down later with the dive truck loaded with SCUBA cylinders.
I met Brian our skipper for the day and he showed me the twin 300 HP outboards. Very impressive! Brian was great. The boat, the divers and cylinders were soon organised methodically and the engines were started. Our group was organised to the top deck which suited us fine and worked in well for our departure onto the island.
We started off slowly, but once out of the bay, it was full throttle. I saw the speed reach 22.9 then 23 knots, but mostly it was around 21 and 22 knots. It was calm seas the whole way.
We approached a flock of seabirds and most of them were alert enough to get airborne in good time. Two birds on the starboard bow seemed to delay making their decision for flight before taking off. The bird to the left got away, making height and passage across the oncoming bow into clear air. The bird to the right was gaining momentum with its wings but was running into the path of the bow. It banked hard to the right, and aborted the flight by diving into the ocean with seconds to spare before the bow wave dumped on its dive spot. Phew! Just escaped that one!
Paul was kept busy trying to identify the birds around us. Some of the birds were quite small and quite pretty in the light gray and darker gray markings. We passed Little Barrier Island with its impressive cliffs and found that it was Great Barrier Island that we had seen from shore and mistaken for another island. We sped on into the ocean and time slipped away with our wake. Gradually the Mokohinau Island group came into view clearer and slowly, so slowly grew larger.
The water in the bay looked so clear and inviting and mirror calm. Our skipper took the boat in reasonably close before coming up to the top deck for the briefing on how we were to manage the drop off. The steps were a target roughly a metre wide and our skipper met the target with precision. Nigel was first off and helped keep the bow off the rocks and stairs while Paul managed the gear as it was passed down, then Judy and I left the boat. Much excitement under control and I managed to film most of it. The remains of the wharf landing were much too high for the dive boat and were made for a much larger vessel then the one we were on. The water came in fairly deep to the beach which was made up of rounded rocks the size of grapefruit and larger.
We headed off for the lighthouse on the top of the hill. The rails from the wharf came to an abrupt end with a broken down bridge and rails fallen onto the rocks. I went via the rocks and Nigel took the grass route to the left. We came to a sign board with the only information we saw of the island, its history or details of the lighthouse.
Nigel was the first to see the endangered Mokohinau Skink. A few minutes later I saw one, then two, then three, then gave up counting, just content to finally being back to “normal” with lizards running through the undergrowth. They moved too fast for me to catch on camera, but Paul, with his big SLR camera, took a beaut shot of a skink which he emailed to us. Thanks Paul, we have put it to good use!
Nigel was setting up by the time I finally got to the top of the hill. He used a great concrete block and a roll of rope to secure the flexi-pole in place. He was still getting things sorted out when Paul arrived and was looking around the lighthouse. I found a bird wing in the Pohutukawa bush on the edge of the cliff and Paul investigated, finding the whole bird. We think it may have had a navigational mishap on a night flight and crashed into the glass of the lighthouse. We think it is a grey faced Petrel
I thought it rather amusing that the pole and lighthouse were about the same height.
Nigel was soon on air and calling Catherine on her new call sign. She came in loud and clear.
Paul soon set up his radio gear and it was all in miniature! The tiniest radio I have seen apart from the marine hand held VHF radios.
He was soon busy on the National System, calling up and sending folk across to Nigel on HF to whichever band he was on at the time. It seemed to work well.
I was kept real busy with the camera, carefully checking each time I started filming that I was on “Standard”. Somehow, “compact” managed to sneak its way in for two clips before being routed out again. Paul couldn’t believe how much footage I was taking and reckoned we’d be watching it well into the next Christmas break. Ok, so I did take 9.54GB of pictures… my record! Filled two 2GB cards and filled 5.78GB of the 8GB card. I figure we won’t be back for a little while, so go for it and get footage that can be used to make up a DVD… or two as this has turned out!! Even edited, the file was too large for one DVD. Hi hi…
I found it rather confusing with two radio operators to keep track of. Paul as funny as he is, I felt he wasn’t used to having a camera in his face while on the radio, but he kept us laughing with his many witty or dry comments. His best radio contact was Amsterdam, Holland, with the help of EchoLink.
By the end of a couple hours I was beginning to go stir crazy with such a confined safe place to walk around and having to stay so close to the lighthouse. Having to be so careful of where you walked gets to you after a while… probably why some of the keepers went off the island on mental sick leave. Nigel was worried I’d fall for him again in an unhealthy way this time and take up skydiving. Anywhere near the back of the lighthouse near the Pohutukawa, he was telling me to keep back from the edge.
But with safety in mind and trying to add some history of the lighthouse to the DVD I did manage to get some lovely photos of the lighthouse… some of my best even. The Mokohinau lighthouse is very photogenic.
After a short while with the aerial facing north/south and getting poor radio signal reports, Nigel swung the aerial to face more east/west. He had to be careful positioning the eastern length since the lighthouse was so close to the cliff on the eastern to northern sides. But just the adjustment he made, made all the difference… from 0/3 he started getting his more normal 5/9 signal reports. He was having a great time. More contacts would have been gladly accepted but he was pleased with 30 ZL and the 3 VK contacts from Canberra ACT, Brisbane and Capalaba QLD. The most southern contact was from Gore, South Island NZ. Well done everyone!
I had taken printed information from the Maritime web pages with me, only to find the dates did not agree with each other… one said 1980, the other said 1990 the light was de-manned. The heights didn’t agree either, and I’d noticed earlier that the construction of the lighthouse was variously described as brick, stone, concrete, bluestone or bluestone brick! The other discrepancy I came across was the date the tin mail boat set sail. The Otago Witness 29th September 1898’s newspaper article has the copy of the Keeper’s letter dated the 6th of June 1898. The little vessel was picked up on the 23rd of August 1898. The Maritime web page says it occurred in 1904.
Well I got a bit mixed up with my islands and Nigel teases me I wasn’t wearing my glasses ‘coz I mixed up our dive boat with another visiting fizz boat that was all white… I forgot that the dive boat was dark blue hulled… I only remembered its white topsides!
Two PM came around too quickly and it seemed that once we had the last couple minutes left to packing up, there was a pile-up of late comers wanting contact with both Paul and Nigel. There had been long pauses while there was time to call…
At 1415 we had to make a run for the wharf area to meet our dive boat. Paul was clowning a bit on the way down. I mentioned to him that a toboggan sled would be a great way to get down the hill and recounted my effort of riding bark down a log dump as a child, forgetting the dump slope was broken coral and both my sister and I were wearing skirts and jandals! Yes, we had to paint our skin with iodine afterwards… Soon after telling Paul this, I slipped on the little slat bridge and landed on the timberwork. No harm done.
We reached the wharf before the boat arrived and Nigel went down the steps to meet it. He was soon greeted with the calls “Higher! Higher”, as the boat came in closer. He scrambled up the stairs just in time to avoid the bowsprit, but was running into the gear on the stairs. Everything and everyone made it onboard without incident and we were soon slowly making our way away from the island.
There were so many birds milling around a school of fish off the island that a line was put out for a short go at trolling, with no result. Soon after, the engines were slowly put into full steam ahead and we were leaving the island behind at a great rate of knots.
The speed started off at 21 to 22 and even 23 knots, but then we encountered wind against tide effect and the boat was slowed to 15 knots for a dryer, more comfortable ride. For some reason, the trip back seemed slower… Hi’Hi’… and wetter! I had just moved forward to the screened section when the next wave we hit was a wet one! The remaining people on the top deck quickly vacated the top deck for somewhere dryer and warmer. Nigel and I stayed on deck by the screen till we reached the sheltered waters of the home bay.
No, I didn’t have the garbage bag on my lap on the way back to Auckland. It stayed on the floor, with the camera and radio bags on my lap. The car is so dusty it is unrecognizable…
FANTASTIC! ... is the only real way of describing our Mokohinau Lighthouse adventure. We would love to go out there again, maybe for a week or two and get to explore the island. Of all the lighthouses, this one would rate up there with Cape Brett for adventure.
I wonder what Curvier Island Lighthouse’s adventure is going to bring?? February 23rd will soon reveal all…
And this story is almost as long as the DVD!!
How to contact us:
Papakura Radio Club inc.
1 Great South Road, Papakura
P.O.Box 72397, Papakura 2244