Vonny Sprey’s life of adventure
By Roger Childs
I have 2 favourite Tee shirts, one says “good planets are hard to find – don’t blow this one”; the other, “ life is uncertain, eat dessert first”. Yvonne (Vonny) Sprey
A fascinating journey
Vonny Sprey lived in Raumati for many years and attended Kapiti College. She is currently the warden for the Department of Conservation (DOC) Siberia Hut in the Mt Aspiring National Park.
However, over the next month she is working as a volunteer on Kapiti Island.
Since leaving college she has had led a very interesting life, involving amongst other things
- Massey University degrees
- working for the Pork Industry Board
- Agricultural consultancy mainly in the South Island
- Representing New Zealand in cycling
- success in running and triathlon
- DOC work in the Wanaka area
- leading the DOC Raoul Island team for a year.
This sporting life
Yvonne took up jogging to lose weight and keep fit. In the late 1970’s she one of the first women to break into that staunch male bastion, the Kapiti Joggers. In the early days she was a slow but steady runner and her first half marathon took over 2 hours.
From these humble beginnings, Yvonne became a national class athlete:
- she reduced her half marathon time down to the 1.20s
- had success in triathlon and won the women’s section of an early Porirua Triathlon, beating Wellington legend, Bernie Portenski
- rode from Auckland to Wellington in under 27 hours to create a women’s record that she thinks has not been broken
- represented New Zealand in cycling races in Europe, Britain and the United States
- completed the Hawaii Ironman in under 11 hours.
Yvonne excelled in cycling, especially time trialling, and for a time was coached by well known local cycling legend, Bob Pratt. One of her ambitions was to ride in the women’s equivalent of the Tour de France. However despite an invitation going to the NZ Cycling Federation it didn’t happen.
A career specialising in pigs!
A masters degree in agricultural science led to work for the Pork Marketing Board.
Yvonne became a hard working specialist in the industry and spent many years as a consultant in pig farming, based in Canterbury.
Part of the conservation scene in Central Otago
She has been based in Wanaka for much of her DOC involvement and as the current warden of Mt Aspiring’s Siberia Hut, she enjoys the contacts with tourists. In addition to Kiwis, her main customers are Israelis, Germans and Canadians.
However, Vonny’s biggest assignment for DOC was being selected as team leader for a year’s work on Raoul Island in the Kermadecs.
The Kermadecs: New Zealand’s northern outpost
The remote, sub tropical island group has special geopolitical significance. There is always a New Zealand presence on Raoul, the biggest island, because it is sovereign territory which massively extends the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The islands are spread 2600km north to south in the South Pacific, south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
This is a dangerous environment because
- it sits on a tectonic plate boundary
- there are many active volcanoes
- an eruption in 2006 killed a DOC worker and other personnel had to be evacuated
- in 2011 there two massive earthquakes measuring 7.4 and 7.6 on the Richter Scale.
The Raoul Island boss
Yvonne spent 12 months on Raoul over 2012-2013. A lot of the work involved maintaining the facilities and access tracks, making observations on the flora and fauna, collecting samples, making measurements and launching weather balloons.
- Watching the humpback whales swim past.
- Observing the birdlife – time to watch the progression of a number of birds like black wing and Kermadec petrels, the white terns and others: from the reuniting of couples, to laying of eggs, feeding fledglings and to their departure into the Pacific.
- The volcano, the landscape, the huge old gnarled pokutakawas.
- The living and working together of a group of people on an isolated island.
A little closer on Kapiti Island
Over the next month Yvonne will be just a few kilometres from mainland New Zealand, back in the area where she went to school and lived much of her early life. Her report on the early days:
…we spent the day cutting back vegetation on one of the tracks at the northern end of island and collecting rubbish found on the beach – yesterday we got some non takahe friendly weeds out of a takahe enclosure ready for an upcoming translocation. Today we checked some of the traps that are scattered along and just back from the foreshore, repaired and painted a pump shed.
However, some day she is keen to head further afield again. Having been to the northern frontier, she would like to go to New Zealand’s southern outpost and winter over in Scott Base.