Archives For Work

Ever wondered what DOC rangers do in a typical busy day? Well, Rangers Daryl and Keith help look after a wonderful piece of New Zealand’s bush very close to Wellington.

Ranger Daryl Stephens at Papatahi Hut checking off a list.

Ranger Daryl making sure Papatahi Hut is up to scratch

Rimutaka Forest Park is a 40 minute drive from Wellington city.

From the Catchpool Valley (the most popular entrance to Rimutaka Forest Park) you’re only a 2-3 hour easy tramp away from six awesome DOC huts, with full kitchens—including cookers, cutlery, crockery, and firewood. One hut even has a gas BBQ, inside flushing toilet and a hot shower.

A DOC ute before being loaded up with gear.

The trusty DOC ute

As these huts are very busy someone has to make sure that they are always in good working order.

This is where Ranger Daryl and Keith come in.

Every month they load up their trusty DOC ute and spend 3-4 days at the huts, making sure everything is spick and span.

They have lots of different jobs to do. Some are fun (cleaning the toilets), and some are less so (having a nap on the bunks to make sure the mattress is comfy).

Driving the DOC ute off-road beside a stream in Rimutaka Forest Park.


Their day starts early, loading up the ute with all they think they need, from soap and toilet paper, through to firewood, gas and chainsaws.

Ranger Daryl Stephens checking a hose pipe near the stream.

Checking the water supply

Once they are at the hut they have an extensive list to go through to make sure the hut is okay:

Clean the loos, the gutters, the floor, wash the decks, check the cookers, check the water in the tanks, check the water pipes, check windows, check all the walls of the hut, a visual inspection of the roof, check no bush is too close to the hut, check the animal traps, check the signs, remove all rubbish and of course sign the hut book!

This is done for all six huts. They also walk the main tracks and check for windfall and track damage. I’m tired just thinking about it all.

Last and not least some advice from Ranger Keith:

“Empty wine bottles do not make good candle holders as they can fall over and start a fire, so please take them home with you.”

And if you do take away empty wine bottles, Ranger Daryl guarantees that:

“You will get good tramping karma and it will never rain on your tramping trip ever again.”

Ranger Daryl Stephens inspecting the water tank at a hut.

Water tanks

So, the next time you spend a night in one of our wonderful backcountry huts think about these rangers who spend their day making it comfortable for you to use, and make sure you leave a nice comment in the hut book.

The six huts in the Rimutaka Forest Park can be booked on a per night basis and sleep 4-14. They’re perfect for families and people wanting to know for sure that they have a bed for the night. They are also sole occupancy huts (meaning you don’t need to share with anyone else!). These huts can get busy, so it’s best to book early.

Haurangi Hut | Jans Hut | Turere Lodge | Raukawa Hut | Papatahi Hut | Boar Inn

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.

Alison McDonald from Whangarei Area Office has been closely watching the fairy tern drama in her area. She fills us in on the latest goss from the beach…

Fifteen years ago I watched David Attenborough’s ‘The Private Life of Plants’ and it transformed my perception of flora, from the benign green stuff I took for granted, into a complicated and surprisingly sophisticated world of intrigue.

Fairy tern and a breeding NZ dotterel on the spit at Waipu

Though I have long been an admirer of birds, it is fair to say that my short time spent working closely with our little tara-iti (New Zealand fairy tern) has had a similar effect.

Compared to the charismatic kea or the oddities of a kiwi, our wee fairy tern might seem fairly plain to look at, but having the privilege of ‘getting to know them’ (so to speak), has placed a spotlight on the scandal, drama and mystery of their daily lives which any soap opera would struggle to compete with.

When it comes to breeding just about everything counts against tara-iti—fertility, habitat, weeds, wind, sand, tides, people, dogs, gulls, hawks and every other introduced mammal—so with ten breeding pairs or less in a population of just 40 birds, there’s a lot riding on each and every nest. Last season saw just about all of the adverse elements take their toll, and by summer’s end only five fairy tern chicks had made it to fledging. Let’s hope this season will be a better one.

A fairy tern nest at Papakanui camouflaged amongst the shells

Waipu is one of the four remaining breeding sites, and this year it started off with a single pair of terns, which I dubbed Minnie and Pilgrim, (easier than repeating ‘M-Nil and Blue, Pale Green dash Metal’). These two were joined by a hopeful young male in his first breeding year who, much like a third-wheel, hung out with the couple rather cramping Pilgrim’s style.

Vulnerable nests: king tides at Waipu

For weeks and months our third-wheel hung around but eventually, as breeding season approached, I begun to see him less and less. In early November, on a routine check of possible nest sites, who did I find but our third-wheel stuffing a very gravid female full of fish at a new nest site. A quick check of bands revealed that our little stud had managed to procure himself a female—one who had previously been seen courting another male at the Mangawhai breeding grounds. The poor, ‘shafted’ male turned up regularly at Waipu and could often be found shuffling round the tip of the spit all alone for long stretches of time.

A week later I happily reported that Minnie and Pilgrim also had a nest and that we had a third pair who had been seen copulating in the area. That third ‘pair’ turned out to be none other than our already expectant mother, Minnie, and the lonely male. Minnie seemed only too happy to take the continued offerings of food from this male and let him perform his mating ritual before she flew back to relieve Pilgrim of his incubating duties. How long she can keep up with this double life remains to be seen…

Our little stud keeping his very gravid female well fed

I’m happy to report that, despite the drama, both nests have so far made it past king tides, strong winds and, more importantly, the fertility test! If all goes well with our two hatched chicks this season, Waipu can add two more fairy terns into the population mix.

The lonely male off on another search for his missing female