Archives For Aoraki/Mt Cook

Ashlyn Oswalt is an American expat who’s been living in New Zealand for a year. She’s noticed that many tourists come to New Zealand without the right tools or amount of preparedness to safely enjoy the outdoors.

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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…?

By Sarah Mankelow

A wife’s gift to her husband of a day out with DOC rangers proved to be a life-changing experience for both recipient Grant Vincent, and for Aoraki/Mt Cook staff.

Each year, DOC staff at Aoraki/Mt Cook fly into Mueller Hut to prepare it for winter. The chance to go along on the flight was offered as a prize on a Trademe auction as part of the Million Dollar Mouse campaign. This trip provided a rare opportunity for members of the public to experience firsthand some of the work that DOC does daily to protect our unique wildlife and special landscapes.

Changing the poo drums at Mueller Hut (left & bottom right)
and parked up at Barron Saddle Hut (top right)

The Mueller Hut trip in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park was always going to be one of the gold star experiences on offer, but even DOC staff were amazed about how wonderful it turned out to be.

The trip was won by Wendy Vincent of Gisborne, as a gift for her husband Grant. Grant’s brother Murray had died in 2008, after falling at Barron Saddle while tramping in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Dave Winterburn, Programme Manager Visitor Assets, explains how the trip went:

“We arranged for Grant to come for a week, and this gave us some leeway with weather. As a result he became a ‘villager’ for a week, joining the DOC crew at quiz night and smokos.

“The weather was terrible all week, but Friday dawned ‘blue bird’. Grant joined DOC rangers Marcus Reid and Karen Jackson on a flight to Barron Saddle to switch the toilet tanks over. They flew via Freds Stream and the Dobson Valley, the route Murray intended to take on his last trip in the mountains. They landed at Barron Saddle Hut where Grant read Murray’s last entry in the hut book, and then wrote his own entry.

Grant standing on Barron Saddle looking into the Dobson Valley
with Mount Spence in the background

“They then flew onwards to Mueller Hut where Grant was able to spend some reflective time in the mountains, while DOC staff winterized the hut. After lunch and a brew they flew back and joined the full DOC crew for dinner that evening.

“From talking to him, I gathered it was quite an emotional day for Grant. I’m not sure it was ‘closure’ but he was certainly happy to visit the place his brother died.”

From left to right: Wendy Johnson (DOC volunteer for the day),
Grant Vincent, Marcus Reid (DOC Aoraki), Karen Jackson (DOC Aoraki),
outside Barron Saddle Hut

And in Grant’s own words…

“Tomorrow (Friday 27) is exactly four weeks since that amazing helicopter flight to Barron Saddle and Mueller huts. Thanks again for a really special and unforgettable day!

“Thanks again for everything, making my visit something I can tell my grandchildren about, so that Murray can be remembered by his family. I have the ‘terra/link’ Aoraki/Mt Cook alpine area map on the floor at the moment and it’s hard to believe that I was there this time a month ago, doing all that I did. I feel a real affinity for that stunning area because of Murray and my visit, and will certainly be back.

“Cheers for now and regards to all—and carry on protecting our natural heritage.”