Archives For Aotea

Great Barrier Island is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, but in October 1894 it was the site of one of New Zealand’s worst shipwrecks with around 130 lives lost.

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By Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

Lou Sanson, Director-General. Chief Executive Department of Conservation. Photo courtesy John Kirk-Anderson / The Press / Fairfax NZ.

Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

Storm damage on Great Barrier Island / Aotea

Last weekend I visited Great Barrier Island / Aotea to investigate the damage to DOC facilities and the Aotea Track after recent storms.

It was heartbreaking to see so much damage done to the north of the island and the Aotea Track.

The Aotea Track is a major contributor to the tourism economy on Great Barrier Aotea, with 4,000 walkers a year visiting it since 2011 and using the new facilities at Mt Heale Hut.

We’ve also lost New Zealand’s biggest kauri dam—Kaiaraara Dam—which was 110 years old. There has been significant damage to campsites as well.

The Minister of Conservation visited Great Barrier Island on Friday (11 July) with Auckland Mayor Len Brown to look at a coordinated central and local government plan to fix the flood damage and bring tourism back.

I want to thank everyone who has given their time to help during this tough time. I also want to acknowledge the new partnership that has been developed with Fletcher’s Construction. They built one of the six bridges that were lost in the storm and are now working with us on how we can rebuild them.

West Coast windfall

Just before Easter the West Coast experienced one of its biggest ever storm events. Cyclone Ita saw 200,000 hectares of forest damaged and 20,000 hectares totally knocked down.

I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of DOC’s Buller/Kawatiri team, and chainsaw crews from around the country, who helped to clear windfall blocking tracks in the region. It’s a massive, difficult, and dangerous job, with work expected to go on until the end of July.

DOC staff have also been involved in progressing the new West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill, which will enable recovery of some of the high value native timber that was blown over.

Success at Karangahake Gorge

As part of my trip north, I was fortunate to visit Karangahake Gorge in Tauranga to see the new cycleway. This is New Zealand’s most successful cycleway, with close to 80,000 cyclists using it in the last year.

On my visit, I was pleased to catch up with Rangers Tawara Wilson, Warren Geraghty and Des Brownlee at Te Aroha.

Rangers Tawara Wilson, Warren Geraghty and Des Brownlee from the Services team at Te Aroha

Rangers Tawara Wilson, Warren Geraghty and Des Brownlee from the Services team at Te Aroha

I was impressed with the relationship being built between DOC and the Department of Corrections and the regular work being done, including those in periodic detention maintaining picnic facilities in the Gorge. It’s a long-standing partnership that works well.

Whale watching

Two weekends ago, while on leave, I caught up with Cook Strait whale project leader, Nadine Bott, volunteers and some original Perano whalers on Arapawa Island in the Tory Channel.

From left to right: Johnny Norton, Dave Rothschild, Tom Norton and Joe Heberley

From left to right: Johnny Norton, Dave Rothschild, Tom Norton and Joe Heberley

This month is peak humpback whale migration season in the Cook Strait, with whales making the trip from Antarctica to New Caledonia.

Nadine and the team report on whale numbers, and collect photo and biopsy samples. This helps us to determine where the whales are going and how they are recovering from virtual total destruction by whaling in the early 1960s.

It was awesome to see original Perano whalers: Joe Heberley, Tom and Johnny Norton and Ted, Ron and Peter Perano helping alongside DOC staff and volunteers, who were being trained in whale observation.

The work is funded through a partnership with OMV New Zealand Limited, who contribute $35,000 a year. The project also gets support from Canon NZ Ltd, Bell Tea NZ Ltd and Transact Management Ltd. It’s a great piece of work that is bringing together history, a commercial partnership and a really exciting research project.

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 Becs Gibson, Partnerships Ranger on Aotea/Great Barrier Island

Becs with rockhopper penguins on Campbell Island.

Becs Gibson with rockhopper penguins on Campbell Island

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

I work with conservation trusts to support the projects and initiatives they have; run events; develop meaningful education opportunities; and help the biodiversity team out when needed. I also handle permissions and statutory work, as well as being a fire recruit.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Forming meaningful partnerships that achieve more conservation, and making sure there is another generation to develop conservation into the future.

The best bit about my job is:

The variety. One day I will be meeting with the Local Board; next running a local event on the beach; next off to help the biodiversity guys monitor rats on the Mokohinau Islands—and that was just last week!

The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Picking up Director-General Lou Sanson from the southern end of Mason Bay after he had spent the night away from our camp at Doughboy Bay, waving his arms wildly as the plane landed—priceless.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

There are so many, and I by no means want to exclude any of the wonderful people I have worked with—you are all inspiring and have enthused me in all sorts of ways.  But, without Lindsay Wilson’s guidance, I might have given up this gig a long time ago. He embraced the lighter side of the job and was a man of action, who definitely walked the talk.

Becs at the Penguin Bay Hilton hut/shelter on Campbell Island.

5 star accommodation on Campbell Island

On a personal note…

My best ever holiday was:

To another lot of remote islands, New Zealand’s subantarctics: Campbell Island, the Auckland Islands and the Snares/Tini Heke.

It’s amazing to see how Campbell has flourished after the removal of sheep and then rats, and the beautiful bountiful Snares with biota galore, the biggest Stilbocarpa I will probably ever see in my life!

I actually got there on an Enderby Trust Scholarship, which still operates.  A dream come true trip, so it was hard to beat!

In my spare time:

I spend as much of it as I can adventuring with my son: swimming, fishing, walking (can’t really call it tramping with a 5 year old) and then the stuff that sustains our life here: gardening, looking after chooks, killing the odd ruminator for meat and butchering it.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be:

A takapu, Australasian gannet. You would get to reside on some amazing coastlines, soar across the ocean and live a pretty egalitarian life.

Australasian gannet colony on Mahuki Island.

Takapu colony at Mahuki Island with Hauturu in the background

My secret indulgence is:

A hot bath with a glass of wine and a magazine—bliss!

If I wasn’t working at DOC, I’d like to:

Be back at university studying towards a master’s in freshwater ecology, and carrying out a thesis project in our beautiful awa/rivers.

Becs standing by Hope River.

Another beautiful South Island river!

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” – Confucius

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

“They’re not making more land—look after it.” My father said to me at a young age.

Left, Fanal Island with Aotea (Great Barrier) behind, and Hauturu (Little Barrier) to the right.  From Pokohinu in the Mokohinau group.

View from Burgess Island

In work and life I am motivated by:

People who stick up for what they believe in and walk the talk.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Reduce what you consume. Living on an island makes you very aware of the consumer based world when you go back to the mainland.

Question what you really need and ask if there are alternatives. Become better informed… live simply, laugh and love.

Becs holding her son on the deck of Mt Heale Hut.

On the fantastic Mt Heale Hut deck

Question of the week…

What words of wisdom would you give city folk moving to Great Barrier Island?

Be prepared for anything and everything—it’s a physical and emotional test!

And don’t bring your hair dryers, curling wands, electric blankets etc, they ain’t going to work—but then again you won’t actually need them.