Archives For Otago

Jackie Breen, from DOC’s Heritage team, tells us why the picturesque Gabriels Gully in Otago is on her hit list of historic places to check out this month.

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By DOC’s Andrea Crawford, Dunedin

A southern right whale/tohora and her calf were spotted cruising around Otago Harbour last week—coming close to the shore, showing off their acrobatic skills, and giving onlookers a dramatic display of their flukes and blowholes.

Southern right whale in Otago Harbour. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Southern right whale blowhole

These beautiful, inquisitive, gigantic mammals (adults are up to 18 metres long) are often seen along Otago’s coast during winter.

DOC Coastal Otago ranger Jim Fyfe tells me that their visits to Otago Harbour are increasing.

The fluke of the whale partially above water. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Fluke of the whale

These whales were once almost hunted to extinction, as they were deemed the “right” whales to catch—they were easy to approach, lived close to shore, and provided huge amounts of meat, oil and whalebone.

Southern right whales are showing signs of recovery, but we’re keeping a close eye on their movements around New Zealand to monitor their numbers.

Callosities on the head of the southern right whale. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Calcified skin patches known as callosities

If you see a southern right whale please call the DOC hotline immediately: 0800 DOCHOT (0800 36 24 68).

These fantastic photographs were taken and supplied by Stephen Jaquiery.

Partnerships Ranger John Barkla writes about the recent community day in Dunedin to celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity.

In a scene reminiscent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin I watched as Ranger Jim Fyfe, grim determination etched on his face, led the unsuspecting children up the hill away from their parents. Actually it was all above board and the kids were willing and enthusiastic tree planters on Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua in the Otago Harbour.

Ranger Jim Fyfe leading the children up the hill on Biodiversity Day.

Ranger Jim Fyfe leads the children up the hill

The day started with a gathering on the Otago Peninsula. Four speakers gave unique perspectives on what islands meant to them, with historical, ecological, spiritual and management themes all explored.

While the adults were being enthralled with this, the children were off having a fun learning time under the watchful eye of local Kiwi Conservation Club organiser Tiff Stewart.

For the DOC rangers present it was a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new acquaintances and share island experiences and stories.

Ranger Jim Fyfe planting trees with the children.

Ranger Jim explains the finer points of tree planting

Following a sumptuous lunch we all took the short boat journey to Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua where resident caretaker Gordon Douglas gave a brief welcome before everyone grabbed a plant or two and carried them up to the planting site amongst tall rank grass.

Once the planting was dispensed with it was time to explore the forest. What started as a pleasant wander, under warm north-westerly conditions, turned into an unforgettable show of the force of nature. With little warning, a south-westerly front hit the island bringing 70 km/hr plus winds that whipped the sea into a fury and drove rain and stinging hail onto those caught by the onslaught.

The storm front approaching the island.

The south-westerly front about to hit

The group was quickly and safely shepherded back along the spine of the island to the ’The Lodge’ where hot drinks and food restored composure. Conditions soon eased enough for everyone to be ferried back to the wharf on the mainland.

This was a day to be remembered; great company and fascinating perspectives with some wild island weather thrown in for good measure!

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 David Agnew, Conservation Services Manager, Dunedin.

David Agnew in the office.

In the office

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

Managing a large team, working on multiple issues at once, trying to keep my desk tidy, my phone clear of messages, and my inbox under control. Also engaging with a wide range of staff from all over the country, plus engaging with a large range of partners, stakeholders and community. And having fun while I’m doing it all!

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Doing great conservation work, with others, and aiming to continually improve efficiency and effectiveness. Also I reckon it is really important that we portray a positive image of ourselves and our organisation. We’re lucky to have such interesting jobs.

The best bit about my job is:

Achieving some great conservation results, plus the mix of getting to a lot of different places and having quality time with a lot of different people (both DOC staff and associates). I have been able to live on Great Barrier Island for 3 years as well as Invercargill, and have worked in many amazing parts of this country from Northland, all of the New Zealand subantarctic islands (including the Australian island of Macquarie) as well as several trips out to the Chathams. Don’t ask me where my favourite place is because I’m not sure.

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

Being on a boat getting transported off Kapiti Island with a whole lot of religious folk who were on a pilgrimage to bless the island. They stopped the motors at the southern and northern ends of the island and started to pray/bless and speak in tongues then when they started saying “the evil beast is amongst them and needs to be killed” I started to wonder if they were referring to me (that was the scary bit). I was relieved when the engines were fired up, everyone returned to a normal state, and we sped back to the mainland.

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

There are many. But Marian van der Goes springs to mind. She was an inspiring leader, strong principles, very good with people, and had a good sense of fashion and fairness. She is missed down here.

David Agnew weighing an albatross chick at Taiaroa Head.

Weighing an albatross chick at Taiaroa Head

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I write the occasional poem for special occasions and then recite it (kind of like a cross between Sam Hunt and Dr Seuss).

The song that always cheers me up is:

“Not Given Lightly” by Chris Knox, you can’t help but sing along to it. And it reminds me of a fun night in Queenstown, at one of his shows, after a day’s skiing with Te Anau DOC staff.

My stomping ground is:

Around the Dunedin coastline, and especially the surf breaks of national significance along the north coast (check out the Coastal Policy Statement).  If you are a surfer, then Dunedin is a great place to be – just need to invest in good wetsuits and accessories.

My best ever holiday was:

Sailing on a yacht from Singapore to Sri Lanka, then travelling overland through India for a couple of months. A memorable experience, to say the least. We experienced everything from pirates to water spouts.

My greatest sporting moment was when:

Perhaps when I was involved in giving some frisbee demonstrations at the world expo in Brisbane back in 1988. Either that or the wheelchair basketball games I was involved in for a while, great fun.

David Agnew on Auckland Island.

On South West Cape of Auckland Island

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

“You only live once” not sure where it came from originally, or “Carpe Diem” (seize the day), taken from a poem written in the Odes in 23 BC by the Latin poet Horace.

But I also like “Nek Minute” by Levi Hawken.

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

“Try not to have any regrets” – make the most of your opportunities.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Striving to do the best I can, being loyal to the above quote, and also ensuring there’s plenty of variety and that I appreciate and enjoy the experience.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

“Think global, and act local” – everyone should be trying to make a difference in their own place.

David Agnew with mountains in the background.

Heliskiing near Mt Aspiring/Tititea

Question of the week…

What funny story does your family always tell about you?

About the time that I was “seriously” stuck for words – they reckon it doesn’t happened that often, but this was “one of those moments when you wish you could disappear” and a valuable lesson.

At a garage sale we were having when leaving Christchurch for Wellington (one of our many DOC moves) a lady (wearing a see through skirt) had brought something and was paying me.  I was sitting in a very low camping chair and was trying to decide if she was pregnant.  I was certain that she was, so asked the inevitable question – “when is your baby due?”

The answer was, “I had my baby 20 years ago” – whoops.

Then she jumped in her car and disappeared up a driveway straight across the road – at least we were leaving town!

Needless to say, I’ll never ask that question again.

By Chrissy Wickes, Partnerships Ranger, Wanaka

Sutton Salt Lake is New Zealand’s only inland salt lake. The lake is nestled in a scenic reserve near Middlemarch in Otago and offers brilliant views of the Rock and Pillar Range.

Walking the 3.5 kilometre track to Sutton Salt Lake.

Walking the 3.5 kilometre track to Sutton Salt Lake

I recently visited this unusual lake with my partner and son. We walked the 3.5 kilometre track. It is easy flat terrain—great for kids, with plenty to see along the way.

The area is full of schist rock tors, tussock grasslands, skinks, and numerous unique plants including an undescribed forget-me-not and a desert broom.

Chrissy's son Shannon climbing up the rocks along the track.

Shannon climbing up the rocks

Often there is no water in this desert dry landscape and the ‘lake’ becomes a cracked mud basin. But this trip, after much rain, created a shallow lake for us to share with a pair of pied stilts and a few local paradise duck.

Chrissy's son Shannon playing in the silky mud.

Playing in the silky mud

Our 3 year old son, Shannon, loved the silky mud and the climbing challenges of the rocks.

Check out the DOC website for more information on Sutton Salt Lake.

Today’s photo of the week is from Long Gully near the Clutha River in Otago.

Long Gully near the Clutha River in Otago.

Long Gully is the site of the newly formed Mata-au Scientific Reserve. This 165 hectare block was originally used as farmland but has been retired from farming and now is managed by DOC as a scientific reserve.

There are several nationally threatened native plants here. You can also find grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, native bees, and in summer, hear the steady drum of cicadas. Ground nesting banded dotterel and pipits also breed here.

By DOC’s Andrea Crawford

Volunteer with gravel in a wheelbarrow.

Fetching gravel for the path to the penguin viewing area

Recently 40 Otago Polytechnic students from the Scarfie Army did something different during their first week back in Dunedin. As well as the usual toga parties and raves, these energetic scarfies spent two days volunteering during Orientation Week.

The volunteers worked with local rangers Lucy Hardy and Guy Brannigan on maintaining the penguin viewing area at Pilots Beach at the end of Otago Peninsula, which is home to over 100 little blue penguins. This area is managed by the Pukekura Trust which runs viewing tours at night. It is also close to the northern royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head.

It was a sweltering day and after wheel-barrowing gravel for the footpath down to penguin viewing area, picking up trash from the beach, and weeding around natives planted by local school children, the scarfies couldn’t resist and jumped into the sea to cool off.

Two volunteers clearing weeds from a penguin burrow.

Clearing weeds from a little blue penguin burrow

The volunteer army also helped with some maintenance work at the fort on Taiaroa Head for the Otago Peninsula Trust, such as cleaning rust off the disappearing gun.

Other hands on work included weeding around hundreds of native plants at the Living Legends planting site at Waitati.

The students’ work will help survival of the 10,000 natives planted by the community to create a native wetland at the Orokonui Estuary. They also potted dune restoration plants for the Tomahawk Smaills Beachcare Group at their plant nursery.

Weeding around natives plants.

Weeding around natives plants at Waitati

It is fantastic to have the Scarfie Army volunteer with DOC to help out on some important conservation projects in their local area.


Inspired to help? Our volunteer programme lists opportunities for conservation projects with the Department of Conservation. Becoming a DOC volunteer involves being supervised by, and/or working with, DOC staff.