By Emma Bardsley, Services Ranger, Owaka.
In a little known corner of New Zealand, a wee house sat lonely. The paint was peeling and the grass was long. Luckily five enthusiastic volunteers arrived from across the country to give a makeover to this little DOC house nestled at Papatōwai in the Catlins.
We could hardly contain these volunteers as they set to weed-wacking, mowing, dismantling railings, water-blasting and painting. They were all volunteer veterans who come back year after year. They worked for five days solid on the property, turning it from a neglected-looking house to a shiny, new home.
We enjoyed good company, good food with plenty of laughs and had the satisfaction of seeing this scruffy building transformed. One of the best things, of course, was that we were in a special part of coastal New Zealand and were able to experience the scenery and wildlife of the Catlins.
The house gets used mainly for DOC workers and volunteers staying in the Catlins for track work, species and pest work. With all the work involved in maintaining this wild and almost unspoilt corner of New Zealand, the little house is often used but not often loved.
One of the highlights of the week was a full day working bee with the DOC crew from the Invercargill workshop and the Owaka field base. It was a typical beautiful Catlins day, and around our scone breaks we got the new deck railing built, overhanging trees cleaned up, weeds sprayed, the top half of the house got its second coat of paint, and the whole back of the property was cleared with scrub bars.
Now the house stands waiting for the next enthusiastic volunteers. It won’t wait long thanks to the excellent summer programme of volunteers. They stay for a minimum of two weeks just two minutes walk from a yellow sanded beach with magnificent overhanging rātā trees, a stunning estuary filled with good fishing, royal spoonbills and terns; and even watch the critically endangered New Zealand sea lions haul up here.
There’s not too much idle time though. Volunteers get the chance to come to Owaka field base for a day’s work, and impromptu field trips with the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust and Forest & Bird. And as for the house – over the summer the bottom half needs a second coat of paint, the railings stained, the grounds mown, and the garden weeded!
We give huge thanks to the wonderful volunteers that help us out– they bring an energy and freshness that keeps us humming along here. With the right communication and organisation, we see that the volunteer programs DOC runs can really be such a huge benefit to both staff and our work.