Friday 2 October 2015 to Sunday 4 October 2015 (3 days)

It's that time again, when ATC's conservation volunteers head off each month to the Tunawaea catchment, up Owawenga Rd east of Otorohanga, to service bait stations to kill rats so that kokako can nest safely.

Following last month's baiting, the first for the season, we were keen to find what the bait uptake had been, and convert it to a corresponding estimate of dead rats.

A total of 12 workers and one cook with a leg in p: John Minson, Lee McKay, Vicky King, Kay Willcocks, Anna and Ian Roberts, Gary Pervan, Natasha Hulston, Graeme Pollock, Antal Kalocsai, Anne Stone, Keith Ayton and Jean Barton (cook and scribe). Wallace Narbey, our guiding light, met us there.

Happily, our numbers coincided exactly with the number of available beds.

Keith, John and Anne drove down together on Friday morning, put in a good afternoon's work despite solid rain for the last 20 minutes and were already back at the house when the "Driving Miss Daisy" show of Graeme and Jean arrived.

It rained off and on during the evening as we awaited the others. Lee, Vicky and Kay didn't get there till around 10pm, by which time we had started the briefing before everybody followed Ian's example and dozed off. Eventually all pairs, tracks and gear were sorted ready for the morning.

With much better weather in the morning, people were kitted up in their hi-vis vests ("something for the hunters to aim at"), packs full of baitbags and off by 0800 in several vehicles for the 30-minute drive to the site. Every team did great work, some also doing repairs and improvements as they went. Meanwhile, back at the homestead, I had the place to myself, and all day to get dinner sorted. Wallace had brought beautiful home-kill rump steak, so there was little chance of getting it wrong, even though nobody was able to tell me much about using the slow-cooker. Once that was under way I had a nap in the sun on the sofa, before setting up my work station to peel 5kg of spuds, with leg correctly elevated.

People began turning up on foot or by car, once they'd done their baitlines, until with dinner preparations well advanced, all were home and showered except Antal and Natasha. Slightly concerned, Wallace and Keith drove back up, and met them striding happily down the road, neither wearing a watch. "What time is it - about 4pm?" they asked, and were astonished to learn it was after 6pm.

Dinner turned out well, with Kay and John coordinating in fine style to present a 3-course meal, while the so-called cook watched admiringly. Graeme had worked his usual magic, creating from the simplest of ingredients a superb dessert, for which "bread pudding" was an entirely inadequate description. Nobody needed rocking to sleep that night.


Did I mention Anna and the pig? - love at first sight! We had to guard our food as Anna went round surreptitiously collecting unattended plates and taking the food out for her mate. Photos show her feeding it coconut cream on sliced oranges!

On Sunday, the A (Antal's) team of Antal, Natasha, Vicky and Lee went back up to finish off 3 lines which had been intentionally left in case we ran out of bait. The B (for bait) team addressed the leftover bait, rebagging it into 300g lots, while the C (cleaning) team restored the house to a clean and tidy state.

The B and C teams were done by 10am and left, leaving Kay to await the others' return around 1230.

On the way home we stopped at the excellent newly-opened cafe in the old Tihiroa Hall (1953) which stands alone in the middle of nowhere. Among the interesting decor items is the original board of rules for hall users, which include putting all rubbish in the offal pit, all cigarette butts in the incinerator and so on. The food and coffee were first-class - we'll be back!

And we'll do it all again in 4 weeks' time - book now to avoid disappointment!

And how many dead rats? You work it out - 500g bait in each of 540 stations, 52% uptake, 18g is lethal dose.