Jobs at DOC: Maniapoto Ranger, Gary Coles

Department of Conservation —  24/10/2011

Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

This week Gary Coles’ colleagues provide us with his Jobs at DOC story, with a few quotes from the man himself.  Gary turned 60 on Sunday 16 October. So Gaz, we salute you!

Name: Gary Coles (or Gaz to us).

Just starting out, New Zealand Forest Service 1970’s

Job title and location:

Ranger – Asset and Historic, Maniapoto Area Office, friend to all creatures great and small (that aren’t pests), and all-round good guy. 

Describe his role:

It all started a long, long time ago…

Back in 1970, when many of us were being born, Garry attended the Golden Downs training school run by the New Zealand Forest Service. After graduating, Gary went on to assist with cutting and forming the Heaphy and Whangapeka tracks. After stints in the Ashley and Balmoral Forests in North Canterbury, Gary headed north to Pureora Forest Park in 1986 to carry out animal pest control. Upon the amalgamation of the NZFS, NZWLS and Lands and Surveys in 1987, Gary started his career with the Department in Te Kuiti, and the rest is history…

So, what makes him so special?

Pest control in Pureora

Gary’s a bit of an icon around these parts—a quiet chap with an encyclopaedic knowledge of local and historic information. In fact, one of the most frequently used sayings around the office is “Dunno, ask Gaz.”

Time in the field with Gary is an important part of any new recruit’s induction. We know they’ve been well tutored about all things technical, geographical and historical by the time they are returned!

And at the end of each working day, Gaz always calls by the office for a quick yarn and a laugh, before heading off home to fix some kind of machine or tend to his native plant nursery in the back shed.

What kind of work does he specialise in?

You could say that Gary is an honorary Master (track) Builder. Pretty much all of the tracks around our area have been worked on by Gaz at some stage. Also, he’s a superb lawn mower!

What does he always take with him when he’s out in the field?

Did someone say there were sardines?

“A good lunch (including sardines), tea bags and a thermos, a good first aid kit for the guests and I never leave home without today’s newspaper!”

What’s one of his funniest moments at work?

Gaz has had many, but the funniest one we heard (and a general testament to Gary’s uncanny compassion toward nature) was when he was recently working at the Arohena campsite one dark and thunderous day…

After a busy morning cleaning the campsite and feeding his pet trout in a secluded inlet up stream of the local Anglers hut, Gaz took a moment of quiet contemplation to catch up with the latest on the Rugby World Cup in the new corrugated iron loo. While engrossed in an editorial by Andrew Mehrtons on the perils of Argentinean front row facial hair in the scrum, a bolt of lighting and a boom of thunder unleashed an earth shattering blast over head sending a nomadic family of pukekos racing into Gary’s stall for cover. Undeterred by the invasion of privacy, Gaz quietly pushed the door open with his foot (in case they needed to return) and carried on reading his paper. Eye witness accounts swear they saw a hint of smoke coming from the ablution block after the bang!

Dismantling the hut in Pureora (not the loo at Arohena…)

Tell us about his 15 minutes of fame

Aside from discovering the toe bones of a giant Moa on his family farm near Marton, Gaz recently took a group of fit, hardcore hunters half his age to do some maintenance work on the Waitomo Walkway to Ruakuri. By the end of the day, word got around that he’d not only out-worked these blokes, but had also out-walked them back to the car park, confirming his legendary status to all the young’uns back at HQ in Te Kuiti.

What few words of wisdom would he like to pass onto all those young’uns just starting out?

“If it’s hard at the start, it generally gets easier over time…”

What does he like to do when he’s not at work?

“Fossil hunting along the rugged west coast in my kayak with a mate, then restoring old machinery and a touch of gardening to finish.”

“It’ll be as good as gold in no time…” - Fisholeening at Pureora

Does he have a special skill/quirk/strange fact that people may not know about him?

Come on Gaz, everybody has one… Gary always eats sardines for lunch so we reckon that’s why he’s got such shiny hair!

What’s a book that he recommends all DOC staff should read?

Waireinga/Bridal Veil Falls near Raglan

“Tuwharetoa, by John Te H. Grace. It traces 600 years of events starting with their arrival in the Arawa canoe during the fourteenth century up to the present day. An amazing read! Complex battles, alliances, feuds and migrations which shaped the history of the tribe”.

Three loves

“Any kind of old machinery that needs restoring, then nature, nature and more nature! One of the best chapters in my life so far was the time I spent working on island sanctuaries, such as those in the Mercury Island Group”.

Three pet peeves

“Lazy people, lazy people who dump their rubbish around campsites and lazy people who dump their rubbish in our reserves.”

If there was a competition for best place in New Zealand where would get his vote?

Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park.

And if there was one native species that ruled them all, what would be his pick?

The female tunnel web spider! She’s beautiful. She’s big, she’s hairy and she’s one whole lot of female you don’t want to mess with…” 

And finally…

Thanks Gaz, for letting us share some of your more memorable moments with everyone. You’re one of those great DOC identities who really make a difference to the area you work in. So, from all the troops in Maniapoto, happy birthday mate!