Archives For working at DOC

Pair of Tasman boobies, North Meyer Island.

Pair of Tasman boobies, North Meyer Island

Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC have a small team of staff and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.

Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by Raoul Island Ranger – Threats (Weeds), Biodiversity & Mechanic, Tim Butcher.

The Otago arrives

Usually for me, the month of May means one thing—duck shooting! This year however, May brought with it a whole new variety of activities. It was early in the month that the HMNZS Otago arrived for our resupply.

HMNZS Otago near Raoul Island.

The HMNZS Otago steaming to Raoul Island

On board, along with our food and gear for the next six months, were our winter vollies, aka volunteers (a cyclone clean up crew), the Minister of Conservation and her party, a group of artists, a representative from the Pew environment group, two radio presenters and two sparkies (one of which was our DOC staff member from Warkworth, Paul Rennie).

A busy day of unloading saw everything and everyone landed on the island. The artists and the Minister set about exploring the island as they were here for only two days.

The short period of the Otago’s stay was a busy time; we were not used to having so many people to talk to! We were joined on shore by the Commanding Officer of the Otago on the day before their departure. We had organised a lunch and presentations for the VIPs which was held on the front lawn. I was a little concerned about giving a speech to the big boss (aka the Minister!), but it all went off without a hitch.

The next day we once again manned the fox (the flying fox, that is) and derrick and offloaded everyone’s gear. It was somewhat tricky with a solid northerly swell coming into Fishing Rock. To offload the people we had to launch our lancer (boat) with Toby driving and Zarak assisting. They were able to get right up to the rocks to pick people up and then deliver them to the Navy inflatable. No one went in the drink and Toby and Zarak did a mighty job pretending they were on Piha rescue!

Kermadec petrel chick, North Meyer Island.

Kermadec petrel chick, North Meyer Island

It was then time to say goodbye to our summer vollies Nigel, Maree and Terry. We were all sad to see them go as we’d had many a great time with them over the summer. They put a huge effort into the weed programme and into looking after the island.

Other ships in our waters

While the Otago was here we also had the Braveheart and Tranquil Image floating around with groups of scientists checking out the underwater life (as well as some who came ashore to catch insects and look at plants). Three boats out at the Meyer Islands all at once! Madness! The findings of the research conducted will be very interesting.

The clean up crew

Now that the Otago had left, we had a few extras for a month or so. The cyclone clean up crew (Mike, Zarak and Ian) got to work on cleaning up Boat Cove Road, which was hit hard by fallen trees and slips during the cyclone. After that they tidied up some other tracks and also repaired the derrick shed. They got through a mountain of work that would have taken us the rest of our time here to complete otherwise.

Tasman booby preening, North Meyer Island.

Tasman booby preening, North Meyer Island

The two Pauls got stuck into testing wiring, replacing fuse boards, digging holes, listening to Frank Sinatra and putting my tools were I couldn’t find them. As well as all this activity, we were getting the new vollies (Ed, Amy, Danielle and James) up to speed with the things that go on here.

The time with the extra people on the island was pretty fun. Mike celebrated his birthday during that time so a traditional dress up party was a must.

Out to the Meyers

A trip to the Meyers was a highlight of the month. We had two bird recorders to install—one on North Meyer and one on South Meyer. I spent most of the day sitting on the hill taking photos of the sea birds.

There were thousands of Kermadec petrels of all colour phases nesting, many with chicks ranging from newly hatched to bordering on being fully fledged. Hopping around between the nests were several kakariki.

There were still a good number of red-tailed tropic birds nesting on the cliffs. My best experience of the day came when a pair of Tasman boobies landed about three metres away from me. Without a care in the world they went about their business of preening and calling to each other. One was picking up small stones and sticks and giving them to the other as little gifts. Maybe a stick is the booby equivalent of a bunch of flowers?

There was also a juvenile that repeatedly flew low overhead, looking in on proceedings, but it never landed. At one stage, one from the pair walked to within a metre of me a stood there looking at me with a quizzical look on its face. Several hundred photos and a few hours later I left them to their business (even though they didn’t seem to care I was there) and headed back to the boat.

Red tailed tropic bird on nest.

Red tailed tropic bird on nest

From there we headed to South Meyer to install the second recorder. Once again it was covered with nesting Kermadec petrels. An interesting find was a recently deceased Kermadec little shearwater.

And back to normal life

Apart from our weekend activities, the hard work of running an island continues. There is always something that requires attention. But that’s what makes the job so diverse and interesting!

Every Monday 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.

This week we look at DOC hunter, Kim Dawick:

Kim (left), with his dogs Jake, Fleur and Jesse, and Joe Gurnick (right), with his dogs Girl and Storm. Te Mata Hut

At work…

Name: Kim Dawick

Position: Ranger – Hunter Supervisor, Waikato hunting team

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I work as part of a seven person hunting team. We hunt the remote back country culling goats; occasionally we also control pigs and deer if they are causing problems to other work programmes. We camp together in huts, tents or bivies for ten day runs and then we come out for a four day rest period.

My main role is to support the hunters. It’s a very strategic position where I try to have everything organised in advance, accommodating the individual needs of six others who will all be away from home for ten days without communication. If I’m doing my job properly I should have pre-empted all the possible contingencies and the hunters should think that I’ve done nothing at all. But if I’m failing in my role… all hell breaks loose and nothing goes to plan with seven people on “hurry up and wait’’ or worst case we are stuck in isolation with inadequate equipment.

Two of Kim's favourite former goat dogs, Jimmy and Jesse, holding hands

In our team we collectively own 21 dogs. To maintain high standards we put all newly recruited dogs through a rigorous selection and training process, but unfortunately only about 20% of the dogs we trial ever eventuate into anything special. Those dogs in the upper percentile that do make the cut are worth their weight in gold and no dollar value can be put on them, as by this time at least two years of intensive hunting/training has been invested in them. Our dogs are part of the family and we really look after them—they are the real hunters and we just follow them around in the bush to take their glory.

What is the best part about your job?

We work off track, and go to places so remote that very few people will ever venture. I get to work with real characters; it takes a special person to be able to do this job. But one thing they all have in common is that they are all honest, tough people who measure the value of a person by their loyalty and the amount of work they can do in a day.

What is the hardest part about your job?

It’s a tough job, period.

Gentle Annie in Te Mata. Dogs are Beau, Jimmy, Jesse and Jake and the ‘’Where’s Wally’’ hiding near the waterfall is Joe Gurnick

Where we work there is no cell phone reception, no internet, no heaters, no electricity, no refrigeration, no toilets, no corner store or supermarkets. We have to be successful at our job or we would go hungry because we rely on getting some of the meat from the animals we hunt due to lack of refrigeration. Often the only way out is a pre-scheduled helicopter ride in ten days time. We walk for eight hours a day, all completely off track without a break for ten days in a row, and often team members will hunt in excess of 12-hour a days in the summer months and they never collect TOIL. But when it’s your passion it never quite feels like work (in the conventional way).

We spend ten days away from our families—this means that the hunters only see their wives and children for 26, four-day periods a year! Our families are stuck in the real world paying the bills, getting kids to school, working in their own jobs and dealing with all the issues of raising a family by themselves, while we are away completely out of contact. It’s very hard on relationships and many marriages don’t survive. But, given the high risk nature of hunting, we try to look after each other as much as we can and because of this there is a comradery amongst the hunters that I’ve never witnessed in any other career.

What led you to your role in DOC?

After high school I qualified as a mechanical engineer, then did a post graduate Diploma in Teaching. I worked for a couple of years in both roles however, I was never happy in these careers. Whilst on my OE (teaching in London) my wife stumbled onto a job advertising for a couple wanted for work in Scotland. We had no idea what we were getting into and just hoped that it wasn’t a dodgy b-grade porn film! It turned out that they needed a nanny and someone to work the ‘farm’. It was quite fortuitous—the ‘farm’ turned out to be a castle game estate that ran driven pheasant shoots and deer stalking. I worked in this role for about 18 months and decided that I could never go back to teaching or engineering again… I was hooked on hunting for a living, so it was a natural progression for me to end up securing a job within a DOC hunting team upon my return to New Zealand in 2004.

After 18 days hunting in gorse in the Coromandel with zero goats for a four man team, Kim struck the jackpot and shot 19 in one mob. Dogs are Jake, Jimmy, Fleur and Jesse

What was the highlight of your month just gone?

This month I’ve been doing my planning for the year ahead, organising logistics, landowner permissions and putting out tenders for goat control. I wouldn’t call it an exciting month.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. Family
  2. Dogs
  3. The ease at which we can experience so many interesting things in New Zealand

Three pet peeves

  1. Laziness
  2. Quitters 
  3. Liars

Three foods

  1. Banana Swiss Maid dairy food
  2. Goody goody gumdrops ice cream
  3. Meat

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Coromandel
  2. Marlborough Sounds
  3. Matawai

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Donnie Darko
  2. Anything ‘’unplugged’’
  3. More of a magazine reader than a novel reader… it suits my short attention span.

Jake (the Muss) and Xena bailing a nanny goat, Whareorino

Deep and meaningful

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

Relax, you’ll find a job that you enjoy doing.

Who or what inspires you and why?

People who stand up for what they truly believe in, even if it’s unpopular.

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

Umm tall and good looking? Oh you mean: an engineer, a pilot or a hunter… two out of three isn’t too bad eh?

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

Stay at home dad? Although this is most likely a bit like hunting for a living… everyone wants to do it, until they actually try it.

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

As a goat hunter we tend to defend our honour a lot by denying any involvement between man and beast. However, if you want me to play this game I may as well be at the top of the food chain and choose to be a falcon. I guess it combines two out of three from that other question before about what I wanted to be when I grew up!

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

Get out there and do it. It’s a sad indictment, but I hardly ever meet New Zealanders in the bush. Probably 85% of the people I meet in the bush are tourists using our walking tracks, 5% would be New Zealand tramping clubs made up of senior citizens (good on you, you’re much tougher than our PS3 playing teenage couch potatoes) and 10% would be hunters. Pretty sad really that we pay for all these huts and walking tracks with our taxes and the average New Zealander doesn’t even know they exist, or choose to go there.