D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  22/03/2016

By Lou Sanson, Director-General

Toyota Kiwi Guardians launched

It was great to see our new conservation education programme, Toyota Kiwi Guardians, officially launched by the Minister of Conservation at Maungauika/North Head on Friday 11 March.

Toyota Kiwi Guardian medals.

Toyota Kiwi Guardian medals

Toyota Kiwi Guardians is about getting kids aged 6-10 into the outdoors with their families, where they can learn about nature, grow their confidence and work towards a Kiwi Guardians medal.

The $1 million partnership with Toyota is allowing us to roll this programme out to families in 20 locations across New Zealand, with a planned expansion to 50 sites by the end of 2016.

DOC ranked in Colmar Brunton public reputation index

I recently spoke at the Colmar Brunton breakfast where DOC was ranked number 4 out of 31 organisations included in the inaugural Public Sector Reputation Index.The NZ Fire Service received the top ranking..

This survey is a measure of the public’s perception of public sector organisations in terms of leadership, fairness, social responsibility and trust. This is a great recognition of the place conservation occupies in the hearts of Kiwis.

US National Parks Centenary – Tongariro Crossing

On Wednesday 2 March we hosted US Ambassador Mark Gilbert and his wife Nancy along with 20 US Embassy staff on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, to mark 100 years of the US National Parks Service. Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks were the first national parks created in the US and Tongariro (established 1887) was the first national park in New Zealand.

US Ambassador Mark Gilbert with wife Nancy Gilbert and the Ngati Hikairo Kaitiaki guides at Tongariro.

US Ambassador Mark Gilbert with wife Nancy Gilbert and the Ngati Hikairo Kaitiaki guides at Tongariro

We talked about the Healthy Nature Healthy People initiative and the significant profile being given to this movement in the States, where it’s being promoted by the US National Parks Service. National Geographic magazine recently published an excellent piece on the health benefits of nature and will continue to profile national parks throughout 2016.

We were joined by four of our new Ngāti Hikairo conservation guides and hut wardens, who told us stories of their ancestors and the maunga. A haka at Ketatahi was a particular highlight of the journey.

DOC Partnerships Director Nicki Douglas with Pou Tairangahau Huia Lloyd on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

DOC Partnerships Director Nicki Douglas with Pou Tairangahau Huia Lloyd on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

At night we dined with the four Iwi of Kahui Maunga: Ngāti Hikairo-Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Rangi, Uenuku and Ngāti Haaua. There we paid respect to Horonoku Te Heuheu Tukino IV, the Ngāti Tuwharetoa chief who originally proposed Tongariro, Ngaruhoe and Ruapehu be protected as a national park in 1887. This was a remarkable development for the time, coming just 15 years after the world’s first national park was established at Yellowstone.

Old Ghost Road – one of the world’s greatest rides?

On the first fine autumn weekend in March I was able to join a group of friends to bike the Old Ghost Road. 85 kilometres and 2,600 climbing metres later, I have to say this must be New Zealand’s ultimate mountain biking track. Combining gold-mining history, alpine tarns surrounded by alpine flowers, prolific birds (great spotted kiwi, whio, kererū, robin and bellbirds), some of New Zealand’s highest densities of powelliphanta snails and a superb set of huts, the track takes you through so many of the West Coast’s wonderful environments in such a short time. The 17 kilometre Mokihinui River Gorge really is quite breathtaking as is the alpine section around Ghost Lake. Since it opened on 1 December 2015, a total of 2,500 people have biked or tramped the track.

Cycling the Old Ghost Road.

Cycling the Old Ghost Road

Old Ghost Road is a real credit to Phil Rossiter (project manager), Marion Boatwright (from Westport’s Rough and Tumble Lodge) and Bob Dickson (DOC’s operations manager, Westport). To see the level of external fundraising and volunteer hours (from 400 volunteers) that have gone into this remarkable new experience is incredible. It is the wildest ride in New Zealand!

Marion 'Weasel' Boatwright and Phil Rossiter.

Marion ‘Weasel’ Boatwright and Phil Rossiter

Waitomo Caves

I recently met with our Te Kuiti staff to discuss the partnership between iwi, commercial tourism and DOC to manage the Waitomo Glowworm Cave, which attracts around 300,000 visitors a year.

This was the first historic Treaty claim settled (WAI 51, 1990) with an agreement to share management and revenue from the caves with Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust. The visitor attraction is today managed by Tourism Holdings Limited (THL) on behalf of the Trust and the Department. It is one of THL’s major commercial tourism ventures along with Maui campervans and the Kiwi Experience bus tours.

Gordon Hewston, THL; DOC ranger Benji Davis; DOC partnership manager Dave Smith; Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust’s Josephine Anderson and Miria Davis; DOC operations manager Natasha Hayward; Lou Sanson.

Gordon Hewston, THL; DOC ranger Benji Davis; DOC partnership manager Dave Smith; Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust’s Josephine Anderson and Miria Davis; DOC operations manager Natasha Hayward; Lou Sanson

DOC, the Trust and THL have taken a very proactive stance on catchment protection to protect water quality at the caves with fencing and planting programmes over the last 25 years. Some of the best cave science in the world is being done by Waikato University to monitor CO2 levels in the caves associated with peak visitor numbers. (High CO2 levels from humans can dissolve the stalactite and stalagmite formations.)

They’ve experienced huge growth in visitor numbers since 2011 but are careful to limit visitor numbers during peak times to preserve the cave formations.

What I was really impressed with was the interaction of science, cultural values and commercial business to protect the caves and ensure the quality of this visitor experience endures. Our Te Kuiti office really sits at the heart of the New Zealand tourism industry.

One response to D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

  1. 
    John Nankervis 22/03/2016 at 4:07 pm

    I enjoy these updates, Lou. And nice to see you are not deskbound and get out into the traps. Nank