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DOC Director-General Lou Sanson visits Franz Josef Glacier to see how DOC is tackling the ongoing challenges in maintaining glacier access in a dramatically receding glacial environment.

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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 Brien Barret, Ranger – Visitor Information

Name: Brien Barrett

Position: Ranger (Visitor Information/ i-Site, Franz Josef Area Office).

Brien Barrett at Franz Josef.

Enjoying a sunny day at Franz Josef

At work…


What kind of things do you do in your role?

We provide a massive amount of information on local treks, Great Walks, hunting areas, and bookings for Great Walks and huts (for a start). Also, because we are an i-Site, we make bookings for lodging, transportation, guided walks (both on and off the glaciers), helicopter flights, skydives, and a variety of other adventures both locally here on the West Coast and throughout the rest of the country.

What is the best part about your job?

I love meeting and interacting with people from all over the world, and I’ve really grown to love the variety of problem solving that the job requires. If a visitor comes into the office and has only a general idea of what they want to do in a certain area, we sit down with them and try to hammer out an itinerary. I love calling a wide variety of operators and trying to find the right fit for the right person, and seeing the looks on people’s faces when you solve what they think is unsolvable is priceless. In general, 99.9% of people are very happy that we are here to help them.

What is the hardest part about your job?

The limited exposure to sunlight.

Mt Brown Hut.

The very, very beautiful Mt. Brown Hut

What led you to your role in DOC?

I grew up in a family that cherished time spent outdoors, and Madison, Wisconsin opened my eyes to the power of conservation. For the past three years, I have been working seasonally as a Park Ranger in Yosemite National Park, California, and I try to have a different adventure in my time off from work during the US’s winter months. One of my best friends from university spent quite a bit of time in New Zealand after he completed his degree, and the photos he took of this country completely blew my mind into bits.

I have always wanted more experience working on conservation abroad, and figured New Zealand is just about the coolest place on Earth to do so. Applications were sent out, conversations happened, and here I am living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and exploring every bit of it.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

Waking up at 3 a.m. to climb a bit up Mt Barff and watching the Milky Way float above me. It was one of the first times in the past two months that I’ve lived here that I’ve been able to see a cloud-less and moon-less view of the southern hemisphere night sky. It was just magical.

Liverpool Hut in the Matukituki Valley.

The Milky Way floating over Liverpool Hut above the Matukituki Valley

The rule of 3…


3 loves

(This week’s three loves brought to you by the letter “M”)

  1. Mountains.
  2. Music.
  3. My fam and friends.

3 pet peeves

  1. Intolerance.
  2. Loud, audible breathing.
  3. Sandflies that bite my feet while I’m driving.

3 foods

  1. Broccoli.
  2. Thai Red Curry.
  3. Greasy, grimey, and spicy Mexican food.

3 favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Matukituki Valley.
  2. Isthmus Peak in between Lakes Hawea and Wanaka.
  3. The Mt. Brown Hut (awesome, awesome project).

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: The Motorcycle Diaries (I dare you to watch this and not develop wanderlust.)
  • Music: Tie between Phish “The Story of a Ghost” and Bon Iver “Bon Iver” (Bon Iver for when I want to sink into my couch and Phish for when I need to get up and get funky)
  • Book: Aldo Leopold “A Sand County Almanac” or anything by Jon Krakauer
Mt Conness in Yosemite National Park.

Mt Conness, one of my favourite parts of Yosemite National Park

Deep and meaningful…

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

Don’t worry about the small stuff – bigger, more important adventures are going to wash those worries away. Also, don’t study Arabic during your first semester of university. Ugh.

Who or what inspires you and why?

  • What: Wildness
  • Who: I’m inspired by people who have an infectious passion for their work. I was always told growing up that if I loved my work, that I’d never work a day in my life. I was brought up in a family full of passionate and driven people, and nearly all of my friends have so far sacrificed a life of monetary wealth and possessions so they could live to protect some of the most beautiful places on Earth. The more I live, the more I’ve realise it’s important to be inspired by those closest to you.

Aside from that, Paul Farmer is a really cool dude.

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

Batman or a film director. Those dreams didn’t quite pan out.

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

I would want to be working in the developing world. One of my best friends helped develop a project in Guatemala where she was building schools using plastic soda bottles filled with trash as bricks. The ability to simultaneously beautify an area while teaching the community about small scale conservation makes that one of the coolest projects I’ve ever heard of. I’d love to try to spread something like that to more places.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Grow a garden! You save money, carbon, and planting a variety of veggies can force you to eat outside your typical routine.

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

In Yosemite, we can’t have gardens, as they attract bears (and you really don’t want bears around your home for a variety of reasons), and I’m very excited to take advantage of a bear-free garden space. My flatmates and I did a bunch of weed-pulling and planting in our yard the other day. I’m eager to save more money on food.

 El Capitan.

Sitting on a ledge on El Capitan, (900 metre drop), getting ready to try out the “porch swing”

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

It always amazes me how the massive New Zealand pigeons are able to land on the smallest of branches in my yard and not break them. I would like to know their secrets to defying the laws of physics.

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

I think when we get used to having easy access to beautiful areas that we can take it for granted and not utilize these areas as much as we could. New Zealanders live in a very, very magical place, and I hope they are out exploring as much of it as possible. With that, I hope that more folks from the North Island are finding ways to visit the South Island and folks from down here are getting up there!

To celebrate Conservation Week and this year’s theme ‘Love your parks’, Visitor Centre staff from national parks around the country share with us some interesting facts.

There are 14 national parks in New Zealand, and while Kiwis like to celebrate and show off our beautiful national parks, it is often only when people get the chance to visit that they get to learn about some of the hidden secrets and fascinating histories of these places.

Below is a list of some of the interesting facts and figures that have been sent in by our visitor centre staff who like to pass on these pieces of information to visitors to their area.

From the Franz Josef i-SITE:

Franz and his beard

In 1865 Julius Haast named the Franz Josef Glacier after the Emperor of Austria because it reminded him of his long white beard.

Franz Josef is one of only three glaciers that flow down into temperate rainforest; Fox is the other and San Rafael in Patagonia is the third.

The Alpine Fault Line runs right under the town’s petrol station.

The average yearly rain fall in Franz Josef is almost 6000mm compared to Christchurch, which receives approximately 650mm.

From the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre:

Arthur’s Pass National Park was the first National Park in the South Island.

Arthur’s Pass village is absolutely tiny, home to only 30-odd permanent residents and surrounded by the 114,000 hectare Arthur’s Pass National Park.

A new plaque on the Arthur’s Pass historic walk was recently put in beside the original lump of greywacke which Ray (above) carved the first symbol into.

Arthur’s Pass is one of only two places in New Zealand with possessive apostrophes in their names (the other is Hawke’s Bay). The Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre takes apostrophe protection very seriously!

Arthur’s Pass ranger, Ray Cleland, was one of the first full-time professional rangers in the country. In 1956 he designed the mountain, beech and river emblem for Arthur’s Pass National Park which he carved into a lump of greywacke.

From Whakapapa Visitor Centre:

The Tongariro Northern Circuit was opened as a Great Walk on the Labour Weekend of the 1992/1993 season.

In 2007 the Tongariro Crossing track was renamed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to better reflect the nature and terrain of the track and to address concerns that many visitors who undertook the Crossing were under-prepared both in terms of equipment and expectation.

The track used for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been in existence for many years, but was not called the Tongariro Crossing until much later. Part of this track was previously used as a horse track.

From Paparoa National Park:

The flaggy limestone layers of the Pancake Rocks are unique to Paparoa. They occur nowhere else in the world.

The well known Inland Pack Track follows a track originally formed by gold miners.

The endemic Westland Black Petrel breeds only on the Punakaiki Coast.

From Nelson Lakes National Park:

During the last Ice Age massive glaciers created troughs in the mountainous headwaters of the Buller River. Today these troughs are filled by Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

The last glacial action in this area was between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago.

From the Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre:

85% of Stewart Island’s total land mass is included inside the borders of Rakiura National Park.

Rakiura means “The Land of the Glowing Skies”—a reference to both the stunning night sky phenomenon known as the Southern Lights and the magnificent sunsets that can be viewed there.

If you have any fun national park facts to share we’d love to hear them; we may even be able to add them to our story for the blog!