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How to Volunteer for the Department of Conservation of New Zealand

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Look after New Zealand’s wildlife and recreation.

The famous New Zealand scenery is protected by the Department of Conservation (DoC). The wildlife, walking tracks, campsites and backcountry huts that backpackers enjoy while travelling around NZ are maintained and preserved by volunteers who also have a passion for NZ’s natural offerings. Even with a visitor visa, there are ways to get involved. Find out how in this quick guide on how to volunteer for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand.

The great outdoors is New Zealand’s main attraction so how cool would it be to contribute to keeping the outdoors, well, great?! Not only would you be part of a conservation effort, but volunteer projects are a great way to meet like-minded people, and, of course, see some of NZ’s most spectacular landscapes.

For more reasons to do a good deed while travelling in New Zealand, take a look at 10 Reasons to Volunteer During Your Gap Year.

Volunteering with DoC

This quick guide on how to volunteer with the Department of Conservation will answer the following questions:

  • What are the benefits of volunteering?
  • What types of projects can I volunteer for?
  • How do I apply to volunteer?
  • What is the cost? And is accommodation and equipment provided?
Working Holiday Insurance

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Why volunteer?

Protect rare species of flora and fauna, restore and maintain historical buildings, and maintain recreational facilities like walking tracks and campsites.

Apart from the obvious significant contribution to the conservation of New Zealand, it is a way of learning new skills (great for the CV), getting fit, experiencing amazing areas of New Zealand, and making a few friends along the way.

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What can I volunteer for?

There are a number of different projects you can take part in for a varying fitness levels, skills and availability.

  • Hut wardens and camp hosts – usually need to commit to at least a week. They need to take camp/hut bookings, provide information to the public and maintain the camp/hut to the specific standard.
  • Maintenance projects – this could be helping out from 2 to 14 days of planting, fencing, garden maintenance, beach cleanup, track maintenance, painting and building. These projects are lead by the site’s ranger.
  • Wildlife projects – tasks may include: wildlife monitoring, trapping pests, and public talks about wildlife. Check out some of New Zealand’s unique wildlife that we try to protect.
  • Group projects – a fun idea if you have a group of backpacking friends that want to volunteer for the day. These projects are also a good way for solo travellers to meet people. Tasks can be maintenance and wildlife projects.
  • Restoration projects – like maintenance, tasks involve: collecting seeds, planting, beach cleanups, restore historical sites, weeding and pest control.
  • Indoor volunteering – don’t fancy getting your hands dirty? There are opportunities to volunteer in administration and office duties.
  • Community conservation groups – if you are staying somewhere in New Zealand for a while on your working holiday visa, contact your local community conservation group for regular get-togethers and meet some new people. Start your research on the Nature Space website.

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How to apply

The DoC website makes it easy to select your chosen region and browse the volunteer projects in that area. Once you have found a project you would like to get involved in, scroll to the bottom of the project’s page for contact details. Under the title “How to apply” there will be instructions on how to simply book a place by contacting the the relevant DoC office. The project description may ask for specific skills or experience, so you should mention these in the application – much like applying for a job.

Some projects run throughout the year and others are seasonal or weather dependent. For a better chance of getting a place on a project, apply as soon as possible. Some projects can be very popular with spaces going quickly.

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Accommodation, Cost and equipment

Although there is no joining fee for taking part in a project, there may be other expenses to consider. Fees are sometimes charged to volunteers to cover food, transport or accommodation. Projects vary on how much they offer volunteers in terms of accommodation, food and equipment.

For food, you will either need to bring your own (in most cases) or get a food voucher. Bringing cooking utensils may be required in a few projects. In some cases, where food is provided, you may also be asked to pay a small fee to cover the cost of your food. Again, refer to the project description for more information.

The project description will advise on clothing, although it is best to be prepared for all weather scenarios as the weather can change quickly.

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What visa do you need to volunteer for Doc?

As a foreigner in New Zealand, it is your duty to find out the visa that’s right for you in terms of volunteering.

Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules.  In general terms, volunteers, including students, from overseas do not need to hold a work visa to volunteer with DoC.  You only need to apply for a visitor entry into New Zealand.  This is because, as a general rule, volunteering for DoC is not considered by ImmigrationNZ as employment “so long as the volunteer is not provided with food, lodging or transport that carries monetary value”.  However, on an exception basis and where there are very good reasons, ImmigrationNZ accepts that DoC may provide support to volunteers but this is on a case-by-case basis.

Our advice is to talk their hotline to get their take on your specific situation. We are pretty chilled around here.

Other things to consider before volunteering

  • Consider what level of fitness is needed for a project, hut wardens may need to tramp for three days with gear on their back to get to their stationed huts.
  • Are you happy to do tasks in any weather? The New Zealand weather can change quickly.
  • Make sure you have personal travel insurance. DoC does not accept responsibility for any accident, loss or damage to personal items of volunteers.
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