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It’s Conservation Week and there is a fantastic grand prize on offer―a summer getaway to Great Barrier Island! All you have to do to enter is pick a simple conservation pledge to complete throughout the week. It can be anything from completing a conservation quiz or going for a walk in a local wilderness area.

But I know decisions can be hard, so we have made it even easier for you; simply answer a few simple yes/no questions, follow the arrows, and the chart will tell you what kind of pledge you should be making. When you’ve finished, click the box you end up on to explore the right pledges for you. It couldn’t be easier.

Remember to check out your options on the Conservation Week website and make a pledge:

I hope you are all having a fantastic Conservation Week!

When Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth mother, were separated by their children, the God of the winds—Tawhirimatea—became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

For Māori, the rising of these stars (called Matariki – ‘the eyes of God’), is celebrated by giving gratitude to Papatūānuku, practicing whakawhanaungatanga (establishing relationships and relating well to others) and valuing manaakitanga (hospitality and kindness).

Matariki in the night sky. Image courtesy of pbkwee, flickr.com.

Matariki in the night sky

Known as the Māori New Year, Matariki is also a time to give respect to the unique land we live on; a time of growth, to plant new trees and crops; to gather with whānau and friends and to reflect on what has been and what is yet to come. A time of new beginnings.

Traditionally, the success of the following season’s crops would be determined by Matariki. The brighter the stars, the warmer the season and the more plentiful the crops would be.

The flying of kites at a Matariki celebration. Image courtesy of Chris Gin, flickr.com.

The flying of kites at a Matariki celebration

In days gone by, Māori used the concept of manaaki (care) of the natural resources to survive,” says DOC’s Kaihautu – Te Putahitanga (Manager – Strategic Partnerships) Joe Harawira.

“For Māori, sustainability of resources was crucial to our survival. Our people had to adapt to the sometimes harsh and inhospitable conditions that were encountered upon arrival to Aotearoa. This was the time where they learned how to live, to breathe, to know and to understand how to live with the environment; how to co-exist. They wore the mantle of the land with dignity and respect, hearkened to the ways of nature, appreciated the elements, and speculated the cosmos. Therefore, the environment and its care are at the forefront of the celebrations around Matariki”.

To get in on the action and celebrate this time of new beginnings, bring friends and family along to one of the many events around the country. Eventfinder has a good list to choose from, and the Matariki Festival website has ideas for how you can celebrate from home—recipes, craft ideas, competitions and more.

Planting of trees. Image courtesy of Sandra Burles, DOC.

Matariki is a time to plant new trees and crops

Star gazing

Matariki is the group of stars also known as the Pleiades star cluster or The Seven Sisters. The pre-dawn rise of Matariki can be seen in the last few days of May, with the New Year marked by the sighting of the next new moon that occurs during June. This year it will occur on 23 June. This also happens to be a super moon, so it will be at its closest point to the Earth (known as a lunar perigee), shining brighter and larger than usual.

So, set the alarm for around 5.30 am, wrap up warmly and drag yourself outside. The best time to see Matariki is about half an hour before dawn.

1. Find the pot (the bottom three stars of the pot are called tautoru, or Orion’s Belt).

2. To the left of the pot, find the bright orange star, Taumata-kuku (Alderbaran).

3. Keep going left from Taumata-kuku until you find a cluster of stars. That is Matariki. You may be able to see the individual stars among the cluster, but if it’s a bit fuzzy, look just below or above it and they will appear clearer.

4. Get comfy and spend a few moments reflecting on the year that was and the year to come.

Matariki signals change—preparation and making plans to take action. We appreciate our whenua and celebrate the diversity of life. We learn about who came before us, our history and our heritage. Not only do we acknowledge what we have, we acknowledge what we have to give.

Pre-dawn sky. Image courtesy of irkstyle, flickr.com.

The best time to see Matariki is about half an hour before dawn.

A Mr S Claus has been detained after flying into New Zealand air space with undeclared animals, unwanted organisms and CITES listed threatened species.

Mr Claus has been unable to provide documentation to show that the has passed biosecurity clearance.

Mr Claus has been unable to provide documentation to show that the has passed biosecurity clearance

The animals—nine reindeer—were impounded on arrival and Mr Claus has so far been unable to provide documentation to show that they have passed biosecurity clearances.

“This is a blatant breach of both CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and New Zealand’s biosecurity laws, ”  says a senior DOC spokesperson.

“The contents of a bag have been found and appears to hold many personal items that Mr Claus insisted were gifts, and also contained a number of rare parrots from tropical countries. This could be a real feather in the cap for busting a bird smuggling ring“.

Mr Claus insisted he knew nothing of the parrots and was just asked to pass the plain brown wrappers onto someone else on the other side of the border.

The sledge that Mr Claus was riding is made from a rare hardwood from an un-sustainably managed rainforest. The wood is on the CITIES threatened species database of prohibited timbers. Exotic spiders were also found crawling under the vehicle; Claus claimed he hadn’t used it in nearly 12 months.

He was dressed in polar bear fur from his head to his foot and his clothes were tarnished with ashes and soot. His gumboots were covered in dirt and reindeer faeces which carried numerous diseases including didymo.

Mr Claus was wearing gumboots covered in dirt and reindeer faeces.

Mr Claus was wearing gumboots covered in dirt and reindeer faeces

Furthermore, Claus was suspected to be under the influence of illegal drugs. His eyes were too twinkly, he was far too merry, his cheeks were too rosy, his nose like a cherry. The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke encircled his head like a wreath.

Picked up (only by specially trained rodent dogs) was a small mouse—undetected by staff due to its lack of stirring.

Picked up (only by specially trained rodent dogs) was a small mouse—undetected by staff due to its lack of stirring

How cute is this Christmas fairy tern. Unfortunately they won’t be as easy to spot this summer, given that there’s only 31 of them.

A fairy tern getting in to the Christmas spirit with coloured wings and Santa hat.

A fairy tern getting in to the Christmas spirit

If you’re around Mangawhai, Waipu and the Pakari River, have a read of these suggestions (they also apply to dotterel breeding areas as well):

  • Leave the dog at home/don’t take it to the beach, or at least have it on a leash.
  • Stay out of taped-off nesting areas, and don’t linger while parent birds are doing distraction displays or appear agitated – while they are preoccupied with you they are not tending to their eggs or chicks.
  • Fishermen should bury their scraps to avoid feeding and attracting black-backed gulls.
  • Walk below the high tide mark, to avoid standing on nests, which are higher up on the beach.
  • Motorbikes and four-wheel drives on beaches are not good for shorebirds, and prohibited in many places anyway.
  • Keep away from birds doing dive-bombs cause that means they’re agitated.
Fairy tern eggs playing hide and seek.

Fairy tern eggs playing hide and seek

Fairy tern is banded and released by DOC staff.

A fairy tern is banded and released by DOC staff

Now that it’s the summer time and the weather is fine (mostly), you may find yourself wondering, ‘What shall I do today?’.

Well, wonder no longer; answer a few simple yes/no questions, follow the arrows, and the chart will tell you what you should be doing. When you’ve got your answer, read about the opportunities for that activity below!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Great Walks

The Great Walks are DOC’s premier walking tracks—the best of the best. They take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and the huts and tracks are of a higher standard that other huts and tracks. There are nine Great Walks in total, all of different lengths and difficulty levels. Choose one that suits your style, or tick them off your list one by one. These are great to do in the summer months, with plenty of swimming opportunities to make the most of, and visitors from all around the world to get to know. Go with friends, family or as a couple, and relish the achievement of completing one of the most stunning walks in the world!

Tracks and walks

Trialling and trekking DOC tracks is an ideal activity for you this summer. Burn off the sneaky icecreams and second helpings of your aunty’s famous potato salad with a bit of up-hill huffing and puffing. There’s a heap of tracks (in whichever region you’re in) with various lengths and difficulty levels. If you’ve got two days or two hours, there’s something to fill in your time while keeping you fit and exposing you to some different areas. If you need to get away from the in-laws, walking a quick loop through native bush is a great way to regain your inner peace. Find a walking buddy, create your perfect scroggin recipe, and plan your tracks for this summer!

Adventure recreation

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie with four bungy jumps under your belt, or a self-confessed timid Tim, you’ve landed on ‘Adventure recreation’ for your perfect summer activity. Take a step to the left outside of your comfort zone and choose from the many outdoor activities available throughout the country. Adventure recreation is a great rush, and there are plenty of DOC approved concessionaires who will guide you throughout your experience if you’re after something tried and tested. There are also activities where no guide is needed (if you’ve got the skills and the resources) such as sand boarding in Northland, motor boating at Cable Bay, or abseiling in the Wairarapa. With the huge selection available, there’s bound to be something up your alley!

Snorkelling

Exploring the world under the sea is the top pick for you this summer. Marine Reserves around the country are off the hook, bubbling with the activity of fascinating creatures who are safe from the hungry eyes of fishers. Try snorkelling or diving lessons if you’ve never been out before. In the words of Sebastian the crab, “Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you, what more is you lookin’ for?” Whether you’re going on holiday, or looking for something to do in the weekends, snorkelling is a fun (and educational) way to get active in the sea this summer. See some fun places to go snorkelling here.

Camping

Camping is your perfect summer activity—like many kiwis around the country, you’d enjoy setting up a base under the stars and spending time with good food, good weather and good company. DOC manages over 250 campsites in New Zealand (including on New Zealand’s islands) so there’s plenty of special spots to choose from—many at ridiculously cheap prices, if not free! They’re often located in areas that have heaps of conservation activities near by, so there’s lots to keep you entertained! Find out more at www.doc.govt.nz/camping.

Download a copy of this as a pdf here.

When the folks at What Now let us know who they’d picked as the winner of the ‘Whio in Fiordland—Ranger for a Week’ competition, we were not expecting the likes of Charlotte Thomas… conservation wonder kid.

Genesis Energy supported this year’s prize, which was all about getting to see the whio/blue duck in its natural habitat.

Charlotte’s photo collage she submitted with her entry.

Charlotte’s photo collage she submitted with her entry

Children had to correctly answer three questions about whio and state why they wanted to be a ranger for a week. Out of 1026 entries, Charlotte’s entry was the winner by a long shot.

A male and female whio on a fast flowing river.

Mr and Mrs Whio

“I’m ten years old and you have no idea how much of a dream come true it would be, to be a Ranger for a week! I’m so excited just at the thought!” wrote Charlotte.

“Ever since I can remember, I have loved nature and I know how important it is to protect our native animals and their habitats….When I was nine I wrote and illustrated a book about a New Zealand falcon (karearea) that flew into a fence and damaged its wing.

Charlotte standing in front of a bus in Doubtful Sound

Excited about heading out to see some wildlife in the misty Doubtful Sound

“I spend as much of my spare time as possible outside learning about nature. I am a member of the Environmental Council at my school, I volunteer planting trees at our local regional park, I am a member of the Kiwi Conservation Club and I read. I read about nature and conservation a lot!”

So when the 15th October finally rolled round, Charlotte and her dad Dave flew from Auckland to Queenstown and made their way to Te Anau.

Charlotte meeting various animals at the Te Anau Wildlife Park.

A fun day at the Te Anau Wildlife Park

Day 1 of the prize was a helicopter ride with ranger Max and newly trained whio dog Oska to the Ettrick Burn in the Murchison mountains. Charlotte got to see whio up close and personal, including a pair in their home on the river.

You may remember that the Milford Road was closed because of a slip during this time. Thankfully, Real Journeys who also supported the prize, were kind enough to change day 2’s Milford Sound cruise to a Doubtful Sound day trip. During the cruise, Charlotte saw kea, a little blue penguin, Fiordland crested penguins, Australasian gannets, pied shags, and New Zealand fur seals. All of which, she was able to identify and give facts about!

On day 3 Charlotte and Dave helped feed the birds at the Te Anau Wildlife Park, and then visited the 13000 year old Glow Worm cave across Lake Te Anau.

In her spare time, Charlotte makes jewellery, ornaments and decorations from recycled wire. During the week, she made a range of whio figures, which now sit displayed in the Fiordland Visitor Centre. They have had a bit of interest, so are now for sale with the proceeds going towards the whio!

Charlotte’s amazing wire whio

Charlotte’s amazing wire whio

Charlotte had a great time and now wants to be a DOC ranger when she grows up. DOC staff can’t wait to have her on board!

Check out Charlotte’s big adventure:

DOC Great Walks logo.

by Siobhan File

So like eager beavers (after some small packing issues), we headed down the road towards the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, got a little bit lost in the DOC car park, and eventually found the National Park entrance.

Siobhan stands in front of the DOC sign on the Abel Tasman Coastal track before an 11.8km walk.

A leisurely 11.8k stroll for the first day

I know there must be some decent synonyms for ‘golden’ and ‘sparkling turquoise’, but they’re actually the colours of the sands and waters that the track meanders through. Although they don’t do it justice. As we made our way into the bush and climbed a little bit higher, we got warmer and warmer, and all I wanted to do was jump into the sea and bask in the sun.

Instead, we started playing ‘who can guess how long DOC thinks it’ll take till we get to the hut?’ before reading each signpost, and making bets on who was closest. In the end we arrived around an hour sooner than DOC predicted we would.

Siobhan in front of a scenic view of Abel Tasman Coast.

Not a bad spot to spend a Friday arvo in

After about 2 hours in, we started getting pretty sore feet and felt a few blisters forming—despite wearing comfy shoes/boots that’d been fine previously. We figured the extra weight of the packs, and walking on the harder sandstone rather than mud were the causing factors. I had taken a 50 pack of sticking plasters with me. I definitely recommend others do the same. I returned with only 2 left.

After 3 hours walking, we arrived at Anchorage Hut. The sun was still out, there were people eating dinner on the beach and at picnic tables around the hut, and there were only 3 bunks left. We bagsed our beds, cranked out the wine and cheese and headed down to the shore. Bliss. As the sun went down, the sandflies came out so we headed back to the hut area to fire up the gas cooker. After dinner we went inside to play cards and realised we hadn’t brought any candles! We played by torch light for a while but headed to the bunk room shortly after. Ear plugs were a good thing with about 16 people in the room (lots of sleeping bag rustling and a few snorers).

Stopping at a beach along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Making Sam’s pack half a bottle of wine lighter

The next day, Sam had an early morning swim (I wasn’t so brave) and we prepared our gourmet breakfast—squashed croissants with camembert, avocado and ham. Delish. Before we left, we got talking to a Mexican guy who was also walking to Awaroa Hut that day. One thing I noticed was that there were no other kiwis on the trip! Lots of Germans, some Austrians and Americans. But no locals.

The walk on the second day was amazing. There was only one difficult bit—a lengthy hill just after our lunch stop—but most of the time it was pretty flat. For this reason I reckon it’s the best Great Walk to go for if it’s your first time, or if you’re worried about your fitness levels. The track is really well maintained—there’s no figuring out where you’re going to put your foot next like in some tracks. You can also choose to break it up into just 3 or 4 hours of walking a day. We skipped Bark Bay hut on day 2, and as such, our feet were aaaaching. In the second half we actually took as long as DOC said we would because we were plodding along so slowly.

Siobhan on the famous swing bridge along the Abel Tasman Coastal track.

Hanging out on the famous swing bridge

We had taken the slightly longer route because we weren’t in tune with the low tide, but it didn’t matter. We crossed a few little streams, and I was lucky enough to be carried over a few by Sam, who took his pack, my pack, and me all at once (before you leap to conclusions about my wuss levels, I hadn’t whinged or made any complaints—I merely accepted the offer). Seeing Awaroa Hut in the distance as we turned the corner was the best sight ever, and even I was game for a swim after arriving.

Afterwards we got straight to work on the remaining wine, cheese and crackers, and had a yarn with the friendly DOC hut warden who lives in a house nearby for 7 months a year. What a great spot! After dinner we got chatting with the others, including our new Mexican friend who’d arrived late after walking the low tide route despite it being high tide. There were only 12 of us all up, and there was a more open, chatty atmosphere among us, compared to the first hut that was full. The sandflies here were like nothing I’ve experienced before. They took no notice of the fact I’d drenched myself in insect repellent. The only option was to cover up or go inside. One tramper said coconut butter kept them away, so I’ll have to try that next time.

Sam takes a break instantly upon arriving, but perks up enough to help prepare the nibbles.

Sam takes a break instantly upon arriving, but perks up enough to help prepare the nibbles

On Sunday morning we woke to rain on the roof. We’d had to change our plans to taxi back from Awaroa instead of Totaranui because of a slip, so we headed to the lodge where the taxi comes in (via the skyline route for one last view). The ride back was about an hour and a half long. Seeing the land from the sea highlighted how far we’d actually walked! Our taxi driver doubled as a tour guide and we learnt heaps about the area, and stopped to see some sunbathing seals on the islands.

Sergio and Ingrid head back from the Abel Tasman Coastal track on the boat.

Sergio and Ingrid enjoying the ride home

We arrived back in the Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi car park pretty exhausted but happy we’d made it back in time and in one piece—even if we both had limps from blister overload. I told Sam I didn’t think I could handle another day, and therefore some of the longer Great Walks, but actually, if I’d had better shoes it would’ve been fine. I think you can even hire them so that makes things easy. Since putting the photos of our trip on Facebook, I’ve had 4 different people tell me they now want to do the walk. I hope I’ve inspired some readers to get booking too! It’s definitely an amazing walk and now that I know what to expect, I’ll be getting a group of friends together early next year for the Waikaremoana Great Walk! Fun times ahead!

For info on all of the Great Walks, check out www.greatwalks.co.nz, and follow the Great Walks Facebook page.