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).
To celebrate National Volunteer Week today we’re profiling Geoff Spearpoint, volunteer based in Birdlings Flat, Christchurch.
What kind of volunteering have you done?
Advocacy for conservation and recreation over many years. I’ve done a bit of weed work in various places too, but my main volunteering has been maintaining huts and tracks.
What’s the best volunteer project you’ve worked on?
Do you feel you’ve made a difference to conservation and recreation?
Every bit helps. I’ve been part of a movement towards voluntary work on huts and tracks that is now nationwide, and I’m pleased to say that DOC has been very keen to facilitate and support this work. There is a lot they can do to help simplify the process for volunteers, particularly around permits and legal support. In the end, I think our work benefits both recreation and conservation. The remote hut and track network can be very useful to both. But we still have plenty to do.
How hard is it to get involved in volunteer work?
Too easy. I’d no sooner put my hand up and turned around than found myself up to my armpits.
Tell us about the funniest or scariest moments you’ve had while volunteering:
No scary moments. It isn’t particularly dangerous work, and we operate carefully to good health and safety principles! One of the funniest moments was playing in a two-person warehouse raft on the Roaring Billy Stream, on a sunny afternoon in summer, shooting little rapids just upstream from the hut on New Years Day.
One thing that happened recently while working on Thomas River Hut was a bit funny/random. Three of us woke to find a light flashing regularly, and it seemed like it was in the hut. We all thought it might have been a cellphone, or possibly a torch left on, and someone actually got up to try and nail it down where it was coming from next time it flashed. Then it seemed to come from outside, and we wondered someone might be out there, improbable as it seemed. Then we realised it was a good old lightning storm happening down towards Haast. There was no sound.
What inspires or enthuses you most about being a volunteer?
Many things. I inherited a wonderful backcountry network of huts and tracks that many, including me, have enjoyed over many decades. It saddened me to see some of it falling into disrepair, knowing that without it fewer people would travel in and enjoy these wonderful places. Like many others, the hut and track network helped me discover the wilds of our wonderful country, explore our mountains, and has given me a deep appreciation of where I come from. As I get older I want to make sure that opportunity exists for future generations too. The huts involved are simple and basic, and maintaining them isn’t that hard or expensive. The track work is satisfying too.
If you could be any New Zealand native species, what would you be?
What conservation advice would you give to New Zealanders? Recreation advice?
Enjoy the backcountry hut network, the stunning remote places it will take you, check out the local inhabitants, and discover where you come from. To complete the picture, take some ownership by doing something to help look after it. But it isn’t about martyring yourself. Do it because you enjoy it.