The adventures of Derek – volunteer extraordinaire

Department of Conservation —  19/07/2022

If you have climbed South Canterbury’s Little Mt Peel via Deer spur on a Sunday, then there is a good chance that you have met Derek Holmes. Come rain 🌧️ or shine 🌞 Derek has been tramping up Little Mt Peel fortnightly via Deer Spur for the last 4 years.

Derek’s regular climb of Little Mount Peel was a way to maintain a good level of fitness, but now the volunteer work that he delivers on the mountain is the key focus of his fortnightly trips.

Having a regular visitor to Little Mount Peel and the Tristram Harper Memorial Shelter is valuable and Derek notifies DOC of any issues that need attention. It’s great having a set of eyes out on the track regularly as Little Mount Peel is a popular destination for day visitors.

“It’s all about giving back. I have some great memories of time spent in DOC huts and on DOC tracks so it’s good to contribute in some small way on my local maunga,” says Derek. 

Derek servicing a trap on Deer Spur. 📷: Tim Exton

Initially the key focus of Derek’s volunteering was to keep an eye on the track and shelter, and to cut back flax and vegetation. Soon after he signed up as a volunteer, several visitors sustained injuries on the boardwalks above the bushline due to ice in the winter months.

Derek dedicated several hours of work to these boardwalks and helped keep the boardwalks free of water and ice during the winter months. Many broken boards have also been replaced over the years thanks to Derek. Spare boards are flown to the Tristram Harper Memorial Shelter when work is carried out, and then he can easily replace these as needed.

“People seem to appreciate the mahi I do, especially on the boardwalks.”

Derek is very versatile and has carried out a lot of different tasks on the mountain. He recently painted over the graffiti on the inside of the shelter, helped to place a door guard to prevent water entering the shelter and has helped to measure and install a new tank lid at the shelter.

“Every trip up there is different, the weather, the light, the people I meet along the way, it’s never boring”.

 In more recent times Derek’s core focus has been to establish the trap network on Deer Spur which he now maintains alongside fellow volunteers and Blandswood locals Greg and Vivian Wilkinson. The volunteer trapping is carried out on behalf of Project Peel.

“Running the trapline adds another purpose to my fortnightly trips. I try to educate people I meet, especially kids on why we have to kill some creatures to save others.”

Derek servicing a trap on Deer Spur. 📷: Tim Exton

Since 2020, Derek has helped to establish a trapline of 16 DOC 200 traps, 6 flipping Timmy possum traps and several A12 possum traps.

Derek has also volunteered further afield as a feed out volunteer with the kākāpō teams on both Whenua Hou/Codfish Island (2018) and Pukenui/Anchor Island in Tamatea/Dusky Sound, Fiordland (2022).

“Volunteering stints on Whenua Hoa and Pukenui with the Kākāpō Recovery Project Team has been a fantastic fulfilling life experience. I hope I have a few more breeding seasons left in me.”

(Left) Derek holds a kākāpō chick on Pukenui. 📷: Oscar Thomas. (Right) Kākāpō chick. 📷: Jake Osborne ©

Having a volunteer as dedicated and passionate as Derek is an asset to the wider DOC team and we hope he will continue to volunteer for many years to come.

Learn more about Project Peel on Facebook.

4 responses to The adventures of Derek – volunteer extraordinaire


    Having volunteered as a DoC warden for over 15 years straight (mostly Mt Aspiring NP and Nelson Lakes). I think Derek is doing a wonderful service & deserves due recognition in this way. It really is a brilliant experience & great way to “give back” as Derek points out.


    Great work Derek !!
    You’re a legend !!

    Kristie Paki Paki 26/07/2022 at 6:41 am

    So great to read this. What a true legend… great mahi Derek!

    Rick Barber 19/07/2022 at 9:46 am

    Fabulous to read re Derek, volunteers run the world. I was on the West Coast Conservation Board and FMC, volunteers do so much via the Tramping Clubs too.