Archives For National Office

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 Kirsten Ralph, Commercial Manager, National Office.

Kirsten Ralph on a mountain, with a range in the background.

Enjoying the snow

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

Lately I have been preoccupied with the joys of business planning. The rest of the time I have been working to instigate the concept of account management for businesses that we work with and trying to recruit some neat people into the Commercial team.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

We get to apply business frameworks and thinking to the far more interesting area of conservation. Businesses are good at building up assets and then using them (without damaging them) to make more. The difference is that instead of money in the bank we are looking for more conservation.

The best bit about my job is:

There isn’t “a” best bit, there are lots of best bits about my job. I am part of one of the most important pieces of work in the world trying to keep the world green and blue, trying to make sure people value what we have and start looking after it.

The tiny bit I contribute is using some of my business experience to generate a better return for conservation. Day to day I get to talk about interesting things, see beautiful places and work with fun down to earth people!

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

Some kind person nominated me to act as a DOC representative on one of the heritage trips to the subantarctic islands. It was a trip of a lifetime. I fell in love with the islands, especially Campbell Island. Words cannot describe how magic the islands are. The scenery is amazing, the seals cute and sea lions a little unnerving. I have never sat for so long as I sat watching the penguins at Macquarie Island, it was just fascinating.

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

Tim Fraser, even when he isn’t here I can sense him resisting my “no”. I admire his creativity and way of pulling together concepts in a completely new and creative way. I also love how he keeps people connected and makes people feel welcome and happy.

Kirsten Ralph planting some trees.

A 40th birthday present

On a personal note…

My stomping ground is:

It’s not really a stomping ground but a place that my soul feels good in. When we go there, even the dog walks taller. We have a small patch of hill over-looking the end of Queen Charlotte Sound. We never really intended to buy it but, being kid free and South Islanders, it meant we felt we had a foot back home. Overlooking the Mount Oliver reserve we can see waterfalls, look out over native bush and then down over the Sound checking out the boats and ferries. Time is slow, even doing the dishes is fun.

Kirsten Ralph in her kitchen in Queen Charlotte Sound.

The kitchen in the Sounds

My best ever holiday was:

When I was much younger, having nothing to do, I walked into a dive shop and asked if there were any trips for novices. Yep they had one, with a bunch of trainee dive instructors, going to White island – ideal!

It was magic. One of those local dive trips that beats the tropics. The fish were everywhere and the rocks covered in anemones, seaweeds and all sorts of weird and colourful life forms.

One night dive, the phosphorescence was like a light show. Nobody wanted to get out so, to conserve air, some kind soul threw all the plastic chairs off the boat and we sat there watching.

My greatest sporting moment was when:

I decided to enter a half marathon. I can’t remember much, so the run must have been fine, although the end did require some mental effort.

In my spare time:

I try to play with my kids, Kyah (8) and Kade (4). We are renovating our house and the builder is Matt my husband. So as soon as I am off work duty I am on kids duty and he is on building duty. Kayh and Kade have both decided to take up soccer and I have joined the ranks of the weekend sports parents.

My secret indulgence is:

Well they aren’t secret—everyone that works with me knows coffee is the mainstay of life—to be savoured and enjoyed regularly.

Those who are around the charity chocolate box about 3.30 in the afternoon will know that chocolate also means quite a lot to me and, on especially bad days, could just about be devoured before getting back to my desk. Really, the hard choice when it comes to chocolate is which one is the biggest.

Kirsten Ralph on Macquarie island with penguins in the background.

Trying to look official as a DOC representative on Macquarie island

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

Actually I heard it as part of a Sinead O’Conner song but it is a little older than that: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change. The courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.

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

“Just breath through the nose” this was after a discussion on the difficulties of encouraging decision making on a topic incorporating some risk in a government department. I have used it during many work situations since.

In work and life I am motivated by: 

It’s the people around who get things done. Especially those people who are always doing things for the community—the ones who manage to have four kids, go to work, turn out muffins for the play centre, be on the PTA, and turn out edible meals for families in need and then have time to coach the local team. Plus they don’t yell at their kids.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

I include myself in this, as I am a long way from where I would like to be: Stop consuming, recycle and reuse.

Kirsten Ralph with her two children at a waterfall.

A scenic interlude on a rainy ski day

Question of the week…

In my next life I will:

I always said the best thing to come back as would be my father’s cat. She ruled the roost. My father fed her by hand, let her sleep on his chest and, if she was asleep on his knee he wouldn’t move for fear of disturbing her. He pretty much did anything she meowed for. She returned the favourite with adoration. I, of course, have no recollection of my childhood being anything like that.

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 Wendy Challis, National Visitor Centre Manager in Wellington.

At work

Some things I do in my job include… keeping things humming behind the scenes with the multiple admin tasks required for point of sales, the booking system, and financial processes. I select the retail items and work with staff to create an attractive retail space with a wide choice of souvenir items, reflecting our flora and fauna. I also assist staff with the processing of information to ensure that it’s current and accurate. Fortunately I still get opportunities to serve at the counter and connect with our visitors – a task I still enjoy immensely.

The National Visitor Centre staff pose with toy birds.

National Visitor Centre staff. Don Nerron, Mike Priest, myself, Rachel Skudder and Jesse Butler

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… presenting a professional, knowledgeable, and friendly face of DOC, and gathering much needed revenue to enhance conservation.

The best bit about my job is… having many laughs with my awesome staff! Being centrally located, the questions we are asked are broad so we all get to participate in trips to areas where there is a high level of interest. I was fortunate to travel through Molesworth Station, hosted by Nelson Marlborough team, and this year cycled the stunning new Timber Trail in Pureora and attended the official opening.

The strangest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… a young American visitor asked us how to reach the south coast of Wellington as he wanted to swim across Cook Strait. “It’s only 18 kilometres and I have an inflatable dinghy in my pack,” he said (which he did). After advising him of the multiple hazards he would encounter in the strait, we suggested he chat further with the harbour police, phoning them ourselves after he left. Following up the next day, we heard that they had personally made sure he caught the ferry and said had he not gone, they would have locked him up for the night!

Wendy with her bike by a bridge on the Pureora Timber Trail.

The Maramataha suspension bridge on the Pureora Timber Trail

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… let’s make that plural and acknowledge the amazing work done by our visitor centres nationwide. From managers to summer casuals, our highly skilled and motivated staff work hard to maintain the expected high standard of customer service, keeping abreast with changes and new information, and dealing with a broad cross section of nationalities and cultures. The feedback we receive in the National Visitor Centre about our network of centres is consistently positive and highly complimentary. Keep up the great work team!

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that I… have always been a classical music fan. Having learnt piano for many years I decided in my forties to set some goals and sit my sixth and seventh grade Trinity exams. Surprisingly, I passed with merit, which proves it’s never too late to achieve goals in areas you are passionate about.

Wendy and the Nelson Marlborough DOC team at Molesworth Station.

Molesworth Station with the team from Nelson Marlborough

The song that always cheers me up is… an oldie but a goodie. City of New Orleans has always lifted my spirits as too with many other lovers of train travel. Released in the seventies by Arlo Guthrie, the song has an appealing rhythmic pulse and great lyrics that take you along for the ride.

My best ever holiday was… cycling from Wellington to Coromandel along SH1 in the eighties on a 10 speed. No helmet, safety gear or lycra. Just a tent, change of clothing and a credit card.

The best piece of news I’ve heard lately is… how Wellingtonians rallied to offer people rides and comfort distressed strangers in the street after the recent earthquakes. We certainly know how to pay it forward in this “coolest little capital in the world”.

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be… I would love to be a kea primarily so I could build my habitat in the high mountainous regions and soar the valleys screeching at trampers below. The temptation however, would be irresistible to also take advantage of my recognised intelligence and protected status, and swoop down into the campgrounds, carparks and ski fields with my mates and have a bit of fun.

Historic mining site on the Denniston Plateau.

Historic mining site on the Denniston Plateau

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “Definition of an optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after a step forward is not a disaster – it’s more like a cha cha.”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… “Don’t raise your voice. Just improve your argument”. Many who work with me will agree this is appropriate for me!

In work and life I am motivated by… positive, loyal, fun loving team players who value a high work ethic, and show friendship and mutual respect.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… spotted in a DOC brochure, an excellent concise message… tiakina, hakinakinatia, whakauru – protect, enjoy, be involved.

Historical information on the Denniston Plateau.

Historical information on the Denniston Plateau

Question of the week…

You have won a gift voucher to travel in time for a day, “when and where” would you go?

Last month I visited the Denniston plateau, and was impressed with the restoration and preservation of the remnants of the original coal mining camp that was operational in the 1880s. Having enjoyed Jenny Pattricks book The Denniston Rose, I would love to have been Rose for the day and wandered around the camp watching the full coal wagons at the brakehead being hitched for the dramatic descent down the 1700 ft incline.