How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world ~ Anne Frank 


To me giving back to the community is very important so I am often found trawling through various websites that have volunteer opportunities. While I was wondering (okay stressing!) about what to do between house sits I found a fantastic opportunity on the DOC website that started the day after my housesit. Perfect timing.  

Now I thought, “Where is D’Urville Island?” and “What exactly is a Conservation Holiday?”   

Transform your life

West coast of D’Urville Island – Greville Harbour

D’Urville Island  is on the western side of the Marlbourgh Sounds.  It is a remote island that still has working farms on it and is accessible only by boat. It seems a conservation holiday is more about the conservation and not so much about the holiday! Basically I am paying to pull weeds and plant trees. Hmmm that didn’t seem like much of a bargain so I’m hoping that the experience is worth it.   

Our group of volunteers were to be guinea pigs as the caretaker and his family (of 4 daughters aged from 1 to 7 years) had moved to the island a month before and we were to be the first volunteers to share the house with them.   

Day 1   

Crawled out of my warm bed in the Villa youth hostel in Picton to a very chilly morning. I left my fellow backpackers snoring away and walked down to the local DOC office.   

I met our cheery DOC team leader, Josh, and one of my fellow volunteers, Gwen. The first task for our foggy Monday morning brains – design the menu for the next 5 days for 6 people, 3 of whom we had yet to meet! Both of our brains froze – the pressure! We were either going to be heroes or villains as there are no shops on the island if we got it wrong or ran out of anything. We started with the easy stuff; coffee, chocolate and biscuits then, fuelled by DOC tea, we completed our list (see how we went with our great dinner menus!). Shopping next – not my favourite task – but it was fun to be buying in such large quantities for a change.   

A big day of travel, from Picton to Havelock North (to pick up our other 3 volunteers – James, Shirley and Robin), to Rai Valley (for a lunch stop and a great mussel pie washed down with ginger beer and followed by a piece of aptly name magic slice). 3 hours later we arrived at French Pass. A long cold wait followed for the forgetful boat owner to remember that he had agreed to take us the 20 mins to D’Urville Island.      

Have a life in balance

Have a life in balance and enjoy the view over French Pass

We arrived at dusk on the island and were picked up by the caretaker, Forest, and one of his inquisitive daughters, Maia. I strained to catch glimpses of the scenery as we drove for the next hour over to the other side of the island to Greville Harbour but all was dark so I looked forward to the views in the morning.  

Dinner – Bacon & egg pie, perfectly cooked roast potatoes, carrots and pumpkin.  

Day 2  

I woke to the sound of little kids voices. Sneaking a peek outside the condensation glazed windows a quiet smile spread across my face. It was a still day, not a cloud to be seen, and we were surrounded by hills on 3 sides with a lake completing the square. Time to get up!   

The lake at Greville Harbour

A stunning view to wake a sleepy volunteer

 Our commute to work was one of the nicest I’ve ever had. A 1km walk around a dirt road hugging the hillside and floating above the swan and duck filled lake. We marched up and over the sand dunes to see Long Beach and the glorious sea ahead of us. The sound of the waves was to keep us company over the next few days.   

Change careers and your commute to work

A tough commute to work for volunteers

We were straight into the task of releasing, aka weeding, the 4000 trees and plants that had been planted last year. As we were clearing knee deep Kaikuia grass this was no mean feat as that grass is tough stuff with an extensive root system. We had some blunt spades to work with and hand pulling power. Maia (aged 7) was my weed pulling assistant in the afternoon which made a difficult job a lot more enjoyable. 

 Dinner – Vegetable lasagne, broccoli, beans and carrots. Peach crumble with custard for dessert.   

 Day 3   

Another windless day greeted us. Josh informed us that if we finished planting all 500 plants today we could have tomorrow off! No more needed to be said and we raced off down the track. Half of us started planting, the rest continued releasing. I found the releasing a bit repetitive and dull so I broke it up by collecting the bamboo poles and plastic sleeves from the dead plants and stacking them at the top of the hill for recycling for our planting. I had a good pair of secutors today which made a world of difference and the Kaikuia roots were no match for me!   

Achieve your goals

My new office

After lunch we got all planting around the campsite. I LOVED this! I really felt that I had made a difference as I looked back on the rows of Manuka, Kanuka, Kaihikatea, Cabbage Trees, Toi Toi, Coprosma and Flax.   

There were limited spades (Kaikuia grass had already claimed its first victim) so I become the local expert at wrapping protective plastic sleeves and plunging in poles to keep the sleeves in place. I looked at up one time to see all of the volunteers, our leader, the caretakers and his family all working away and enjoying themselves. It was a moment of contentment and peace for me as it took me back to the working bees when I was a kid where everyone pitched in to help others.   


Living simply and giving back to the land

Living simply and giving back to the land

We worked until dusk and only have 34 left to plant tomorrow. Dinner – Chicken Enchiladas, lettuce and celery. Blackberry and lemonade jelly.   

Day 4   

Today was very relaxed. The planting was tougher than yesterday as we had to hack through deep Kaikuia grass to find the peaty soil below. Still we were finished by 11am and the holiday part of our conservation holiday began.   


Get work life balance - plant a tree!

Get work life balance – plant a tree!

After a slow walk back around the lake to the house and a long leisurely lunch in the sunshine everyone decided that an afternoon exploring Black Reef Bay was the best way to enjoy ourselves. We climbed a steep yet gradual incline to the top of the hill near the farmhouse which gave us fantastic views over the lake and Long Beach. We bounced down the other side over springy Kaikuia grass to the bay. As we came around a final corner the driftwood laden bay was framed by a perfect V of the sloping hillside and I felt like a kid on an adventure.   


A change in life

Black Reef Bay and an afternoon of fun!

Katipo hunting (with very long sticks!), whale bone searching, teasing the waves, soaking up the sunshine, home made sticky ginger crunch and rock pool exploration. The kind of lazy afternoon that you dream about.    

Simple living at its best

A glorious day at Black Reef Bay

The sun was going down before we knew it. The climb back felt very hard, mainly because I was dragging my feet over the lingering sadness that today was our last day. Determined to enjoy the rest of my time here I went off road across the hills on the way back, chasing the Maia and Elaina through the long grass. The sunset gave us a great send off with rosy golden hues warming the sky and the hills.   

Dinner – Wild pork curry with mounds of rice. Apple and apricot crumble with custard.   

Day 5   

Up early to get ready to head back to the mainland. We were greeted by a fantastic feed of bacon and eggs, wonderfully cooked by James.   

There were some sad faces as we left and Maia asked Gwen and I to keep in touch which I gladly agreed to as I knew that I was going to miss her (and the rest of her family). It amazes me the places that you meet new friends and how quickly someone can become an important part of your life. Some friendships take a lifetime to build; others are formed in a shared smile or moment.   

We were all very quiet on the trip back to civilisation; immersed in our thoughts. I know I wasn’t ready to leave. The island reminded me of the way that I’d grown up; where community was important and the best games involved a vivid imagination and being outside.  

I know that not everyone can take a week off work to give back. Look around you to see what you can do – something that you consider to be a small amount of time and effort could mean a huge deal to someone else.

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