Birds of a feather OUR BABY’S GROW­ING UP WILD!

This Kapiti Is­land fam­ily is liv­ing the tweet life

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - Real Life -

Cov­ered in lush na­tive bush, and pop­u­lated by kiwi, takahe and other rare birds, the off­shore na­ture re­serve of Kapiti Is­land might seem like the per­fect place to raise a baby. But it presents a unique set of chal­lenges for De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion is­land rangers Genevieve Spargo and Nick Fisentzidis, and their nine-month-old son Theo.

There’s not al­ways run­ning wa­ter, they have to go 10 days be­tween su­per­mar­ket shops and storms can see them trapped on the is­land for up to two weeks. Then there are the nosy lo­cals. Gen tells, “I can’t just plonk Theo down on the grass and get on with my work – a weka or a kaka could have his eye out in a sec­ond, so I have to watch him like a hawk!”

How­ever, it’s all worth it when they notice their wee boy blos­som­ing into a mini bird watcher, look­ing for feath­ered friends

amid the fo­liage. Nick laughs, “The other day, he heard the Ra­dio New Zealand bird call and he crawled over to the win­dow to see what it was!”

“The birds and the plants are in his blood,” smiles Gen. “This is home for him – he’s a motu [is­land] boy.”

Hav­ing de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in whale strand­ings while study­ing in the United King­dom, Bris­bane-born Gen, 41, moved to Aotearoa 10 years ago and fell in love with local lad Nick, 33, while they were both work­ing be­hind the front desk at the DoC head of­fice in Welling­ton.

Af­ter years of field trips to re­mote is­lands – where she did the cook­ing and clean­ing for sci­en­tists, re­moved weeds and worked with kakapo – Gen was de­lighted to be of­fered a five-year gig as the is­land ranger on Kapiti, five kilo­me­tres off the coast of Para­pa­raumu, with Nick join­ing her to work with the res­i­dent hihi (stitch­birds).

“Is­lands have some of the most spec­tac­u­lar species and land­scapes,” grins Gen. “You can re­ally lose your­self in these places. It’s such a priv­i­lege to visit, let alone live here. Kapiti is ex­traspe­cial be­cause it’s free from preda­tors – this is what New Zealand would’ve looked like 100 years ago.”

A day in the of­fice in­cludes ev­ery­thing from cut­ting tracks and fix­ing toi­lets, to translo­cat­ing kiwi and talk­ing to visi­tors. But the most vi­tal part is check­ing and set­ting the “Fort Knox-like” net­work of rat and stoat traps to main­tain the 2000-hectare is­land’s preda­tor-free sta­tus.

“Lots of peo­ple think they want to be is­land rangers, but it’s hard work,” says Nick. “You’ve got to be a jack of all trades and you miss friends, fam­ily, events, bars, pop­ping to the shops ... There are no ham­mocks and cock­tails!”

The poor guy even missed his own 30th birth­day when a big storm kept the cou­ple stuck on the is­land. Loved ones who had trav­elled from all over NZ had to cel­e­brate the mile­stone in Welling­ton with­out him!

Hav­ing a baby was al­ways part of their plan, tells Nick. “We didn’t see the is­land as a bar­rier.” Sadly, Gen first suf­fered a mis­car­riage. She says, “It was a painful thing to go through, but the motu played a mas­sive part in the heal­ing process, which makes it an even more spe­cial place.”

Gen and Nick left Kapiti a week be­fore Theo was born at Welling­ton Hospi­tal. An hour af­ter his ar­rival, the proud new dad no­ticed his son was sport­ing a tiny ex­tra thumb on his right hand. It doesn’t worry his par­ents, but they’ll even­tu­ally have it re­moved as it may re­strict Theo’s move­ment.

Is­land­boy

“It makes him even more unique,” tells Nick. “And one of the local iwi told us Te Rau­paraha, the Ngati Toa chief who was based on the is­land for a long time, was born with six toes on one foot, so it gives him an even stronger con­nec­tion to the place.”

Af­ter two months back on the main­land, the fam­ily re­turned to the is­land by he­li­copter, with Theo fall­ing

asleep wear­ing his mini ear muffs. Gen re­calls, “I found the tran­si­tion to moth­er­hood quite dif­fi­cult – feed­ing was tricky ini­tially and it took me a while to get my mojo back, but re­con­nect­ing with the is­land and spend­ing time with the birds helped.”

And with no med­i­cal cen­tre nearby, the first-time mum adds that Plun­ketLine was a “life­saver”.

Nick has been cov­er­ing Gen’s ma­ter­nity leave, but she’s now back on the clock with DoC, work­ing five hours a day – and she’s keen to spread the mes­sage about Con­ser­va­tion Week this week.

She says, “Or­di­nary Ki­wis can be­come con­ser­va­tion he­roes by do­ing sim­ple things like set­ting a rat trap in their back­yard. Buy your aunt one for her birth­day! If every­one does that, we’ll have a beau­ti­ful ar­mour against pests and, in 100 years, it could be nor­mal for all of us to have takahe in our back­yards.

“We might not be around to see it, but I hope that’s some­thing Theo and his kids will be able to en­joy.”

“Peo­ple think we miss out on stuff,” says Gen. “But this is real life – it’s all about fam­ily, food and fire­wood!”

Gen has DoC to thank for her life with Nick. “It brought us to­gether and, 10 years later, we have Theo. It’s amaz­ing.”

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