Working in some of New Zealand’s most enchanting and dramatic landscapes, rangers with the Department of Conservation are truly living the dream.
To celebrate World Ranger Day (31 July) let’s meet five of New Zealand’s conservation rangers. To those passionate about nature and the great outdoors, their jobs look like a wonderful adventure. Yes, there’s a lot of hard work to be done, but the rewards are many and varied.
From Scotland to Motueka: James Livingstone, Senior Ranger
Growing up on the eastern edge of Scotland’s Glasgow, James Livingstone realised early on he had two choices in life. “It was either, go west to the city and experience the rough and tumble or go east to the fields and forests for more wholesome activities. In the end, I enjoyed the best of both.”
In the end, living and working close to nature won out. “In mid-70s Britain, the Forestry Commission presented by far the best opportunity to achieve that, and so I was the token Scotsman on the 1985 intake to England’s National School of Forestry,” he recalls.
He worked in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District, Wester Ross in north-west Scotland, and the Isle of Skye. On a trip to Australia, he become involved in native forest harvesting in the Otway Ranges in Victoria, a mortal sin he says he’s still repenting. “Fortunately I later found myself living in Zurich where I studied and worked in forestry and landscape architecture. This was a period of cultural enlightenment.”
Livingstone came to New Zealand in late 2002, attracted by the “best quality of life on offer anywhere”. And, he says, “almost 15 years ago, I was Johnny on the spot, talking to the right person at the right time to secure a short contract on Mangere Island in the Chatham archipelago a few days after arriving. In the ensuing years, I’ve enjoyed tremendously fulfilling roles in scenic and remote locations, from Mana Island, Pureora Forest, Raoul Island in the Kermadecs, Franz Josef and now Motueka.”
Primarily involved in protecting and recovering endangered native ecosystems and bird species, Livingstone contributes to animal ethics and kiwi recovery. “I’m proud to be part of a committed team improving biodiversity in Abel Tasman National Park, working with great people to achieve magnificent things in the best places.”
From Germany to Takaka: Hans Stoffregen, Senior Ranger
Named after the flightless native weka bird, Motueka is a coastal town on the western edge of Tasman Bay. With a yearly average of 2400 hours of sunshine (one of the highest in New Zealand), the region is a veritable fruit bowl. Swim in the saltwater baths on the foreshore, cycle Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, or kayak in the legendary Abel Tasman National Park.
Born and bred near Hamburg in northern Germany, Hans Stoffregen has been a fan of the great outdoors for as long as he can remember. “Very early on, I was a nature-focused boy and, as I grew up, I also wanted to go travelling, so when I was 22 I bought a motorcycle and went travelling through Asia, Australia and New Zealand.”
A shipbuilder by trade, Stoffregen worked in shipyards in Germany and Perth, in the mines in Australia and as a boilermaker in Wellington. “But I didn’t want to stay in that industry so in 1990 I enrolled at [Wellington’s] Victoria University and did a Masters in Conservation Studies, and part of it included a placement with the DoC [Department of Conservation].”
That placement turned into a full-time job, and today Stoffregen is a senior manager for biodiversity, based in Takaka in the north of the South Island.
“I love the diversity of the work,” he says. “Every day is something different. You never know what’s going to come at you. We’re always improvising, make things up as we go along. There is no recipe.”
He’s lucky enough to work in a field where he can make a difference. “Ten or 20 years ago I planted trees, now they’re a forest. And we’re lucky in Golden Bay; we have some awesome programmes coming up. We’re engaged in all sorts of projects to control major pests and bring missing bits of flora and fauna back into the park. We’re even looking at bringing the endangered takahe into the area.”
Takaka is the main township of Golden Bay, and is a popular tourist destination, famous for its alternative arts scene and staggering landscapes. Be sure to visit the crystal-clear Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs), pitch your tent at DoC’s Totaranui Campground, visit a museum or have a go at catching a fish, riding a horse, paddling a kayak or kitesurfing.
From Wales to Te Anau: James Reardon, Science Advisor, Threats and Herpetology
Welshman James Reardon has an impressive list of talents. He’s been a zoologist, photographer and cinematographer, television presenter and ecologist, and currently he works for the DoC. He’s lived and worked in some of the world’s most beautiful places, and today calls New Zealand home.
After working in film for some time, Reardon realised he needed to return to his primary interests: ecology and conservation. “New Zealand was somewhere that had always interested me from an evolutionary perspective, [as] there’s a tremendous wealth of herpetofauna here: giant weta [insects], flightless parrots, giant rails [birds] and a diverse range of lizards,” he says. “I came here to re-engage with conservation and biology and to do post-doctoral work at Landcare Research with Otago University, working with alpine weta and endangered lizard communities, which is fascinating.”
This brought him into contact with some of the DoC’s species recovery programmes and, in a case of being in the right place at the right time, Reardon was offered a position as a science advisor for threatened species in 2004.
“I’m not in the field as often as I’d like to be, but I love that my job allows me to make a tangible difference to conservation outcomes,” he says. “Spreadsheets and reports aren’t all that rewarding but that work is often critical in assisting with recovery programmes.”
And for those who want to follow in Reardon’s footsteps, he suggests people follow their passions, and their morals. “The thing that gets me out of bed each morning is the feeling that my work matters."
From London to the Bay of Islands: Andrew Blanshard, Historical Ranger
Readers of Wilderness Magazine voted Te Anau New Zealand’s best hiking location and, if you visit the region, you’ll see why. With outstanding walks and the World Heritage-listed Fiordland nearby, nature is showing off everywhere you look. Great for people who like walking, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing or riding horses.
Born in London to Kiwi parents, Andrew Blanshard spent his childhood in places as diverse as Tokyo and the US. “We grew up tramping in the summer holidays and whenever we came back home to New Zealand we’d stay on cousins’ farms,” he recalls. “I’ve always been much happier outside than inside.”
While in the UK, finishing his studies in archaeology at Durham University, Blanshard was looking for work when the role of Historical Ranger in the Bay of Islands was advertised. “All of my research back in the UK was actually in New Zealand and I knew I wanted to come home. All I wanted was to find a job that would let me wear tramping boots to work.”
Blanshard says he wears several hats in his role as historical ranger. “I’m charged with looking after the Department’s historic assets within the Bay of Islands, including Whangaroa Harbour to Cape Brett and parts of the Hokianga. I also have a biosecurity predator dog who sniffs out rats and we spend lots of time ensuring our islands remain pest free.”
With a passion for New Zealand’s heritage, Blanshard is fascinated with prehistoric and pre-European Māori sites. “I love those excavations, working with local hapu [tribes]. Archaeology can tell you so much and then the hapu come along with another layer of understanding. That interface is part of what brought me home: the UK sites may have been older but you never got the full story the way you can here.”
The Bay of Islands is a collection of more than 140 subtropical islands where dolphins and rare seabirds will fight for your camera’s attention. Whether you begin your exploration in the historic town of Russell or across the water in pretty Paihia, the region is a highlight for many international visitors. While you’re there, make the most of the great dining, or go parasailing, diving, fishing or hiking – it’s all so easy and accessible. And the newly completed Twin Coast Cycle Trail is a magnificent ride.