Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile DOC ranger Andrew Blanshard, based in the Bay of Islands.

At work

Some things I do in my job include… I’m an archaeologist, historic assets project manager, boat skipper/manager, rodent dog handler, as well as looking after GIS,  island biosecurity, rural fire and marine mammal disentanglement.

Andrew excavating at Marsden Cross.

Andrew in his hole, excavating at Marsden Cross

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by helping to protect our historic heritage so that it will still be there for the next generation to appreciate and learn from. I help to keep our islands and special places pest free so that our unique wildlife can flourish.

The best bit about my job is managing, protecting and promoting some of the country’s most significant historic and archaeological sites. Also, working with my rodent dog on offshore islands with only the birds for company and getting out on the beautiful waters of Pewhairangi (Bay of Islands).

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is…It’s hard to narrow down to one. They include seeing the Cape Brett Lighthouse with her new coat of paint; finding the remains of New Zealand’s first Government house at Okiato; helping excavate New Zealand’s first school at Marsden Cross; spending 12 days on Kapiti with my Rodent Dog ‘Tike’ and getting to know this wonderful Island a bit better.

Tike looking at orca from a boat.

My rodent dog ‘Tike’ getting a view of orca

On a personal note

If I could trade places with any other person for a week it would be a crewman on Captain Cook’s voyages. I would love to see what the Pacific looked like before European Influences.

My best ever holiday was a working holiday sailing to 80 degrees north above Svalbard (Norway).

Andrew after 6 weeks in the field in Mongolia.

Looking a bit grubby after 6 weeks in the field

In my spare time I am involved in ongoing archaeological projects in Mongolia and Colorado.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to be floating around the Pacific on a boat or being a ski bum…

Before working at DOC I was an archaeologist, driving instructor, kitchen designer and salesman.

The excavation crew just after uncovering New Zealand's first Government House.

The excavation crew just after uncovering New Zealand’s first Government House

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is “Give out, don’t give up!”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is You have two ears and one mouth therefore listen twice as much as you talk!! (a hard one for me!!)

Training for disentangling large marine mammals.

Learning how to disentangle large marine mammals.

In work and life I am motivated by sharing my passion for Aotearoa/New Zealand’s unique and varied history.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is before going on an OE, make sure you have seen the beauties of your own country! Once you realise how special it is, GET INVOLVED with one of the brilliant conservation focused community groups/projects that we are lucky enough to have in abundance.

Andrew in Colorado, USA.

In red rock canyon country: Paradox Valley, Colorado.

Question of the week…

What was your favourite childhood toy and do you still have it?

A little Snoopy stuffed toy, which yes, is still with me in the garage.

By Don Herron, Wellington Visitor Centre Ranger

The Tararua Forest Park, north of Wellington, can be accessed from both the Wairairapa and the Kapiti Coast.

The park has almost 50 backcountry huts, and the best?

Blue Range Hut of course. And why do I think this? I have visited almost all the huts in the park: some are harder to get to; some have better views; some are bigger; and some are smaller. However, what sets Blue Range Hut apart from the rest is its unique character.

Blue Range Hut. Photo: Don Herron.

Blue Range Hut

Blue Range hut is approximately a 3 hour walk from the Kiriwhakapapa road end, north of Masterton. This makes it a perfect day trip or an easy overnighter.

There is also a fabulous DOC campground at the road end with a large cooking shelter, flushing toilets and short walks (drinking water from a nearby stream).

It is a steep climb up to the hut, however the magnificent podocarp bush will more than make up for it and, if you’re very lucky you might see/hear visiting kaka from nearby Pukaha Mount Bruce.

At the top of the hill there is a large, appropriately placed rock to enjoy the view of the main range, including the impressive and steep sided Dundas Peak, and the highest peak in the park—Mitre (1571 metres). From here it’s a easy 20 minute walk down the hill to the hut.

It’s hard to miss the hut as it’s painted bright blue and has a “tow away area after 2 pm” sign!

And that is part of the reason I love Blue Range Hut. It has numerous signs both inside and outside the hut that have come from the old Masterton hospital. A visitor (or patient?) could be confused on arrival as on the door of the hut is a sign saying “Do not enter while surgery is in progress”.

Once inside the hut (after surgery has finished!), you will find signs on the four bunks that are for “patients only”.

Blue Range Hut is also apparently the “antenatal clinic”. Such a versatile little hut!

For this reason Blue Range Hut is easily my favourite hut in the park, and a place I enjoying visiting often.

Why don’t you come up yourself and check out these signs and the wonder bush and views for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

Today’s photo of the week is of a banded sea krait.

Sea kraits are occasional visitors to New Zealand’s waters but they are considered a native species because they arrive here naturally on ocean currents.

Banded sea krait.

Sea kraits spend part of their time on land, drinking fresh water and laying their eggs there.

They are likely to be accidental visitors as New Zealand is outside their normal tropical range. They are found abundantly in the reef systems around Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, and their usual prey is eels.

 Photo by Tom Gruber | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

By Kath Inwood, Partnerships Ranger, Nelson

The Motueka sandspit is an internationally significant site for shorebirds, providing roosting and nesting space for variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel, and temporary lodgings for the bar-tailed godwit. Being so close to town, however, it is a popular spot for Motueka dog owners to walk their dogs.

A variable oystercatcher.

A variable oystercatcher

Ranger Ross with some dogs.

Ranger Ross and some of the dogs

To improve awareness of the birds in the area, we got together with Tasman District Council and Birds New Zealand to try out an Australian idea – the Dog’s Breakfast. This event provides dog owners an opportunity to learn about the birds of the foreshore and sandspit over a bacon and egg butty (sandwich).

Around 50 dog walkers turned out to breakfast with their dogs over a two and a half hour period on Saturday 8 March.

With the smell of sizzling bacon in the background, David Melville from Birds New Zealand explained that variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel are key inhabitants of the sandspit area, along with the better-known bar-tailed godwits, who make the 11,000km flight between New Zealand and Alaska.

The crowd at the Dog's breakfast.

The crowd gathers for the dog’s breakfast

The purpose of the breakfast was to raise awareness of dog owners about the significance of this area for shorebirds, and to enable them to be more informed about how they can minimise the disturbance to wildlife, while enjoying the benefits of an area such as this to walk their dogs.

By DOC’s Melissa Reid

About six months ago some of my Wellington friends and I decided to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail. Coming from Dunedin, I love Central Otago and wanted to spend more time there and share the experience with my North Island friends.

The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former Otago Central branch railway line for 150 kms, from Middlemarch to Clyde. Photo: © OCRT Charitable Trust.

The Otago Central Rail Trail follows the former Otago Central branch railway line for 150 kms, from Middlemarch to Clyde

I booked flights, bike hire and accommodation for the 12 of us to ride the trail over 4 days in March. We needed to book early—March is one of the most popular months to ride the trail as the weather is warm and settled.

I hadn’t done much cycling over the past 20 years, and I’m not particularly fit, but I had 6 months to get cycle ready. Somehow those months slipped by and by the time I started the trail I still hadn’t spent much time on a bike or got myself fit.

But I discovered that if you can ride a bike and are in OK shape you can do it! You just ride as long as you have to each day, admire the glorious ever-changing scenery, stop frequently to look at historic sites, and enjoy the delicious food and southern hospitality at cafes and pubs along the way.

It wasn’t particularly difficult and was great fun.

We started in Clyde where our bike hire company provided us with bikes and helmets. The weather was sunny and hot—we didn’t need all the merinos we packed and the long range weather forecast that predicted rain was completely wrong.

Melissa standing with bike by the Clutha River.

Starting the ride by the Clutha River – one hour after leaving Clyde

Leaving Alexandra—the trail gets underway and the first of many long straight roads. Photo: Ged Taylor.

Leaving Alexandra—the trail gets underway and the first of many long straight roads

Our first ride was alongside the Clutha River from Clyde to Alexandra. This isn’t actually part of the trail, but is a very beautiful detour, especially in autumn. I was astonished I was actually starting the trip – my friends and family probably were too.

From Alexandra we started the first long ride. It was very hot and I was extremely pleased to arrive at the Chatto Creek Tavern where we had lunch in another lovely garden.

This was the theme of the next few days—ride and eat.

We then rode the steepest part of the trail—Tiger Hill. The views were amazing, this was one of my favourite parts of the trail although it was an effort in the now extremely hot afternoon.

Melissa lying on the grass relaxing at the Chatto Creek Tavern.  Photo: Ged Taylor.

Collapsed at Chatto Creek—four hours after leaving Clyde

We stayed in Lauder and had dinner at Lauder Hotel, run by former winemaker Knobby Clarke who has delicious Central Otago wines on his wine list and the obligatory blue cod and steak on the menu.

The next day we rode over the Poolburn Gorge and through two tunnels. There were also some very long straight stretches and the challenging final climb to the highest point of the trail.

However the reward was a thrilling downhill ride into Wedderburn.

We stayed at the adorable Wedderburn Cottages where each family had their own cottage and porch.

We had access to a car that evening and drove over to the historic town of St Bathans and its beautiful Blue Lake.

Blue Lake. Photo: Melissa Reid.

Blue Lake

The next morning we started our ride at the iconic Wedderburn shed, made famous by Graeme Sydney’s painting.

Wedderburn Shed. Photo: Ged Taylor.

Wedderburn Shed

Big sky at Wedderburn. Photo: Ged Taylor.

Big sky at Wedderburn

I’d hoped it would all be downhill rides from here, but there were still a few hills to climb.

Somewhere scenic above Daisybank after riding another hill. Photo: Ngaio Double.

Somewhere scenic above Daisybank after riding another hill

On the final night we stayed at Stanley’s Hotel in the old goldmining town of Macraes Flat (which now has an enormous modern gold mine).

Stanley's Hotel—an old hotel with modern facilities. Photo: Peter Tillman | CC BY 2.0.

Stanley’s Hotel—an old hotel with modern facilities

The last day’s ride was a quick downhill (finally) trip from Hyde to Middlemarch—and the 150 km cycle ride was over.

Bridge past Hyde. Photo: Melissa Reid.

Bridge past Hyde

We would ride about four hours a day, and most of our party rode at different speeds, so we often wouldn’t see each other until we met again at a sightseeing spot, lunch, or the end of the day.

Ngapuna Station near the Rock and Pillar Range. Photo: Richard Langston.

Ngapuna Station near the Rock and Pillar Range

I was lucky that one of my friends rode at the same pace as me (slowly), and we were usually at the back of the group—but that was fine with us, we weren’t in any rush.

Brass plaque with Van Morrison quote. Photo: dubh | CC BY-NC 2.0.

You have to be here. You have to feel the deep slow surge of the hills…

You probably don’t need me to tell you that today is Good Friday, but you could be forgiven for not knowing that today—18 April 2014—is also World Heritage Day.

To celebrate, we’re showing off New Zealand’s 3 stunning World Heritage sites.

Representing the best of the world’s natural (and, in some cases, cultural) heritage—and rated alongside places such as the Grand Canyon, the Serengeti, and Mount Everest—these are places that we should be immensely proud of…

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park was the first national park to be established in New Zealand, and the fourth in the world. It is a dual World Heritage area, a status which recognises the park’s important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.

Mt. Ngauruhoe. Photo: Matti | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Mt. Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park

Emerald Lakes. Photo: Matti | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro National Park

Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand

Te Wāhipounamu covers 10% of New Zealand’s landmass (2.6 million hectares) and contains many of the natural features which contribute to our international reputation for superlative landscapes: our highest mountains, longest glaciers, tallest forests, wildest rivers and gorges, most rugged coastlines and deepest fiords and lakes…

Lake Matheson. Photo: Geee Kay | flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Lake Matheson

Milford Sound. Photo: CameliaTWU | flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Milford Sound/Piopiotahi

New Zealand’s subantarctic islands

New Zealand’s wild and beautiful subantarctic islands have not only been honoured with World Heritage status, but they are also National Nature Reserves—the highest possible conservation status.

Home to some of the most abundant and unique wildlife on earth: many birds, plants and invertebrates are found nowhere else in the world.

Enderby Island, part of the Auckland Islands. Photo: Austronesian Expeditions | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Enderby Island

Subantarctic plantlife. Photo: Su Yin Khoo | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Subantarctic plant life

I hope this glimpse into our World Heritage has made your Good Friday even better.

Have a great long weekend everyone!

World Heritage Day is officially known as the International Day for Monuments and Sites.

Learn more about World Heritage on the DOC website.

By Helen Dodson, Takahē Engagement Ranger

What do an All Black and a DOC takahē ranger have in common? Tricky footwork and some good catching skills!

Nifty cornering and tackling are a pre-requisite for catching a takahē in a small pen, but substitute that pen with a 50,000 hectare mountain range and you really have your work cut out for you!

DOC rangers banding a takahē in the Murchison Mountains.

Banding takahē in the Murchison Mountains

In early autumn the ‘Tark Team’ (DOC takahē programme rangers based in Fiordland) headed off into the Murchison Mountains to catch takahē. We wanted to get an idea of how many chicks had successfully hatched over the summer, fit them with identifying leg bands and transmitters and change some transmitters on adult birds. It was also a good chance to get a rough census of the wild takahē population too.

The Murchison Mountains.

A fine day in the Murchison Mountains

Luckily for us, about half the birds in the Murchison Mountains are fitted with transmitters which helps narrow the search considerably. We also had our team supplemented with some specially trained DOC species dogs, including takahē tracker extraordinaire “Yuki”. But it still didn’t all go our way.

Looking for takahē.

Looking for takahē

We used the radio signals emitted by the transmitters to locate the takahē in the large alpine basins. Alternatively the dogs would signal the presence of birds without transmitters.

Then, hunkered down behind tussocks, we played recordings of takahē calling to coax birds toward us, or at least get them to call back and reveal their exact location.

Takahē are territorial and will often reply to the call and even move to intercept an interloper. Our strategy seemed sound, and it worked… mostly…sort of.. except for those birds in Takahē Valley who consistently evaded us.

If you’ve ever seen a takahē, they look large and slow and act quite casual and relaxed. But be aware that it’s all a front. They are fast on their feet and amazingly skilled at ducking and dodging. Our best hope of catching them was when they froze under a tussock thinking we couldn’t see them. The trouble is quite often we couldn’t… and once we could they were gone!

Here’s where I admit I’m not an experienced takahē catcher. Scrambling through and over thick scrub is not a problem and launching into a dive tackle is okay, but the speed that the birds can change directions and appear somewhere completely different to where they were the moment before, is mind boggling.

Thankfully we do have some experienced folk so, if the All Blacks coach is looking for a new wing, I can recommend ranger Glen. Second five eight call ranger Martin and for an open-side flanker you just couldn’t bypass ranger Phil!

A juvenile takahē.

Caught! A young takahē

The good news is we’re fairly confident that this season we’ve got 8-10 new takahē chicks in our wild population in the Murchison Mountains. The other news is sometime soon we’ll be spending a few more days trying to catch those birds that outsmarted and evaded us in Takahē Valley.