Living on island means children ‘grow up in nature’

Quarantine Island keeper Dries Van den Broeck says living and working on the island is a "once-in-a-lifetime experience". PHOTO: JESSICA WILSON

Life as the Quarantine Island keeper is “diverse” and requires a range of skills, says Dries Van den Broeck, who took on the role just over a year ago.

Originally from Belgium, Mr Van den Broeck, his partner Nadjejda Espinel, of Spain, and their two children Noah (7) and Lucia (4) moved to the island in October 2017 and are its only residents.

“It’s like our own island but it’s so close to the city,” Ms Espinel said.

“I love that [the children] grow up in nature and close to the sea.”

The family relocated to Dunedin from Auckland about a year and a-half ago, when Ms Espinel enrolled to do a PhD in marine science at the University of Otago.

She is based at the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre, in Portobello, which is a short boat trip from the island.

Mr van Den Broeck was working as a tour guide at the Royal Albatross Centre on Otago Peninsula when he heard about the vacancy for the keeper’s job through a friend.

Living on the island was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience”, he said.

They could not have found a better place to live.

“I work from home and Nadjejda works just across in the lab and the kids go to Portobello School.

“This is a perfect set-up for us.”

Strong winds could make it difficult to get across to Portobello to get the children to school, but they enjoyed taking the boat.

The children, who speak English, Spanish and Dutch, were “really social”.

“A lot of people come to the island, especially at this time of year.

“At the end of the day they meet a lot of people, so they get to hang out with a lot of kids and they get to know a lot of people.”

Noah said he liked swimming, jumping off the jetty and having shared lunches with the community.

Mr Van den Broeck said his job was quite diverse.

He brought people to the island, gave them information about its history and set them up with projects if they wanted to volunteer.

He also welcomed school groups, many of which were there as part of the Curious Minds biodiversity programme, and local families.

Having knowledge of the peninsula helped, as did having motor and building skills, he said.

He enjoyed learning from people in the community, especially the Department of Conservation rangers.

“Our community . . . [consists] of a lot of people with different skills.

“You can really learn a lot from people who have been involved in this community for a couple of decades.”