Archives For Aoraki

Anna ready to take photos of the NZ falcons at Wairakei Forest.

Anna with her camera ready

By Anna McKnight, Partnerships Ranger, Taupō.

A pair of rare New Zealand falcon/kārearea are currently nesting at Craters Mountain Bike Park at Wairakei Forest near Taupō.

The kārearea is a courageous bird. One time, in Aoraki/Mt Cook, a falcon defended itself against an Iroquois helicopter that got too close to its nest.

The helicopter was training with the Search and Rescue team and had to move, as it didn’t want to get the falcon caught in its rotor blades. Kārearea 1, Helicopter 0. That was one brave bird!

Having worked for the Department of Conservation (DOC) in Aoraki/Mt Cook, I knew what to expect when preparing to take photos of kārearea.

Karearea. Photo: Peter Langlands. DOC Use Only.

Karearea. Photo: Peter Langlands

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I was dressed for the office that day—with skirt, stockings and town boots—not very practical. So I raided my fire bag, and with helmet and fire boots for the terrain, I was ready to be dive bombed!

A NZ falcon soaring through the air at Wairakei Forest.

The kārearea speeds towards me

What I wasn’t ready for is the speed of the falcon. They are thought to get up to 200 kilometre per hour!

The falcon flew straight at me, but they were, in this case, just whizzing past to scare me, rather than striking. I need a better, and faster camera!

The sheer speed made the perfect falcon shot elusive, and I decided it is probably best left to the professionals!

NZ falcon pair sitting on a branch in Wairakei Forest.

Falcon pair defending their nest on Craters mountain bike track

It is exciting to be near such a rare and strong bird of prey, but I tried to be as quick as possible so I didn’t stress the parents out too much. Apologies for the amateur photos! If you are a kārearea fan and want to see some more professional photographs check out the page on the New Zealand Birds Online website.

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).

Today we profile Gina Plumpton, Learning Experience Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) Educator/Coordinator at Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Gina on her bike, mountains in the background.

From Peters Lookout—cycling back from Twizel to
Aoraki/Mt Cook—Summer 2013

At work

Gina holds up a piece of ice from her roof.

The big snow in the village (2013)—
ice from my roof and snow
almost to the roof

Some things I do in my job include… making programmes for school groups visiting Aoraki/Mt Cook by providing a link between the school groups visiting the village and the local businesses/stakeholders. This ensures a streamlined programme is constructed and that schools are not only meeting their curriculum needs but have a memorable experience in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. I also teach and love it!

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… allowing the visiting groups (students/teachers/parents) to be part of ‘The Big Picture’. They have experiences by looking at Aoraki’s past and present and understand how everything is connected; that Aotearoa is special and Aoraki/Mt Cook is unique with everything being connected, even on a spiritual level.

By being part of the Learning Experience Outside the Classroom, visitors can take reasonable steps to have minimal impact, aiding preservation of the area for future generations…

The best bit about my job is… being able to use my teaching, outdoor recreation and tourism skill set to make programmes for school groups, plus teach them in this spiritual landscape…oh and the cute cards and letters from the students!

The most awesome DOC moment I’ve had so far… is learning tha tthe LEOTC team at Aoraki/Mt Cook (and Twizel) have supported the education of nearly 1,000 students in the first term of 2013; which has allowed them to learn more about the National Park, bond in their school groups; plus meet their curriculum needs.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires me the most is… Shirley Slatter (current Programme Manager) for allowing her dream of creating the Visitor/Education Centre and being part of the original team who set up the LEOTC Educator position/programme (which is the means to link education with the environment to such a large number of students visiting Aoraki/Mt Cook). Her trust in me to do my job as the Educator/Coordinator has allowed me to grow in the role, which in turn allows the programme to grow.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that… I am only so tolerant because of my time in the army; four years living in Japan and travelling in many different countries… I am a Scorpio though!

If I could trade places with any other person for a week… it would be with an endurance runner or extreme explorer or mountaineer…. These things I would love to experience but, for now, I will just look at pictures and watch movies.

My best ever holiday was… cycling for 10 days in Hokkaido and eight days in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan…by myself…with minimal Japanese and a very reliable bike… (a red one I left at the Osaka Airport and cried for the whole trip home).

Gina standing by her bike by the water. Land in distance.

Cycling in Japan – I love Hokkaido and Miyazaki (pictured here opposite Monkey Island) Prefectures

My greatest sporting moment was recently when… I finished swimming 13.8 km in four days at the 2013 Samoa Swim Series, having nowhere much to train at Aoraki/Mt Cook…so I was lucky to finish. The fresh air here in the village and the snow shoveling must have been good for my cross-training…along with the five swims I got whilst promoting our programme in Canterbury.

Left: Gina and friends in Samoa. Right: Samoa.

Samoa Swim Series July 2012 and 2013 (13.8 km in 4 days)

Before working at DOC… I was a LEOTC Educator at Parliament and at the Wellington Zoo. (I was back at Uni doing a Graduate Dip in Education and needed some extra money).

Gina holding mace.

My last week working at Parliament as an Education Officer – holding the ‘real’ mace ($500,000 in value) with the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms …keeping it within
his reach

I have also been an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in Auckland, an EFL (English as a foreign language) in Japan and taught Outdoor Recreation in NSW, Australia…hence my strange accent.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quotes are: “Everything you are is a result of what you have thought” – Buddha.
“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given… is from various school principals “Keep doing what you are doing; students relate, learn and grow – don’t quit teaching!”

In work and life I am motivated by… meeting people who are positive, tactful and tolerant; and who want to challenge themselves.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… Let’s educate ALL smokers who do not believe that littering their cigarette butts has an environmental impact or is an inappropriate behaviour…that they just need to quit and stop polluting our air and waterways.

Question of the week…

If you could have dinner with anyone, both past and present, fictional or real, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

Nelson Mandela (a fit and healthy one) would be my ultimate pick. I would want to hear directly from him on how he could see the big picture for his people and how (by not retaliating to all the injustice he suffered) he could rise up and be the stronger person. Where did he find the strength and how he could be so forgiving to people who were clearly mean, wrong and evil?

Also; the feeling he had when he was elected President. Did he feel like his peaceful campaigning had paid off? That all the people that put him and his movement down, were ultimately beaten. Or did he just feel blessed for being alive, free and for being true and sticking by what he believed in…?

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).

Today we profile Dean Nelson, Programme Manager – Biodiversity Assets.

Name: Dean Nelson.

Position: Programme Manager Biodiversity Assets, Twizel Te Manahuna Area Office.

Dean Nelson sitting on top of the Dalser Pinnacles.

Lunch on the summit of Dasler Pinnacles, Hopkins Valley—Mt Ward in the background

At work

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I primarily manage the staff and the resources involved in undertaking the Biodiversity Assets programmes in the Twizel and Aoraki Areas. The key one is the kaki/black stilt recovery project and the associated Tasman predator control programme, but there are numerous others involving plants, fish, lizards and invertebrates. Examples include the delightfully named ‘fish guts’ plant (yes it smells), a fish only found in the Mackenzie Basin called bignose galaxiid (it has a bulbous ‘nose’) and the recently rediscovered knobbled weevil which hadn’t been seen since the 1920s.

Occasionally I still manage to get out in the field when the team needs someone to help out with bird surveys or something similar. I also enjoy doing a bit of fish work where we are having some excellent results with using weirs as trout barriers to protect the bignose and lowland longjaw galaxiids.

What is the best part about your job?

Working with some incredibly dedicated people who never stop trying despite everything that gets thrown at them. Also the chance to work with some really cool species and visit some stunning places.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Dealing with some of the decisions being made by people further up the line who seem to have a relatively limited grasp of the reality of operating at an area level.

What led you to your role in DOC?

I did the old Parks and Recreation Diploma at Lincoln College (now University) and got a job as a Park Assistant at Makarora where I had spent some of my practical year. Not long after I was offered a ranger job at Mount Cook National Park – this was back in the Department of Lands and Survey days. After about seven years of doing all sorts of stuff, I shifted to Dunedin in the middle of the 1989/90 yellow-eyed penguin population crash and got thrown into hand rearing orphaned chicks which led to the species management work I had always been keen to do.

Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island

Checking for a transponder in a yellow-eyed penguin on Whenua Hou Codfish Island

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

A trip to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to resurvey the yellow-eyed penguin population which is declining for some reason. This is my fifth trip to the island for penguin work and it is a very special little haven for biodiversity. I’ve been fortunate to have a few kākāpō encounters, including having Sirocco do his thing on my head—a painful experience. Have also met and worked with some special people down there.

I wrote a diary (probably should call it a blog or something these days) of this trip which was organised by the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.

The rule of 3…

3 loves

  1. My family.
  2. Getting into the outdoors, walking, tramping, hunting, mountain biking, fishing …whatever it is as long as it’s away from built up areas.
  3. Holidays which generally involve the above two. I think it is really important to give the kids adventures and experiences that they will remember and treasure.
Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track

Family adventures. Arriving at Saxon Hut on the Heaphy Track

3 pet peeves

  1. Idiots who think that it is entirely appropriate to take their 4WD wherever they can, regardless of the damage it causes or the impacts it has on wildlife.
  2. So much of our beautiful Mackenzie Basin disappearing under pivot irrigators.
  3. The habit/fashion (whatever you want to call it) that people have of wearing their pants at half mast, exposing undies, boxers and/or bits of their anatomy that shouldn’t be seen.

3 foods

  1. Tasman Bay scallops fresh out of the water and quickly fried in a wee bit of butter – melt in your mouth, but unfortunately a bit of a distant memory now!
  2. Crunchy peanut butter and honey, spread thickly together on warm toast.
  3. Good quality boutique brewery beers – we have got some stunners down south but sadly, Emersons has sold out to Lion. Hopefully it won’t affect the quality and variety of the beer!

3 favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Totaranui – I holidayed there as a kid for many years and we are now going back as a family.
  2. Nelson Lakes – my tramping playground as a teenager. Beautiful valleys, easy tops and the best shingle screes to run down anywhere in the country.
  3. Any backcountry hut at the end of a hard day’s tramping with the trusty pit laid out on a bunk and a brew on.
Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Family fun in the lagoon while on holiday at Totaranui

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: showing my age here—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A classic.
  • Album: Pink Floyd—Wish You Were Here
  • Book: there are heaps of books which could fit the bill however, for someone who has done a wee bit of climbing, an excellent read is ‘Savage Arena’ by Joe Tasker. He delivered the manuscript of this book on the eve of his departure for the British Everest Expedition 1982 where he lost his life. A dramatic tale from a guy who lived life on the edge. “Every step was dogged by a presentiment of catastrophe, as if, out of the mists above, a white wave of death would engulf us.”

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Get out and do it—you are a long time old and decrepit or even worse—dead.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Our rangers. They are our unsung heros at the bottom of the heap, paid peanuts but they do some stunning work.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a kid, the usual list of suspects, but then in the third form at college, a mate and I wanted to be marine biologists. He is—working for NIWA—and I guess I ended up on terrestrial stuff.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

I’ve always had a hankering to be a helicopter pilot or failing that, a photographer for National Geographic.

Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them

Talking to Otago University Wildlife Management Diploma Students about threatened fish and the trout barrier we are using to protect them

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Turn down the thermostat on the hot water cylinder by a couple of degrees—they are often set too high. I’ve done it a couple of times and my wife who loves her hot showers hasn’t squealed yet.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Get the compost working better and grow more veggies.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

There are a whole lot of them that I really admire—the diminutive wee rock wren, the fearless falcon (I saw one trying to attack an Iroquois helicopter that came too close to its nest) the melodious kaka – the list is endless. However, imagine going back in time and being Harpagornis/Haast’s eagle. Now that would be something.