It’s National Volunteer Week and we’re honouring the selfless souls who volunteer for conservation—highlighting the diversity of conservation volunteers and volunteer opportunities around New Zealand.
Volunteering their way around the country – a holiday with purpose
By Brigid Graney – Community Ranger, Blenheim.
Ron and Maureen Cooper, a retired couple from Whangarei, make the journey south with their caravan each year for a unique holiday experience. They get to set up camp in some of the country’s most picturesque DOC campsites for a week or more, without having to pay. Welcome to the life and times of a DOC volunteer camp host.
On their travels, the Cooper’s have spent several summers in the Milford Sound area and this summer visited Marlborough staying at Kenepuru Heads and Whites Bay camp grounds. Another adventurous volunteering couple, Allan and Liz Preece, return repeatedly to their favourite location, Molesworth Station. Being the original volunteers at Molesworth, they now take on the lead volunteer role and find this challenging and rewarding because it entails far more than the average camp host duties and responsibilities. For the Preeces their enjoyment of the outdoors and helping people provides many volunteer opportunities,giving them tremendous satisfaction.
Volunteering for DOC comes in all sorts of packages and can be anything from a campsite host or hut warden to wildlife volunteer or working on restoration projects. While there is no financial payment, there are ample other returns for volunteers that make the experience rich with new skills, friends and memories. Perhaps, like these two couples, your next holiday could be planned around this new experience. With voluntary opportunities throughout the country, there are plenty of options and locations to choose from. Some locations come with accommodation provided, for example in Marlborough the Whites Bay camp hosts can stay in a comfortable historic cottage on site and at the two locations in Molesworth Station a small rangers hut is available. Other places provide a free campsite for your tent, caravan or campervan.
There is an application process, much like applying for any other job. You’ll need to submit an application form and have references that can be checked. It’s also handy to come with other skills as there is often an opportunity to turn your hand to some general maintenance tasks. It pays to not be too precious either as yes, cleaning toilets usually comes with the role! Allan Preece finds that that while outdoor skills and experience are useful, the essential skills are the ability of the volunteer to interact positively with the public and other team members.
Both couples find the interaction with the public the most enjoyable part of being a DOC volunteer as they get to meet all kinds of people from NZ and overseas. This of course wouldn’t suit everyone. Humour, patience and friendliness are essential attributes say the Coopers. A tactful, helpful and positive outlook also go a long way add the Preeces. People choose to volunteer for DOC for a variety of reasons. For some it offers the chance to give something back to conservation and the community and to make a difference to people’s experiences who visit these unique places. For others, it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Whatever the motivation, for people like the Coopers and Preeces, the alignment with DOC values is key.
The Coopers, who are both in their early seventies, find that volunteering at DOC campsites (and seeking out the local golf course) is a great way to keep young and fit. The expectation is that volunteers spend about 4 hours a day working which involves information sharing, fee collection, radio communication and cleaning facilities. This leaves plenty of hours in the day for personal exploring in the wider area. Volunteers are typically needed from December to February, however several locations require volunteers outside of these core summer months. A commitment of one to four weeks is standard.
Working as a camp host is just one way that DOC benefits tremendously from volunteers. We couldn’t do it without them, and, from the stories we hear from many like the Coopers and Preeces, it is a rich and rewarding experience for them. This mutual benefit is what makes volunteering such a great thing for recreation and conservation.
Find out more about volunteering today.