November 15, 2011
The sun and warmth of a real spring day help carry us over to Port Fitzroy on Great Barrier Island, heart of an inspiring conservation tale. I’ve been to Kapiti Island off Wellington, which is a predator-free haven for New Zealand’s endangered native birds. This bit of land jutting into the Hauraki Gulf is now the Kotuku Peninsula Sanctuary, which is also trying to give native birds one last chance.
The late Tony Bouzaid was the visionary who first bought an old farmstead here in 1994, restoring the 1901 farmhouse and then tackling a much bigger restoration project: reclaiming the native bush for the birds, and replanting tens of thousands of tree species.
Dr. Emma Cronin and her darling daughter Pippa greet us at Fitzroy House, to explain the ongoing work. Her husband Scott Sambell takes us up the hillside in a unimog, an old military transport, to get us into the bush to see the re-emerging shrubs and trees.
We listen for kaka and tui birds, and look for the little chevron skink, a brown lizard so rare he’s almost a myth. But the species is real, and eliminating the cats, ship rats and pigs from Great Barrier is the only way to give the skink a chance.
Dr. Cronin and her team use everything they have: poison, traps and a clever anti-predator fence that runs more than a mile and a half through the preserve.
Then it’s a quick run back to Island Passage and lunch on deck: Maori crayfish bouillabaisse packed with fresh snapper and prawns. The French baguettes are a bit burnt, but we tear into them anyway and toss the crusty bits, with permission, to the seagulls and the fish.
The afternoon is open for close-in fishing, deep-sea fishing, kayaking or vegging. It’s my chance, under glorious sunshine, to explore all 140 feet of this ship, from the open pilot house to the oversize saloon to the aft deck.
Topside, I watch a maneuver I haven’t seen at sea before: The crew lifts a steel-hulled tender up with a crane and lowers it over the side. Half-way down to the water, they load it with fishing rods and gear, then settle it on the Gulf.
The tenders cluster around the helipad. If you need to send the chopper for more champagne, it’s NZ$2,500 per hour.
Island Passage carries five tenders, including one for rescue. We use them to zoom to all our shore excursions. This afternoon, anyone left onboard the ship can hop aboard one of the little boats with Capt. Vincent Maurice for a spin around our little patch of paradise.
That’s one of the most indulgent parts of the Island Passage experience: It’s planned around our interests. Anglers have a boat and crew at their command. Kayakers can slip into the waves whenever there’s free time. Nappers can duck off back to their cabins for siesta, and readers can take a book up on deck for an uninterrupted stretch. The crew will bring you a nice beverage and then give you time and space to relax.
By dinnertime, we’re feeling grateful to the fishers among us, who brought home some serious snapper for Chef Mabee to work his magic with. It’s the centerpiece of an aft-deck barbecue whose platters overflow with salads, grilled asparagus, sausages, lamb and those wonderful green-lipped mussels. We dine with the crew, and I learn that host Sethson Pelten has a 2-week-old daughter back home on Vanuatu that he’s yet to see.
Tomorrow: Finally, a shopping stop..for Barrier Gold balms and oils
Betsa Marsh is the president of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).