Close your eyes and picture the Pacific Ocean on a map – now draw a line directly north from the top of the North Island of New Zealand and keep going until you’re you‘re almost as far away from anything as you could possibly be.
That’s where I am right now.
Kure Atoll is one of the most remote islands in the whole world, so much so, that most people don’t even know that it exists. Sixty miles away to the South-East, our closest neighbour, is the famous Midway Atoll, home to over one million seabirds, an active airstrip and crumbling buildings from World War 2. But you’d never know that there was anything out there at all if you’re looking out from the shores of our precious little island. In less than a couple of hours you can walk from one sandy point to the other, and the whole way, see nothing but the brilliantly blue lagoon and the open ocean breaking on the emergent reef at its edge.
Our lagoon…where do I begin? It glimmers with every shade of blue you could imagine; the reef shows as a deep navy under the surface while the shallow, white sand shines a bright turquoise as far as your eye can see. On a still day, the water is clear enough to feel like you’re floating on nothing but thick, cold air. The surface is smoother than glass and to go for a swim is like dipping into a temperate bath that always feels perfect.
We share our big, lovely lagoon with some of the most magnificent creatures to ever grace this earth. Tiger sharks. Twelve foot long and cruising the shoreline looking for a bite of albatross (or a nibble of human toes if it’s lucky) and making every swim one where you keep your eyes peeled like your life depends on it. As long as you’re careful, though, the sharks are a wondrous thing to see. I was especially excited to learn that the little ones we see swimming around the pier are Galapagos Sharks, a species that I have been so keen to see since watching David Attenborough talk about them when I was little. The lagoon is a very special place; young Hawaiian Monk seals spend all day playing around and snoozing on the warm sand, green sea turtles meander through the shallow reef and fish of all sizes nibble seaweed off the pillars that support the pier. It is a world of bright colours and clear, calm waters. A true paradise.
The beach is just as wild and colourful. From March until June, young Laysan and Black-Footed Albatross line the beach naupaka (a bushy, coastal plant and the island’s dominant vegetation) until they are old enough to flap their six foot wings and fly off into the wild open ocean to join their parents. The high tide line, when not cramped with seabirds, though, is sadly littered with a rainbow of marine plastic orchestrated by the sea’s powerful currents. A lot of it is debris from commercial fishing; nets, buoys and crates scrawled with Japanese characters that we are unable to decipher but much of it is our own personal making. I’ve seen tooth brushes, shoes, cigarette lighters, golf balls, figurines, kids toys, plastic bottles, coat hangers, toilet seats…you name it. You could walk the beaches here a hundred times over and never be able to pick it all up. Some of the conglomerate nets we pull up can weigh hundreds of pounds! Our ocean has become a scary place for marine wildlife, and the shores of Kure and all other islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago are evidence of that.
Leaving the beach behind, you’ll head up the dunes towards camp – don’t mind the screaming birds – you might‘ve just stepped a little too close to its very well camouflaged egg. Brown and Black noddies croak and swoop inches above your head, white terns hover so close to your face they seem like they might land on your nose, and sooty terns may actually land on your nose if you stand still for long enough. Normally, though, they’ll settle for a ride on your hat.
Tip-toeing carefully around the sleeping albatross and precariously balanced eggs, the skinny and winding path from the beach opens up to a field of kawelu (native grass), birds and holes covering every square centimetre of ground. Holes you say? You thought dodging birds and eggs was enough? Well, the moment your foot goes through a Bonin petrel burrow will be one you’ll never forget. Walking anywhere that isn’t the rocky paths in camp or beach itself is like playing a giant game of ‘Don’t Touch The Lava’, the lava being the thousands of sandy, unstable and surprisingly deep burrows and tunnels that cover this island from top to toe. Every burrow is home to a very cute (though very angry) little seabird that likes nothing more than sitting on its egg and biting the fingers of any unfortunate soul who puts a foot through its roof and has to then dig the whole thing out to check if anybody’s home. I don’t wish the feeling of not being able to trust the ground beneath your own feet on anyone, though it has been something I’ve come to appreciate.
Once you’ve figured out a safe route back home to the comfort of the main house porch, you’ll see me coming down the steps of the bunkhouse on my way to breakfast. It’s 0745 and I’m wearing something silly today but not because of the 100% humidity and unrelenting heat, no, my mismatched clothes are because it rained all weekend and I forgot to do my washing. Ooops. I guess with only three other people on this little piece of paradise, who really cares?
PS Mum tells me that lots of people are enjoying hearing about my time on Kure. I just wanted to say that I appreciate every single person who takes the time to read my pieces or to leave me a comment for when I get home. Thank you so much and I’ll see you soon!