I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…
New Zealands Department Of Conservation (DOC) are awesome.
The department recently turned the big 30, and when I watched this newshub report about the severity of their under-funding and their completely overstretched resources, the Kiwi in me felt embarrassed.
They are responsible for almost a third of the entire land mass of New Zealand.
That’s about 8 million hectares!
Then there’s the 1,000 species of animals on the verge of extinction. And that’s before we even get started on the further 3,000 species which are “at threat”. Yup, that’d be DOC’s responsibility too.
I spent almost 3 years based in New Zealand.
As a tourist, when I first got to NZ, I was genuinely surprised by how hard DOC work to keep this stunningly beautiful land accessible to all.
In my opinion, it’s way beyond what I’ve seen from any other country.
Not only that, the work that they do is absolutely critical to protecting the environment and the wildlife that many tourists like me come here to see in the first place.
DOC are awesome. Underfunded, overstretched, but awesome. And majorly underappreciated.
So today I’m going to talk about all the ways that New Zealand’s Department Of Conservation are absolutely nailing it. Happy 30th guys!!
Free Access To National Parks
Most other countries like the US and Canada to name but a couple, charge access fees for their national parks.
To Kiwis, free and unrestricted access to public and conservation land is seen as their right.
There is talk about changing this though, and the man in charge of the department has recently hinted to the fact that they’re considering a move to charge entrance fees to certain areas. There’s a lot of criticism about exactly how that’s going to be possible, with so much of the country being classified as a national park in the first place, and personally I just can’t see it happening. It’s just too much against some pretty core Kiwi values to ever really get anywhere.
So, for the time being at least, we get to enjoy completely free access to all national park land for locals and tourists alike. Winner!
Huge Network Of Tracks
When one third of your country is a National Park, you’ve got a lot of area ready for people to play and explore in.
There are literally hundreds of walking tracks stretching for thousands of km’s all over New Zealand.
DOC have even been involved (along with a lot of other agencies and organisations) with completing the Te Araroa walking trail – a 3,000km treck from Cape Reinga at the very tip of the North Island, to Bluff at the very bottom of the South Island. So you can now literally walk the entire length of New Zealand!
So if you’ve got a couple months or so to spare this summer, you can thank DOC and their friends for that one.
Or, if you’re not quite that hard core (like me) you can check out some of the hundreds of other tracks and take yourself on a day walk, or even a small two or three day “tramp”.
Overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’ve done heaps of hiking while I’ve been based over here, so check out my 5 best hikes on the South Island and take your pick from glaciers to mountain climbing and even natural hot springs!
Cheapest Backcountry Hut Prices
Almost 1,000 backcoutry huts service this huge track network all year round.
While most were originally built to support the deer cull efforts of the 60’s and 70’s, DOC maintain and preserve them today for recreational use by trampers, hikers, mountaineers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
What’s more, they run many of these huts, particularly the more popular ones, at a consistent loss.
The fees they charge for people using the huts or campsites they maintain don’t even come close to covering the costs involved in doing so.
When you compare the prices of the backcountry huts in New Zealand to other backcountry huts around the world, you’ll see why.
The most expensive huts in the whole network (the Great Walk Huts) currently charge up to $54 per person per night. That’s only a small handful of the huts that make up the network though – most are under $25.
Compare that to some other huts around the world.
According to this newshub report, you can get a bed in a lodge in the Rocky Mountains for around $342, or up to $420 in parts of Patagonia. Most likely because swathes of backcountry in other areas around the world have been handed over to privately run commercial organisations who need to make a profit.
New Zealand doesn’t have that burden to contend with. Free access to the backcountry is an important Kiwi value and a huge asset to their ever booming tourism industry.
DOC are currently fighting a drastically underfunded battle to save 1,000 species from extinction.
1,000 different species!
All of which are pretty much guaranteed to be completely wiped out without DOC’s help.
Part of what makes New Zealand so unique, is that it’s plants and animals evolved largely in isolation.
Because of this, many of the countries native bird species have grown up without having any natural predators.
As the country has grown, and it’s human population became more developed, foreign predators like stoats, possums and rats have gradually made their way over in food and cargo shipments.
For a bird population which is completely unevolved and unprepared to deal with these new predators, that basically signals carnage.
DOC have been working hard to protect many of these endangered species, with programs like Battle For Our Birds, Predator Free 2050, and War On Weeds.
New Zealand is unique, and DOC have a lot to protect!
Staff Who Know Their Stuff
DOC also allocates a good portion of their overstretched budget to public facing staff, in their efforts to communicate the conservation message and get the public involved.
Their staff are all extremely knowledgeable and massively enthusiastic about their jobs and the outdoors in general.
DOC offices exist in most townships or places of interest, so you’re never far away from a friendly face.
More than once, when I’ve been in a new place and I’ve wanted some advice on the best things to do/see while I was there, my first port of call has been a local DOC office. If you’re calling into a new place for the first time, just ask around for the nearest DOC office and you’re pretty sure to find one. Or you can see a full list of them here.
Most of the time the staff who work there have done so for a while, and their experience and familiarity with the area is always helpful. I’ve always found them to be only too happy to chat about the best walks and outdoor activities in the area. They’ll also be able to give you the kind of advice that only locals can, such as seasonal factors and advice on current weather and conditions for the areas you want to explore.
These are also the guys who are responsible for maintaining the backcountry hut network in the area. So often times they will have extensive experience on the tracks and areas you’re interested in checking out.
As well as that, you’ll find that many of the more popular huts are staffed by DOC workers during the main hiking season. Often those DOC rangers will give nightly talks to each new group of hut guests, which can be a great opportunity to get more first hand advice on what to do and how to stay safe while you’re doing it.
They’re also all extremely passionate about conservation – that’s literally the name of their department after all! And DOC rangers at the huts will always be happy to chat to you about the native birds and animals in the area and what you should look out for while you’re out there.
I spent almost 3 years in New Zealand, and I’ve met a lot of people over that time who work for DOC.
Without fail, every one of them has been friendly, helpful and extremely knowledgeable.
Their Youtube Channel
Want to see a live video stream of a nesting albatross?
You didn’t. But I’m guessing you probably do now, right?
How about a video of a newborn baby Dusky Dolphin swimming alongside its mum?
Well you’re in luck. DOC have got you covered.
Their YouTube channel has some great stuff on there, and even features highlight videos of many of the more popular walking and tramping tracks around New Zealand.
The main feature on there at the moment is the live webcam feed of a nesting albatros down on the Dunedin peninsular, which is getting them heaps of press attention and really helping them connect with people who wouldn’t normally have much to do with DOC.
It’s been a really popular feature and I’m sure DOC will be exploring more cool ways to help showcase some more of New Zealands amazing wildlife in the near future. So stay tuned!
Wrapping It Up
If you ask me, there aren’t enough good things said about the DOC and the work they do!
There’s a lot of criticism in New Zealand about their focus on environmentalism and how that sometimes comes at a cost to the economy.
What many critics don’t talk about though, is what a major asset the department and its work are to tourism – an industry worth $34.7 billion dollars a year at last count.
The awesome work they do to make the countrys outdoors and it’s 8 million hectares of backcountry accessible to locals and tourists alike is helping to fuel major economic growth for the country, while at the some time helping to give millions of backcountry users a great outdoor experience.
For a department that’s seen its funding repeatedly cut, I’d say they were doing pretty well. Wouldn’t you?
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