Archives For South Westland

Come behind the scenes and into the world of Stephens Island ranger Polly Hall.

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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).

Cornelia guiding on Fox Glacier.

Guiding at Fox Glacier

Today we profile Cornelia Vervoorn, Partnerships Ranger on the West Coast and recipient of the 2014 Stephen O’Dea Award, a scholarship for DOC staff set up in memory of Stephen O’Dea who died at Cave Creek in 1996.

At work

Some things I do in my job include:

Everything, from falling into mud and gorse while doing grazing inspections, to trying to look knowledgeable when discussing geological sampling.

I also answer questions like “what kind of eggs do stoats lay?”; prepare media releases and social media updates; and help to develop and foster partnerships.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Seeing more people invest their money, time, effort, or other resources, in conservation. We all benefit from being surrounded by healthy, functioning ecosystems and having conservation recreation opportunities as a central part of our lives.

Cornelia standing in a stream with a school student looking for macroinvertebrates.

Looking for macroinvertebrates with a student from Whataroa School

The best bit about my job is:

Everyone says this, but he tangata, he tangata, he tangata! It’s the people I work with who make my day. Not just people in DOC, but all those people out there who passionately support conservation efforts.

The other bit is the landscape I work in. It’s pretty hard to feel grouchy when Mt Elie de Beaumont is shining over the river flats and the frosted grasses are steaming in the dawn mist. Or when someone says, “hey, do you want to come along and inspect the tahr campsites in the Adams Wilderness Area?”

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

When one of the teenage students on a week-long Untouched World Charitable Trust education programme at Okarito said to me, “This week has changed my life. I can’t thank you guys enough for sharing this with me”.

We’d worked so hard to make the week challenging enough but not overwhelming—this showed that we hit just the right note.

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

Partnership Ranger Tim Shaw—who says he’s a cynic but has a grand plan to make South Westland weed-free, knows exorbitant amounts about ecology and always suggests a new angle for me to think about curly issues. And he never fails to remind me that there’s more to life than work—thanks Tim!

The South Westland DOC team.

The South Westland team last year—a great bunch of people to work with!

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I had a picnic morning tea of louise slice and Milo with the ex-president of Slovakia, Rudolf Schuster, at Castle Rock, Ross Island, Antarctica, to celebrate his 75th birthday.

The song that always cheers me up is:

The Ship Song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds or Central Reservation by Beth Orton

My stomping ground is:

I grew up in Canberra, Australia, so the Orroral Ridge was a favourite, as was the Kosciuszko Main Range. Especially the walk from Blue Lake via Lake Albina and Mt Kosciuszko to the top of the Crackenback chairlift.

In New Zealand: Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier and their névés have been my playground for the last 13 years. I’m also getting to know Kahurangi better now that my parents have moved to Nelson.

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

A kea. Because they don’t take anything seriously, and get to explore from the mountains to the sea, creating havoc along the way. And I could explain to the other keas that lead roofing nails and green cereal pellets should be left well alone.

Before working at DOC:

I worked as an anthropologist in the Northern Territory in Australia in the late 90s/early 2000s. I then had a complete career change, becoming a glacier guide at Fox Glacier and then at the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska.

This led on to two seasons as Programme Support Assistant at Scott Base. From there I did a season at Whakapapa Ski Field on the Trail Safety Team, and two weeks with Ultimate Hikes on the Milford Track, before being poached by DOC.

Cornelia and partner standing in front of a sign to 1080 Beach.

1080 Beach, it’s a lovely beach! No pests, either!

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

Alone we are born
And die alone
Yet see the red gold cirrus
On snow mountain shine
Upon the upland road
Ride easy stranger
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger

–  High Country Weather (James K Baxter)

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

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down” — told to me by Alex Miller, ex-Chief Ranger, Westland Tai Poutini National Park and surrogate uncle.

In work and life I am motivated by:

My wonderful partner Jim Livingstone! And by new opportunities to explore New Zealand and the wider world.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

You don’t know how lucky you are, mate. (Sung in Fred Dagg’s voice). We face problems like deteriorating water quality, species threatened with extinction etc., but the difference between us and so many countries is that we could reverse the downward trend if we had the will and made the effort as a country.

The areas we have that are still largely untouched are of such value not only to us but to the world—we are the lucky custodians of these areas. We should never be tempted to sacrifice these for short term economic gain when they are worth so much more as a lasting source of joy, not to mention “ecosystem services”!

Cornelia at Icestock music event in Antarctica.

“Ice Stock” – a pretty amazing live music event at McMurdo Base

Question of the week…

What are you most looking forward to as the recipient of the Stephen O’Dea Award?

The award will enable me to attend the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney.

I look forward to seeing landscapes and ecosystems during the field trip part of the congress.

Being an Aussie kid, I am partly familiar with these places, but it will be different seeing them through “conservation goggles”.

For example, I love the Australian Alps for their landscapes, from reading “The Silver Brumby” as a 12 year old horse-mad kid, and for the ski trips and bushwalking trips I’ve done there. However, what I don’t know is how the area looks when you consider threatened species and ecosystems, or how these are being protected and valued by Australians.

The Fox Glacier neve.

The Fox Glacier neve—an amazing place to learn to climb!

Today’s photo of the week was taken over the weekend at the opening of new facilities on the Copland Track and at Lake Matheson in South Westland.


Local children joined with Ngāi Tahu kaumātua Sir Tipene O’Regan at the opening of upgraded facilities at Lake Matheson and the installation of brand new interpretation panels at the start of the Copland Track telling the story of Hinetamatea, a Ngāi Tahu ancestress, who discovered the Copland Pass/Noti Hinetamatea.

The day also marked the opening of a $230,000 upgrade to Welcome Flat Hut which includes a spacious new lounge and dining area, new fireplace and four new bunkrooms. The hut is a fantastic place to stay on the popular Copland Track with about 4500 people staying there each year.

This photo was taken by DOC’s Katrina Henderson.

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Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Ranger Cadet, Kevin Carter.

At work

Position: Ranger Cadet

Mount Fox makes for a great, nearby day walk with spectacular views

What kind of things do you do in your role?

A little bit of everything. As part of the cadetship programme I spent the first year working across all delivery programmes. There is a fantastic variety—from track maintenance through to weed control, from health and safety audits to being on the front desk, to name but a few. I’m really looking forward to working on the Haast Tokoeka team and starting my Community Relations placement!

My first time holding a kiwi - a great spotted female called Marama near Arthur’s Pass

What is the best part about your job?

Living down in the beautiful and isolated South Westland. This is a truly special part of the country. I love the vast tracks of lowland forests, the gorgeous mountains and the fantastic array of native wildlife. I love having the opportunity to contribute as much as I can and I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered many chances to do just that.

South Westland is one of the best spots in the country

What is the hardest part about your job?

Starting from scratch every time I join a new programme. There’s a new learning curve each time and you only have a few months (sometimes a few weeks) in each to take in as much as you can. It’s a great challenge though and it means unparalleled job variety!

What was the highlight of your month just gone?

A two and a half hour whitebait compliance helicopter flight along the coast line from Fox Glacier down to the Cascade river mouth. The coastal views of bluffs, isolated beaches, rock stacks and forested hills were simply spectacular. You get an amazing perspective of the landscape.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. Indian food
  2. Backcountry tramping
  3. Star gazing

Tramping in the Cobb Valley

Three pet peeves

  1. The maximum exposure time on my camera being only eight seconds
  2. People saying “your” when they mean “you’re”
  3. Facebook and Twitter logos all over the show 

Three things always in your fridge 

  1. Sour cream (gorgeous with a bag of corn chips)
  2. Dijonnaise mustard
  3. Worchestershire black sauce (best condiment out)

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. South Westland of course
  2. Arthur’s Pass area
  3. Cobb Valley, Kahurangi

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: Rob Roy—fantastic acting and a good story
  2. Album: At the moment: Gary Moore’s Back on the streets
  3. Book: River God by Wilbur Smith

Deep and meaningful…

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

Don’t be so shy, get out there and make the most of it.

My surprise 21st birthday trip to the West Coast. I passed through two of the top three spots in the country

Who or what inspires you and why?

People who dedicate all their time and effort to a cause they believe in so passionately.

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

I went through many stages, beginning with a postman and including ‘Farmer Brown’ (I didn’t really consider the surname an issue). As I got older I thought about being an architect, an astronomer and even considered working in I.T.

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

This is tough since working at DOC has been a long-time ambition! It would have to be an outdoors role, perhaps guiding or something in adventure tourism. Working as an astronomer would be amazing as well.

I spent many weekends trying to see as much of the North Island as I could during my summer work placement

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

A kea—with an impressive intellect and the ability to range from the alpine to the lowlands there’d be a stack of fun to be had. I could also join one of the ‘hoon groups‘ that maraud some towns.

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

That conservation is the most important work we can undertake. Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of our economy, recreation, identity and lifestyle. We rely on our natural environment and we need to be protecting it to the best of our ability. Our species and ecosystems are all interconnected and looking at the big picture of conservation is critical.