Archives For Visitor Centre

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 Kaja Vetter, Visitor Centre Supervisor in Queenstown.

Kaja Vetter outside Sam Summers Hut.

Outside Sam Summers Hut

At work

Some things I do in my job include… keeping my team happy, dealing with retail and rosters and budgets and providing information to visitors to the area.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision because… the more visitors enjoy their outdoor experience, the more they will value New Zealand’s natural treasures and the more they will want to protect the land!

The best bit about my job is… my tiny sunlightless office… ahh no, not really. The wonderful people I get to work with every day!

The loveliest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… back in the days when we took intentions, Visitor Centre staff spent considerable time tracking down people who hadn’t returned their intention slips. This happened every day in summer, so was nothing out of the ordinary. I finally got hold of this one particular couple on the phone and thus knew they were safe, and gave them the usual—slightly stern—spiel about their responsibilities when leaving intentions with the department. They were so mortified that the next day they appeared with a box of chocolates to apologise—how lovely is that!

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… my boss, Greg Lind. He is inspiring, forward thinking and whatever life throws at him, he stays positive. His leadership is extraordinary and I feel privileged to work for him.

Kaja Vetter and friends doing yoga on a mountain.

Hiking up a mountain to do yoga

On a personal note…

The song that always cheers me up is… Beauty Beats by Beats Antique – electronic meets world music, brilliant! And Let’s Groove by Earth Wind and Fire. Disco is made to make people happy!

My greatest sporting moment so far was when… a couple of year’s back I could finally do a yoga arm balance called Astavakrasana (which means eight angle pose in Sanskrit!). A lot of yoga teachers have the “When I can finally do this pose, I will be a REAL yoga teacher” thing going on – Astavakrasana was mine. Now I like doing it on mountain tops etc!

In my spare time I… teach yoga and dance. Wonderfully complimentary to running a Visitor Centre!

Kaja Vetter and a friend cross the river.

Crossing a river on the way to Cascade Saddle

My secret indulgence is… red meat. Recently I spent 10 days in Bali. After a week of fish and veggies I started having night time dreams about lamb and steak! About two hours after I landed back in New Zealand I devoured a couple of lamb shanks.

Before working at DOC I… professionally played bass guitar in a girl band, then designed and programmed websites.

Kaja Vetter and a friend at Martins Bay at sunset.

Sunset at Martins Bay

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “Be the change you want to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… to follow my heart. Even if my mind freaks out because something appears so scary (like moving to the other side of the world all by myself!), following my heart in choice of country, occupation and love has always turned out well!

In work and life I am motivated by… I am doing my best to make my life (and others’) as interesting as possible—through humour (even zough us Germans do not know what zat is!), hard work, deep and meaningful conversations or the right choice of background music!

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… value and protect what you have! I grew up with poisoned rivers and sickly nature around. Coming here and experiencing how different life is when the land around you is healthy was the biggest eye opener. If we don’t have a planet, there is no point to anything, really!

Kaja Vetter doing yoga in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The Astavakrasana yoga pose by Lake Crucible in Mt Aspiring National Park

Question of the week…

If given a chance, who would you like to be for a day?
I’d swap places with someone I dislike and disagree with to understand what is going on inside and where they are coming from. George W. Bush comes to mind. I read his autobiography for that very reason and was shocked that already in the first chapter I had things in common with him—he doesn’t drink alcohol anymore out of choice, neither do I. Against my expectation and inclination I couldn’t help developing more understanding and respect throughout the course of the book.

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.