Archives For Christmas

New Zealand’s red mistletoe, Peraxilla tetrapetala, one of nine mistletoe species native to New Zealand.

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By Marysia Mcsperrin, DOC Communications Advisor

Marysia Mcsperrin at Punakaiki.

Marysia Mcsperrin

Having moved over from London in April last year, the Christmas break featured a lot of firsts for me. It was my first Christmas away from home, friends and family, the first warm(ish) one in the southern hemisphere and the first one where, instead of a roast dinner with all the trimmings for Christmas lunch, we ate sandwiches in the car!

Me and my partner decided to spend the break taking a road trip around the South Island, down the West Coast and back up the east. We didn’t do any real tramping or camping though, just a lot of stop-offs at stunning locations.

The gorgeous blue water of the Hokitika Gorge.

Hokitika Gorge

We saw some amazing sights and had a chance to really appreciate the diversity and beauty of New Zealand’s natural landscapes. It was hard to choose my highlights but a few places stuck out for me.


Christmas Day stop-off and people were building stone Christmas trees

Firstly, Hokitika Gorge, which is about 30 km inland from Hokitika. We would’ve missed this if our helpful hostel owner hadn’t insisted we go and I’m so glad we did. It featured the most unreal turquoise-coloured water I’ve ever seen.

The alpine blue waters of Lake Pukaki.

Lake Pukaki

Another place that took my breath away was Lake Pukaki, on the drive between Queenstown and Christchurch. Again, we weren’t intending to stop here but the amazing alpine blue water was quite mesmerizing, and we had to take a closer look.

Two Hector's dolphins near Kaikoura.

Hector’s dolphins

We finished our trip whale watching in Kaikoura, which was an incredible experience – spotting two sperm whales and pods of hector’s and dusky dolphins. It was an amazing way to spend my first Christmas break in the southern hemisphere.

The tale of a sperm whale near Kaikoura.

Sperm whale

By Elizabeth Besley, Volunteer

The rich red and green colours of New Zealand’s pohutakawa and rata trees are an iconic part of the kiwi summer and holiday season, but our native “Christmas trees” are facing various threats, including the insatiable appetite of introduced possums.

Rata tree in flower. Photo: Lance Andrews (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Rata tree in flower. Photo: Lance Andrews

In April, a group of Pohangina Valley residents, DOC staff, and rata experts, began a seed collecting expedition to help preserve the local populations of Northern rata.

Pohangina Base rata tree.

Pohangina Base rata tree

A rata tree opposite the Pohangina Base, belonging to a local farmer, had been seen flowering in the previous year and was the perfect candidate to start the expedition. We simply had to phone the farmer with a request to collect seed and then stand on the cliff edge and pick bunches of mature seed capsules.

The second source of seed came from massive rata trees along the Kahikatea Walk. The logistics necessitated collection using a different method – in this case spreading matting over the soil surface at the base of the trees and collecting seed as they fell over the coming months.

Rata experts Chris Thomasen and Viv McGlynn demonstrated how to prepare the collected seed for germination. Containers were half filled with potting seed mix, followed by a layer of ‘duff’ – a name given to the nutrient rich soil that builds up at the base of rata trees. The rata seed were then thickly sprinkled over the top. Watering needed to be gentle but regular, using a fine mist, as the seed can be prone to pathogens.

Pohangina Valley volunteers preparing rata seed.

Pohangina Valley volunteers preparing rata seed

The team came together again in November to carefully transfer the thirty odd small seedlings to individual planter bags where they will grow on for another season.

The ultimate aim is to grow plentiful rata plants from locally sourced seed, thereby ensuring it is genetically suitable for using at various sites in the Pohangina Valley. The vision is of a corridor of red flowering rata trees in summer, leading up the valley and into the Ruahines.

crimson-logoInterested in protecting the native pohutukawa and rata trees in your area? Find out about the work that is being done by the Project Crimson Trust on the DOC website.

The pine tree—decorated with luxe swathes of red, green and gold tinsel, bells, beads and baubles, sweetly scenting the house—is one of my favourite things about Christmas.

My Christmas tree.

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Much pleasure do you bring me!

For me, it’s the role of the pine tree during the festive season that makes me love it.

Another good (if not quite so romantic) reason to love the pine is its contribution to our economy—as a stalwart of our forestry industry.

Mangakino, Waikato, NZ. Photo: Sarah Macmillan (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Timber country. Photo: Sarah Macmillan

And our appreciation of pine is reciprocated—they flourish in the favourable conditions New Zealand provides for them.

So, while the mutual benefits of the relationship are undeniable, its not all roses (or should I say pine cones?) Because pines have, in fact, become a nuisance in many parts of the country, springing up uninvited, like that snotty nosed kid from down the street (that’s just poetic licence of course—the kids in my neighbourhood are all, without exception, delightful creatures).

These gatecrashers are called wilding pines. They compete for space with our native trees and plants, but provide none of the advantages, such as berries and nectar, to encourage bird life and insects. Their pine needles form a carpet, discouraging regeneration of native plant species. Aesthetically, wilding pines change our landscape.

The rapid invasion of Pinus nigra into well grazed highcountry pasture. Google Earth shows this area almost completely free of pines in 2006.

Rapid invasion: Google Earth shows this area of highcountry pasture almost completely free of pines in 2006. Photo: Jon Sullivan

DOC is responsible for wilding tree infestations on public conservation land but are by no means the only ones taking action.

Manu, Rachel, and Jenny deal to a wilding pine in the Tekapo Scientific Reserve. Photo: Jon Sullivan (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Students dealing to a wilding pine in the Tekapo Scientific Reserve.
Photo: Jon Sullivan

Some trampers and hunters carry little folding saws to cut down small wilding pines. If you do this, it’s important to cut down the whole tree stump and not leave any branches or green needles behind (so I’m told—I really don’t have personal experience or expertise on this!). Extremely small seedlings can be pulled out by hand which is very effective as there is no risk of re-growth.

The saying, “a weed is just plant in the wrong place” springs to mind as I wrap up this ode to the darker side of my beloved Christmas tree.

Our native landscapes, species and ecosystems are too precious to give up to the pine tree. The corner of my lounge in December, on the other hand, is quite simply the perfect place.

How cute is this Christmas fairy tern. Unfortunately they won’t be as easy to spot this summer, given that there’s only 31 of them.

A fairy tern getting in to the Christmas spirit with coloured wings and Santa hat.

A fairy tern getting in to the Christmas spirit

If you’re around Mangawhai, Waipu and the Pakari River, have a read of these suggestions (they also apply to dotterel breeding areas as well):

  • Leave the dog at home/don’t take it to the beach, or at least have it on a leash.
  • Stay out of taped-off nesting areas, and don’t linger while parent birds are doing distraction displays or appear agitated – while they are preoccupied with you they are not tending to their eggs or chicks.
  • Fishermen should bury their scraps to avoid feeding and attracting black-backed gulls.
  • Walk below the high tide mark, to avoid standing on nests, which are higher up on the beach.
  • Motorbikes and four-wheel drives on beaches are not good for shorebirds, and prohibited in many places anyway.
  • Keep away from birds doing dive-bombs cause that means they’re agitated.
Fairy tern eggs playing hide and seek.

Fairy tern eggs playing hide and seek

Fairy tern is banded and released by DOC staff.

A fairy tern is banded and released by DOC staff

UPDATE: The competition has now ended. 

Kiwi: the real story made it onto the Listener’s 50 Best Children’s Books of 2012 list, and it’s not hard to see why.  The combination of verse, factual text and beautifully luminous pictures, offers a spellbinding glimpse into the secret night-world of our amazing iconic kiwi bird.

Kiwi: the real story would be an amazing Christmas present for any lucky kiwi kid and, thanks to New Holland Publishers, we’ve got three copies to give away here on the Conservation Blog.

Kiwi: the real story

“Muckracker, stem-shaker
nosy parker, mud-larker, dashing darter
cricket-cruncher, mantis-muncher
eavesdropper, clodhopper, show-stopper!”

Kiwi the eavesdropper.

“These feisty birds have a life and spirit of their own and Kiwi: the real story will be the book to inspire your children to love and protect kiwi long into their lifetimes, ensuring that they will still be in the ‘backyards’ of our grandchildren in years to come.”

Kiwi the snail snatcher and beetle battler.

To be in to win a copy, leave a comment on this post before 12 noon, Thursday 20 December 2012, telling us why you want the book. Three winners will be selected at random and contacted by email.

The giveaway is open to everyone, except employees of the Department of Conservation, New Holland Publishers, and their immediate families; however, we can only ship to New Zealand addresses.

Good luck!

Kiwi: the real story is valued at $29.99 and will be available from good bookstores nationwide.

Stuck for ideas on what to gift your loved ones with this silly season? Looking for something for the person who has everything? Why not have yourself a merry little conservation themed Christmas this year, and take some ideas from these suggestions.

A Great Walk experience

Lauren, Alannah, Jasmine and Jean had a primo time together doing the Abel Tasman Great Walk

Great Walks are DOC’s premier walks. There are nine spread across the country. They range in length and difficulty, so there’s something for all walkers. The scenery is amazing—some of the best in the country—and the huts and tracks are of a higher standard than other tramping tracks. With a booking system, you can see what’s available and when. Tickets start at $10 depending on season and track. Find out more at

A Backcountry Hut Pass

Sabine Hut

This is the perfect gift idea for those who like to get out and about, or for those exploring New Zealand. You can buy a Backcountry Hut Pass that’s valid for either six months ($92) or twelve months ($122). These give you access to most serviced and standard huts across the country. This means the recipient can choose which tracks/walks they want to go on and when, with the accommodation on you!

A New Zealand native tree

So much more than just a tree in a box

Baby natives make excellent gifts—they can be packaged and presented beautifully and there are a range to choose from. As well as giving the gift of life, you’re also giving an experience, as they require planting once they grow out of their pots. This is a great activity to do with children. Once planted, they also help attract native birds into the garden. See your local nursery, or browse online, for your ideal tree.

Possum merino accessories

Help save our native species—fashionably. Buy your loved ones hats, gloves and scarves made from possum merino. These are extra warm and snugly, and come in a variety of colours and styles. Pests are the biggest threat to our native species, so spread the word on these woolly wonders. Check out your local DOC Visitor Centre for the available range, or browse online.

A bird feeder

Know someone who’s into gardening? Get them one of these and help them turn their yard into a tui playground. There are heaps of designs to choose from so you can pick one that suits the style of all gardens. These are great gifts particularly for city slickers, as a native bird in an urban garden is always nice.