19 Oct 2022

It's a dream job - but hardly anyone wants it

8:02 pm on 19 October 2022

By Andrea Vance of Stuff

Haast River Valley.

The Haast River Valley Photo: 123RF

Working from home could prove difficult - but the daily commute might involve a jet boat or helicopter ride. And your direct reports would include some of the world's rarest creatures.

It's a dream job - patrolling some of the world's most spectacular wilderness, and caring for kiwi, penguins and lizards on the front line of extinction.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is on the hunt for a biodiversity supervisor in Haast, on the western edge of Mount Aspiring National Park.

But in a nationwide labour market shortage, there have been just three applicants so far for the role, based in New Zealand's most remote town. DOC are now casting the net wider.

"It is working in one of the most amazing natural environments that the country has got to offer," said Wayne Costello, Operations Manager for DOC in South Westland. "It's just spectacular. But it is not for everyone. You'd have to be self-reliant and be able to work in the outdoors. If you're interested in opera and theatre, it's probably not for you."

Landsborough River valley and wilderness area on the West Coast

The Landsborough Valley is a stronghold of the tiny forest bird mōhua. Photo: Supplied / DOC

With lush rainforests, glaciers and towering mountains, the region has the same world heritage status as the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon.

With only about 200 residents, candidates should relish their own company. The nearest supermarket is two hours away, and the closest hospital, a four-hour drive to Greymouth. Cellphone coverage is a recent development, but service is patchy.

Housing is affordable compared with other regions (Westland district had a median price of $405,475 in June 2022), but hard to come by.

"The locals are wonderfully friendly," Costello said. "There are some of New Zealand's original families, who pioneered farming and fishing down in that part of the world. They're really lovely."

And there's plenty to occupy your downtime: tramping, jetboating, salt and freshwater diving, kayaking, fly and deep-sea fishing, hunting and national parks to the south, north and east.

And the true drawcard is the work. The successful applicant will lead a team of four protecting endangered and vulnerable native species in South Westland - some of the Earth's scarcest wildlife.

Mohua or yellowhead in the Landsborough Valley.

Mōhua, or yellowhead, in the Landsborough Valley Photo: Supplied / DOC

Under their care will be the Haast tokoeka kiwi - of which there are only about 500 in the world, and tawaki, or Fiordland crested penguin, the third-rarest species in the world.

In 2019, the team found a new sub-population of tokoeka, just south of the township, increasing the population by 5 percent. It was called "the most significant kiwi discovery in recent times". New Zealand experience is preferred - but not essential.

Landsborough Valley is a stronghold of mōhua, a tiny forest bird brought from the brink of extinction. The population from a little over a dozen, now numbers over 400.

Duties also include fur seal monitoring, lizard surveys, and predator control.

"The prime focus is saving kiwi and bringing the Haast tokoeka back from the brink," Costello said. "Then also wildlife response with tawaki, normally when there's been an injury or something like that. And we are doing some outstanding work with lizards: cascade geckos, and skinks, which are just stunning."

Haast tokoeka are one of New Zealand's rarest kiwi. There is small breeding population at Orokonui, which is also a creche for captive-reared young tokoeka before they're released in the wild. Haast tokoeka have long shaggy feathers.

Haast tokoeka kiwi is one of New Zealand's rarest. There is small breeding population at Orokonui. Photo: Orokonui Ecosanctaury

The transport fleet is also more thrilling than most jobs. "They do quite a bit of helicopter work because the country is so rugged and inaccessible," he said. "To get to the kiwi, you often have to be helicoptered to site, and we own our own jet boat."

The job pays between $72,610 and $92,780, depending on experience. The candidate should have experience with managing a team, and possess strong navigation, map reading, and GPS skills.

"We're looking for good team players, people who like working with other people and be part of a bigger team. But you also have to be reasonably independent and have lots of initiative - to not only think outside of the square in terms of getting work done in that environment, but also just to maintain yourself outside of work."

*This story was originally published on Stuff

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