Home / Articles / National Parks

Behind the scenes: Abel Tasman National Park

Image of the November 2017 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more articles from the
November 2017 Issue

Becki Moss spends a week chronicling the work of a trainee DOC ranger in Abel Tasman National Park

Almost a third of New Zealand’s landmass is managed by the Department of Conservation and the stunning landscapes and parks it cares for are the key attraction for a tourism industry worth $34 billion.

DOC celebrated its 30th anniversary this year amidst a vocal debate about the amount of funding it receives. Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, one thing just about everyone agrees is the importance of the work that DOC does to keep New Zealand’s national parks beautiful. It’s work is carried out by a dedicated team of rangers who carry out a multitude of tasks.

One of these rangers is Sarah Tunnicliffe, a trainee studying at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Last summer she worked at Abel Tasman National Park as part of the recreation team; clearing fallen trees from tracks, checking visitors have bookings and delivering toilet paper to bathrooms throughout the park.

The recreation team’s normal routine was interrupted when 400 pilot whales washed up at Farewell Spit. Rangers from around the country were called in to work with a huge team of volunteers to refloat as many whales as possible.

Get unlimited access

Browse all articles, trips, gear reviews and buyer’s guides for as little as $5.95 a month.

Subscribe now

Already a subscriber? Login Now
Sarah helps clear a dead beech tree from the track near Bark Bay. Windfall from storms and other weather events are expected to be cleared within 48 hours on a Great Walk. Photo: Becki Moss
Although she was working alone at the hut, rangers are in regular radio contact with Nelson Visitor Centre, Motueka DOC office and other park rangers. This keeps an open flow of information about the number of people staying in the park overnight and any issues that may arise. There is a radio briefing each morning. Photo: Becki Moss
There are banks of solar panels at the huts which provide power to run the sewerage and filtered water systems. Back-up is with diesel generators. Photo: Becki Moss
Bookings on the Coast Track Great Walk are essential and checking these is part of a hut warden’s daily routine. It is free of charge for visitors to enter and walk through the park, but paid bookings are required for staying in the campsites and huts. Most park visitors comply by the rules but some do not, especially during summer. Photo: Becki Moss
Many rangers joke that ‘the park runs on toilet paper’. The toilets are flushable and are cleaned daily. Visitors often comment to staff on their quality and cleanliness. Here, Sarah heads to the toilets to restock. Photo: Becki Moss
It’s not all beach and track; rangers complete plenty of paperwork, from daily recordings of water usage to incident reports. Sarah uses some down time before bed to write reports and record any important data. Photo: Becki Moss
Ranger Bill Franklin talks to one of the kayak operators at Observation Bay. Operators of commercial activities have special concessions to run their businesses in the park. Photo: Becki Moss
Sarah had to make a 111 call at 3am while working as a hut warden at Bark Bay. A young boy had fallen off a bunk in his sleep. Three paramedics arrived in a rescue helicopter and took the boy to Nelson hospital where he was found to be unharmed. He finished the walk the next day. Photo: Becki Moss
Abel Tasman National Park is extremely busy during summer and the huts are full almost every night. Consequently, much of a ranger’s job is spent working with people, talking to them about the weather forecast and tide times for the next day, answering questions about the history and biodiversity of the park, and general conversation. Photo: Becki Moss
Abel Tasman National Park contains both beaches and bush. As a result, Sarah switched between work boots and going barefoot. Photo: Becki Moss
Trainee ranger Sarah Tunnicliffe’s summer placement was with the DOC Motueka office as part of the recreation/historic team. Her time was split between working in Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national Parks and Richmond Forest Park. Photo: Becki Moss