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Most of my strongest childhood memories are of free, unstructured play in wild places near my home—building huts out of fern fronds, playing explorers by wading down a stream in the Kaimais, collecting tadpoles, and waving toi toi flags.

A stream in the Kaimais. Photo: Dennis Kuhn/flickr (cc)

Childhood memories of exploring streams in the Kaimais. Photo: Dennis Kuhn

These experiences were a huge influence on the adult I am today—someone who believes conservation is vital.

I’m trying to do the same for my own kids—but in this increasingly urban and tech-driven world it’s getting pretty hard. There are less “wild places” in cities. I’m competing with the TV, the computer, gaming devices… for their attention—and not always winning. Homework, sports and structured extra-curricular activities makes for busy lives.

We need to help families that are struggling to find time to reconnect with these wild places. Here in Christchurch DOC has partnered with the Greening the Rubble Trust to create a nature-play park in central Christchurch.

A small Greening the rubble garden in Christchurch.

Greening the rubble in Christchurch. Photo: Christchurch City Libraries

The park will encourage families to discover—through free play—what is special about Canterbury plants and wildlife, and how they can make conservation part of their urban lives as they recover from the devastating earthquakes.

It will be interactive and exploratory, allowing for fun and learning. It will be a key drawcard to engage children and young families within Christchurch’s regenerating CBD.

We hope the site will be well-visited and part of any trip to Central Christchurch, and we plan to run several events and activities here over the coming year—starting with an opening ceremony as part of the Open Streets event on Saturday 29 September.

Greening the rubble site. Photo: Fiona Oliphant.

Turning the sod at the new nature-play park. Photo: Fiona Oliphant

We have a lot of work ahead of us to create this space, and it’s projects like this that make you realise that it’s people that bring the magic. Without a whole lot of people happy to help and donate time or materials, this park will not happen. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in!


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The family-focused conservation education programme Kiwi Ranger is being launched on Tiritiri Matangi Island this Queen’s Birthday weekend—for the first time giving Auckland kids the chance to be accredited as Kiwi Rangers.

Christchurch family Steve, Jenny and Meg visited Tiritiri Matangi while staying with family at Christmas. Having done two South Island Kiwi Ranger sites, they are now planning for a return visit to Tiritiri to earn their third badge. Jenny recalls their day:

Jenny and Meg on the boat to Tiritiri Matangi Island.

Jenny and Meg on the boat to Tiritiri Matangi Island

Steve had always wanted to go to Tiritiri, so we decided to go before Christmas—before the hordes. The forecast was not great, with cyclone warnings, but the day turned out beautiful.

We bought a guide book on the boat so, when we arrived, we headed straight up the Wattle Track, which meanders up to the lighthouse and visitor centre.

I heard a strange noise, and then we saw it—a takahē skulking in the bushes. Meg thought that was pretty great.

Jenny reading interpretation panels on the island.

Jenny reading the interpretation panels

We checked out the lighthouse and spent a bit of time looking at the really good history interpretation panels.

The old fog horn captured my imagination; I loved the old pictures of it originally sited over the cliff, and then seeing the replica one.

Walking on Tiritiri Matangi.

A wonderful day for a walk on Tiri

By then it was lunchtime, so we sat down in a big grassy area and ate while we chatted to the friendly DOC ranger.

We checked out the visitor centre and the shop, where I finished off my Christmas shopping. It seemed crazy shopping on an offshore island, but hey, they had some pretty funky things, and I felt good that my money was going to support a good cause.

Ground dwelling birds on Tiritiri Matangi.

Quail. Tiritiri Matangi is one of the most successful conservation projects in the world. Predators have been eradicated and rare native birds and animals have been returned to its now-safe and restored habitats

We walked along the ridge track and got nice views all around the Hauraki Gulf, and looked for things rustling in bushes.

Tui having a dust bath.

Tui having a dust bath

The most amazing thing about the trip was how close we got to the birds. On the mainland most forest birds hang out high in the canopy, but on Tiri they were actually scuttling around on the ground. We saw tui and quail having dust baths right on the track!

Jenny and Meg walking in the bush.

There is something magic about just wandering

We weren’t sure how long it would take to walk the tracks with Meg, so we played it safe and headed down the Kawerau Track. In hindsight we probably could have gone further, but in some ways it was quite nice not to ‘frog-march’ around the island. There is something really magic about just wandering—taking time to see things properly.

The Kawerau Track was a really special old piece of forest, with pūriri and other really cool trees that you just don’t see in the South Island.

Meg walking on track in bush.

We weren’t sure with Meg how long it would take to walk the tracks. In hindsight we probably could have gone further

Meg on track - Tiritiri Matangi

Meg

We had time on our hands so we ended up down on the beach and went for a swim before heading back to the boat.

We’d seen saddlebacks, takahē, amazing flowering rata and pohutukawa but, while we were waiting for the boat, we heard these people talking about seeing a kōkako. Steve was a bit disappointed to have missed that, so yes, we were thinking about coming back before we’d even left the island! And with Kiwi Ranger on the island now, Meg is pretty keen to get her hands on the badge. I know from having done it in other places it’s a great way to discover the hidden secrets of a place like Tiri.

When we come back we’ll walk some of the other tracks and we’d love to go stay overnight to hear a kōkako calling and experience the dawn chorus.

Meg was pretty quiet on the boat home. She sat leaning on the railing looking back towards the island as we pulled away. She’d had quality time with mum and dad, been for a swim, and seen some cool birds. It’s the kind of family time that makes for great memories, memories that last a lifetime.

Kiwi Ranger text with image of Tiri showing saddleback and lighthouse.

Kiwi Ranger is being launched on Tiritiri Matangi over this Queen’s Birthday weekend, 1-3 June 2013. Join Lucy Lawless to become one of the first Tiritiri Kiwi Rangers! 

Ferry company, 360 Discovery, are making it easy for families to travel to the island during Queen’s Birthday Weekend. One child may travel free with each fare-paying adult. Go to their website or call 0800 360 3472 to book.

The Kiwi Ranger programme will be ongoing, so visit any day Wed -Sun for a fun family day out with a difference.

Swinging below the crane, a wee cabin linked to Scott’s fatal Antarctic expedition looked more like a cubby than a 100-year-old piece of history.

“It looks like a child’s playhouse!” remarked its ‘owner’ Valerie Crichton.

Scott's cabin is moved by crane from the earthquake crumbled cliff in Sumner.

DOC’s Murray Lane helps guide the hut as it’s lifted out of the spot where it has sat for the last 100 years

But as Grant Campbell, DOC Community Relations Programme Manager eloquently said, “We’ve lost so much heritage in Christchurch, even the wee ones count.”

The hut, which for the past 40 years has been under the care of the Crichton family in Sumner, has been pulled from the brink of an earthquake-crumbled cliff top after being vested with DOC.

It’s the culmination of lots of long talks and negotiations by Grant and Community Relations Ranger Cody Frewin with the Crichtons, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch City Council.

Valerie Crichton said, “It’s taken more than two years to get traction on this. Then we met with DOC and it was ‘can do’. That ‘can do’ was music to our ears.”

Scott's cabin is hoisted by crane on to a truck.

The hut had to be lifted high around pitched garage roofs and powerlines

Cody said, “I’m really proud of what we have achieved.”

Grant, Cody and the Crichtons were all onsite to watch the cabin be retrieved and trucked to Godley Head by contractors HGM Construction. David Crichton pacing back and forth was reminiscent of an expectant father.

“I have mixed feelings about this event,” said David. “It would have been nice to stay here but this is the next best thing.”

The cabin began life as a meteorological hut taken to the Antarctic by the Terra Nova for Captain Scott in 1911. But it was brought back to Lyttelton in 1912, still in its wrapping.

Scott's cabin makes its way from Sumner to Godley Head by road.

The convoy makes its way through the narrow streets of Sumner before heading up the hill (you seen the road in the background)

It was erected on Clifton Hill above Sumner in the garden of the expedition agent, Sir Joseph Kinsey and was home to the wife of Captain Scott’s right hand-man Dr Edward Wilson, Oriana Wilson, for a year until she received the news of his death in February 1913. The hut was also known as ‘Uncle Bill’s Cabin’ after Dr Wilson, whose nickname was Bill.

David Crichton used the cabin as his study, and later it was a place of refuge after the September quake, when the couple felt nervous about sleeping in their own house. This fear was proved founded when the February quakes bought their house down, while the cabin rolled with the quakes like “a wee boat,” said Valerie.

In a press release, Minister of Conservation Hon Dr Nick Smith said, “I’d like to acknowledge the Crichton’s vision and generosity in gifting the hut, as well as the assistance provided by CERA and the Christchurch City Council in making the removal possible.”

The cabin is place at the new Godley Head site by crane.

The hut will sit on the old parade grounds on Godley Head temporarily until it’s restored and resource consents are sorted for its final resting place with a sea view

“For a building to have travelled so far and survived so much, it would have been a tragedy to have left it to be demolished.”

The hut has been taken to public conservation land at Godley Head where it will be restored and eventually opened to the public, in a spot with sea views as it was on Kinsey Terrace.

Totaranui campground has held an almost mythical quality for me. I had heard so many people talk about it, how they return every year but I had never been there myself. The ballot system over Christmas implied that, like some private schools, you had to be part of ‘the establishment’ to get to go.

Relaxing outside the tent at Totaranui campground.

A moment of relaxation at Totaranui

But when I heard friends were taking their child out of school to go during the off season, I was quick to gatecrash the party. Nervous about asking for more time off work so soon after Christmas my husband was taken aback when his boss said, “You have to go! Take at least a week, here borrow my kayak!”

Feeling a little nervous about the long drive ahead of us, we left Christchurch at 4 am. The children were so excited but were asleep again by 5 am and we were in Murchison for breakfast.

Kayak on the beach at Totaranui campground.

Use of the boss’s kayak was an added bonus

We arrived at the campsite early afternoon. The colours were extreme – sky was blue; sea was green and the sands were as golden as all the advertising photos promise. It reminded me of cheesecake – the moment when you pour the melted butter into the crushed biscuits – mmmm.

As soon as the tent was up, we were heading to the lagoon for the first of many swims. We were sharing a bay with four other families, all Totaranui regulars. They knew how to make the most of the place, especially at this quieter time of year.

Roasting marshmallows at Totaranui campground.

Roasting marshmallows

Being Totaranui novices we learned a lot from them. They had bought flannelette pyjamas as the days were hot but nights were cool. And as well as solar showers they had bought black plastic boxes which they filled up with water every morning and sat in the sun for the children to wash in after each trip to the beach.

The children were in heaven. There was no mention of the TV or the computer all week. Instead they played and dug in the sand with their new friends, crafting mermaid tails and mini pa sites with driftwood. They learned how to paddle a kayak. They stayed up late to see the stars, cooked marshmallows over an open fire. They explored the rock pools, saw a stingray, hermit crabs, and kina. They built little boats out of harakeke and tested their sail-ability on the lagoon. They got bashed over by big waves and wrote postcards to their cousin.

Children investigating the rock pools at Totaranui campground.

Discovering the rock pools at Totaranui campground

The children all picked up a Kiwi Ranger booklet and earned a badge featuring weka and rata as well as the signature stretch of golden sand. The booklet is a great prompt to take time to explore further – it wasn’t until our third visit exploring rock pools that we spotted red sea anemones come to life under the water! A visit from a juvenile black-backed gull to our campsite meant William grabbed his booklet to quickly sketch the bird and note its features, while his campsite journal entry gave him pause to think and record all the special memories from his trip.

In exchange for a week out of school, he also had to fill in a diary entry each day. Some of his entries were quite poetic; “cutting through the waves in the kayak was like killing the waves and the splashes were like splashes of blood” (a bit dark but that’s boys for you!). Some things he didn’t mention were apparently a secret – like the secret jumping rock (Spoilsport Mum!).

Jumping from the rocks onto the beach at Totaranui campground.

Fun on the beach

The highlight for us all was the night walk to see the glow worms. The sun was setting pale and pink just as we made our way across the lagoon. The kids were all rugged up against the cold night air.  As dusk fell the glow worms appeared under banks and amongst tree ferns, little sparks in the dark. It was better than a class room as they excitedly asked lots of questions.

On the return journey each child was given a glow stick, which dispelled any fears of the dark. A ruru called directly above us and a possum ran up a tree and glared.

The beach at Totaranui campground at sunset.

Totaranui at sunset

It was a trip to remember. Now I know why families go back there every year. Once you have been, you will know too.

Totaranui Kiwi Ranger badge featuring a weka.

Totaranui Kiwi Ranger badge

Kiwi Ranger activities are available at Totaranui this summer.Christmas camping at Totaranui just got a whole lot more fun with the arrival of Kiwi Ranger – just in time for the holidays!

Totaranui is a ‘Great Walks’ campground next to the clear waters and golden sands of Totaranui beach and estuary, in the wonderful Abel Tasman National Park.

It’s been a popular place for families for many years, with sites booked out every summer. People come here to relax on the beach, swim, kayak, fish or explore the nearby stands of native bush by walking one of the many tracks. Now its popularity is set to increase, as Kiwi Ranger is added to the mix of family-friendly fun activities on offer.

Kiwi Ranger is for kids of all ages – from 3 to 103! It’s a booklet of activities which you can choose from to do during your visit.

With Kiwi Ranger you can:

  • Use all your senses on the Pukatea Walk,
  • Walk barefoot between the tides and dig down to discover the colours and patterns of the mudflats,
  • Explore rock pools shaped by wind and waves and discover what lives within,
  • Keep a campsite journal,
  • Collect a checklist of amazing nature experiences; watch a sunrise, be bitten by sandfly/namu, lie under a giant māmaku fern, or watch fluorescence where the waves break.
photo credit:  Nicky Kenny.

Totaranui Kiwi Ranger adds the fun factor!

Kiwi Ranger guides families to make the most of their visit, by taking it beyond a mere walk in the park, to an experience worth remembering and treasuring.

Becoming a Totaranui Kiwi ranger is easy. Pick up your booklet from the Totaranui camp office. Check out how many activities you should do depending on your age. Then when you are done, return your completed booklet to the campsite office to claim your badge!

Booklets and badges will be available next week – just in time for Christmas!

Kiwi Ranger is now live at ten sites around the South Island. To find out more go to doc.govt.nz/kiwirangeror kiwiranger.org.nz

Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

The newest Kiwi Ranger site is Ōtamahua/Quail  Island near Christchurch – the first island site and the first Kiwi Ranger site close to a city. It’s a perfect place for families to make memories together.

Maddie Harrison and William Webb at the ships graveyard; photo S Mankelow DOC.

Maddie Harrison and William Webb at the ships graveyard, Otamahua/Quail Island

The author Sarah, as a leggy 13-year-old in the Kaimanawas.

The author Sarah, as a leggy 13-year-old in the Kaimanawas.

My own strongest childhood memories are all of experiences in nature, thanks to my father who took me to lots of wild places. I have memories of walking behind him holding onto his pack as we balanced across a log bridge; of playing explorers by wading down a stream in the Kaimais, collecting tadpoles and waving toi toi flags. As a teenager he took me on wilder tramps, where we camped under tent flies and saw no one else for days on end.

These memories and experiences were a huge influence on the adult I am today, someone who works for DOC because I believe in the work we do. I’m trying to do the same for my own kids – but in this increasingly urban and tech-driven world it’s getting pretty hard. There are less “wild places” in cities. I’m competing with the TV, the computer, gaming devices, for their attention – and not always winning.

There is growing evidence that children are increasingly disconnected from that natural world. International surveys show that fewer children are experiencing nature directly, with many playing indoors rather than out. Research also shows that childhood experiences with nature plays a critical role in determining life attitudes, knowledge and behaviours towards the environment. I know that’s true for me.

Maddie; photo S Mankelow DOC.

Maddie filling out her Kiwi Ranger activity booklet

But how do we help families that may be disconnected from these opportunities, or who may not have had the same influences in their own lives, get reconnected?

Kiwi Ranger is one way. It’s a network of experiential interpretation sites, designed to help families connect with key conservation places.  At its core is a booklet of activities and a badge to collect each unique to each site, similar to the highly successful Junior Ranger in USA.

Each booklet acts like a guide to experiencing our wild places, some of which are a bit daunting to families visiting for the first time. It helps them to stop and take a closer look, to make the most of their visit, so its not just a nice walk, but an experience worth remembering and treasuring.

So far it’s only in the South Island – but North Island sites are coming on board next year.

On Sunday 9 December we are launching Ōtamahua / Quail Island. My son William and his friend Maddie helped trial the booklet and will be getting their badges presented to them in a special ceremony.  We will have a sausage sizzle on the beach and we hope lots of other families will come along and become Kiwi Rangers too.

I’m hoping this will be an experience they will remember.

Kiwi Ranger Quail Island.

William Webb and Maddie Harrison – Kiwi Rangers

Otamahua / Quail Island badge. P.SThe Ōtamahua / Quail Island Kiwi Ranger booklet can be picked up from Black Cat Ferries, the Lyttelton i-SITE or from the Mahaanui Area DOC Office in Sockburn.

Return your completed booklet to the any of the three locations above to claim your badge!

Youtube clip: Quail Island Kiwi Ranger

My good friends Jenny and Steve were avid trampers BC  (before children) but didn’t attempt an overnighter as a family until Meg was five.

Their first trip – into Magdalen Hut, in St James Conservation Area – was absolutely fabulous said Jenny – and Meg had good things to say about it too!

Jenny Christie and Meg Baker. Photo: Steve Baker.

Mum Jenny and Meg at the start of their first overnight tramp!

Jenny’s story

Meg had lots of day walks under her belt before our first tramp. We’d been up to Packhorse Hut and back, with minimal carrying and complaining, so we knew she could walk for at least three and a half hours.

So, despite threatening rain we set off – walking  up the Boyle Valley, conjouling Meg along the way with pikelets.

Meg carried her own pack, with her soft toy and a jacket.  A  couple of hours in, we took the pack off her, just to get her through that last stretch.

Meg walking along the track her friend Tahi in her backpack. Photo: Steve Baker.

Meg with friend Tahi in her backpack

We thought the swing bridges might be a problem – we wondered if she would be scared, but she wasn’t at all. If we sensed impending ‘scaredness’ we talked about how exciting it was and how brave she was being.

Meg crossing a river on a swingbridge; Photo: Steve Baker.

Meg bravely traverses her first swing bridge!

There was also a washout before the hut, and we had to a climb a steep bank. Again, we didn’t give her a chance to be scared but kept her moving, with motivating words and promises of more pikelets.

We didn’t take a tent, which was a bit risky. I would recommend one, just in case the hut is full, or so you can stop on the way if you need to cut the trip short. But the stars aligned over Magdalen Hut and we had it to ourselves. With its sunny little deck, six bunks, and double-glazed windows, it’s a really nice modern DOC hut, perfect for families.

When we got to the hut Meg was pretty excited to find a little house in the forest. We ate chocolate and played Uno, which was a great game to bring along, very compact. Travel Scrabble would work well too.

Meg and her Dad Steve inside Magdalen Hut. Photo: Jenny Christie.

Dad Steve and Meg inside Magdalen Hut

After tea we all went to bed at the same time. Meg patted my head as she went to sleep, as she was concerned because it was so dark. The platform bunks meant I could be nearby to reassure her.

We got up in the morning and ate porridge for breakfast – with brown sugar as a treat!

The trip out from the hut was easier, as Meg knew what to expect. We played ‘all around the world’ again … and again … it’s amazing how long that game can last.

Jenny and Meg on the track. Photo: Steve Baker.

Tramping is fun! Big smiles all around while Meg and Jenny tramp

It was really good to do this trip as a family. We felt like we’d rediscovered our old life again and we were pleasantly surprised how much Meg could do. We could see a whole world of adventures opening up to us. Roll on summer!

Meg says:

  • “The bit that I liked the best was when we played Uno and I won and we played three rounds.”
  • “I liked when we went over the swing bridge – it felt scary, but wobbly and fun.”
  • “I’d like to go tramping again because it was fun and because I got to go over a swing bridge for the very first time.”
Steve and Jenny on the track. Photo: Meg Baker (5).

Mum and Dad by Meg Baker!

Find child/family friendly activities on the DOC website