Jobs at DOC: Polly Hall, Stephens Island Ranger

Department of Conservation —  03/07/2015

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 Polly Hall, Stephens Island Ranger.

Heading to Stephens Island from Havelock, aboard the Waiata.

Heading to Stephens Island from Havelock, aboard the Waiata

At work

Some things I do in my job include…

This job is a bit of everything, but focuses on island restoration and revegetation.

My tasks include nursery work (collecting seed, germinating and growing approximately 8,000 plants a year); maintaining buildings and infrastructure; weed control, quarantine/biosecurity; and assisting with various monitoring/research/translocations, which take place here (Hamilton’s frog, tuatara, fairy prion, giant wētā).

Recently we had two annual volunteer planting trips where the season’s trees, grown in the nursery, were planted out.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by…

Polly hunting.

Something for dinner! Hunting is one way I like to spend my spare time

Protecting a special and unique part of New Zealand, helping to bring a small part of New Zealand back to how it may have been pre-lighthouse keeper days. Protecting this environment to ensure that the unique species which reside here will continue to prosper long after our time.

The best bit about my job is…

Living on an island! The isolation and peace and being far removed from the pace of life on the mainland.

Hearing some of the 1.83 million breeding pairs of fairy prions come in on a spring northwest night.

Being outside on a clear night and watching the lighthouse beam and a star-studded sky.

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is…

Working for DOC I have had many amazing and memorable experiences. This includes having the opportunity to visit some very beautiful and special places—South Westland, Raoul Island, the Chatham Islands, and now Stephens Island.

I think the most awesome times have been working alone in the South Westland bush—the feeling when the helicopter has just dropped me somewhere beautiful and remote and knowing I won’t see another soul for the next few days.

Picking up kiwi transponder signals in the Haast Kiwi (Tokoeka) Sanctuary.

Picking up kiwi transponder signals in the Haast Kiwi (Tokoeka) Sanctuary

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is…

Paul Elwell Sutton. Paul is one of the most interesting people I have ever met and I have been lucky to spend a lot of time working in the backcountry with him. He is one of the most dependable, hardworking and trustworthy people I have worked with in the field. He has shared many interesting stories over the years I have known him; whether they be traipsing along a muddy track, huddled over a camping stove in the frost, or with an organic red at his house. Seeing how he lives his life has given me much inspiration for my own.

On a personal note

My happy place is…

Somewhere in South Westland… It’s the end of the day and the shadows are starting to lengthen. Not too far away is camp—my thoughts are there ahead of me. I look forward to taking off my wet boots, changing out of my wet and muddy clothes, a drink, a hot meal. I anticipate the evening ahead, alternating between staring at the stars and reading a good book, while I enjoy the solitude of this untamed patch of South Westland.

West Coast of the South Island.

One of my favourite places in South Westland

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be…

Charlie ‘Mr Explorer’ Douglas. To spend weeks or months at a time living a simple life in the backcountry, roaming the valleys and hills of Westland and observing and recording all nature had to share.

Being the first Westerner to look into some of the great valleys of Westland and to truly fill in a very large blank space of the map.

C. Douglas (left), A. Harper and dog Betsey Jane, rest in the Cook River Valley in 1894. Photo: Arthur Paul Harper | Alexander Turnbull Library.

Veteran explorer Charlie Douglas (left) charted remote parts of the West Coast for the Department of Lands and Survey from 1893

My best ever holiday was…

Walking the length of the Pyrenees in France and northern Spain. Visiting many small and often ancient villages and experiencing, at walking pace, the atmosphere of a place. Not to mention the good food and wine along the way!

Or more recently, a ten day walk in South Westland—Cascade to Hollyford—experiencing magical scenery and not seeing people for days on end.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be…

A South Island kōkako. I am not extinct, merely data deficient. I live deep in the bush of South Westland, far from the reaches of most twitchers or the average bushman. The odd hunter I may give thought to? I soon put them off ideas of me by giving a sharp bark—a convincing deer-like call. I am elusive, secretive, difficult to be sure of. I prefer to be left alone, to remain a mystery. A shadow, a glimpse of orange.

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to… Go on a long distance walk, many months at least.

From past experiences I enjoy this simple way of life, spending days on end walking and carrying all you need. The things that matter are ultimately food, warmth and shelter. The hard yards quickly become forgotten as a spectacular view or resting spot is reached.

Polly carrying big plastic bags of trees to be planted. Mangere Island, Chathams.

Tree planting on Mangere Island, Chathams

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is…

‘We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.’ Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

Make and make do… I grew up on an organic farm with a self-sufficient way of life and a self-reliant attitude, these things have stayed with me throughout life and have shaped the way I live now.

Polly Hall, with her dog Flint beside her, holding a fish, standing by a river.

Fishing a South Westland river with my dog Flint

In work and life I am motivated by…

Being frugal. The wild. Freedom.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is…

Buy less, consume less, waste less. And in doing so, appreciate and protect what we have here in New Zealand.

Question of the week

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I possibly wanted to be a Geologist… I did like rocks, fossils and exploring old mining areas. I even went as far as studying geology, but decided after that that it wasn’t really for me after all.

9 responses to Jobs at DOC: Polly Hall, Stephens Island Ranger


    Polly is also being very helpful catching giant weta for another project in the area — without prodding, she is just getting on with it. Thanks Polly.


    awesome article- great insight in the work that goes in behind the scenes.

    Mari Thomas 06/07/2015 at 9:20 pm

    I loved this article from DOC especially the advice to make do”. We need someone like Polly who wants to live in isolation on a farm and lake with few modern comforts who’s willing to make do and enjoys that lifestyle. .we are in Ireland at Lake house sanctuary Leitrim and would like to hear from you. We are just starting out eco project and very into conservation. Mari

    Mark Anderson 03/07/2015 at 5:51 pm

    It is reassuring to know that one of our treasured places, Stephens Island/Takapourewa, is in such capable hands. The passion for our wild places is clear; Polly is a superb ambassador for DOC.


    This is so inspiring. Love your work, Ms Polly Hall!