Volunteering at Kahurangi National Park: What could go wrong?!

March 15, 2017
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15 March 2017

Rain forest on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Image © Tourism West Coast

Volunteering at the Department of Conservation in Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand South Island

The reason why you haven’t heard from me for a while is because I was volunteering as a hut warden for the Department of Conservation (DOC) in Kahurangi National Park.

I was stationed out of Salisbury Hut, in the Motueka area in the South Island. Being a DOC warden, you help manage the area in which you are stationed. Weeding, cleaning that sort of thing. It’s a great experience though and you get up close to NZ’s wildlife and can relax and breath in the crisp fresh air as you meander through the bush.


New Zealand Department of Conservation volunteering duties at Salisbury Hut

It is not the first time I have done DOC volunteering either, I have done it many times and actually I talk a lot about my experiences in my book, A Maverick New Zealand Way, out on Amazon.


Staff HQ, Kahurangi National Park

It was great this time around because I had cheeky weka (a chicken-like bird) drinking out of my tea cup and trying to hitch a ride in my car! I got to see the native kaka and the iconic kiwi bird hiding in some tussock grasses (see my you tube channel).


The comical, confident, cheeky Weka

Anyway all it all it was an amazing and actually really relaxing experiences, in and out of telephone reception and living a bit rough. I love it. Anyway I went one day, as you do, on a trek which should have taken four hours. It was a beautiful walk on a well formed track, by a fantastic 1.5 metre waterfall. I stopped to take a drink from the crystal clear waters and then disaster struck!

And that’s what went wrong!

I fell and fractured my humerus, also known as a broken shoulder. Well the shock of it all looking at my x-rays. It was like a rude joke after a beautiful stay for 7 days.

My X-Rays, with an arrow marking the problem

I went to the nearest hospital which was in Nelson and was attended to. DOC kindly paid for two nights of accommodation for me after the accident and the staff drove me around, they were very concerned! I decided I was not allowed to drive, so I decided I would fly back to Auckland instead of Queenstown because the hospitals were closer.

Arriving back into Auckland I was wearing a special black support sling type garment to support my arm for the first few days. I was really amazed at how kind people were, in the post office and the supermarket everyone was offering to help me! People offered to carry things to my car and move things for me. What a great bunch of people Aucklanders are- no I really do mean that! What I did notice however is that when you are wearing a plain cuff people don’t notice there is anything wrong with you, I was at countdown and a cashier bumped straight into my shoulder! So I decided I would avoid going out into to many public places for a while because that hurt something horrible!

Compared to the rest of the world I think New Zealand has an accident compensation organisation called, ACC that provides home help who are debilitated.

ACC provided me with home help for three hours a week for seven weeks and they are lovely! They help me with food prep and cleaning, I am so thankful we have this service in New Zealand!

After taking pain killers for 2–3 days I decided I didn’t want to take anymore because I didn’t want to feel foggy, I have books to write and blogs to write and life moves on. It has been challenging dealing with the pain, but humans are strong! I have chosen to take the el natural route and have been using comfrey a lotion I put on the outside of my arm which is meant to help with broken bones and liquid arnica which is getting rid of the bruising. I had horrendous bruising! I have been taking turmeric capsules, which increases the blood flow.

I was very lucky it was a clean break so I didn’t need any metal, having metal though would have been a speedier recovery. I have made double sure my diet has been high in Calcium and Vitamin D.

What I find perplexing is the conflicting medical opinions of medical professionals. I have visited two orthopaedic surgeons and they both do say to prevent frozen shoulder you have to move. Well moving when it’s broken is quite difficult! There’s a fine line between moving it enough and moving it too much. I didn’t want frozen shoulder otherwise I’d never be able to life my arm above my shoulder again.

I think that fine line can be depicted by the pain level, so after two weeks I can clean the toilet, cut vegetables, I can’t vacuum. Doing anything that means lifting my arm above my shoulder will end up causing more injury and damage in the long run!

Both orthopaedic surgeons in Nelson and Auckland told me it was better to not have my arm taped up while it was healing. It’s better to let it be free and move it within a range and I thought right ok. I was also warned not to rest my arm on a pillow or use a sling because it can push the humerus bone upwards. I was told I can’t drive and they also advise no manual work for three months.

I decided on acupuncture, because in the past it has worked for me really well. Years ago a doctor told me I would never be able to go backpacking, the issue hasn’t reoccurred thanks to acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine where they put thin needles into healing spots in your body to help the body heal itself and relieve pain.

Both orthopaedic surgeons stated they didn’t know the benefits of it when I discussed this with them. I told them how it had worked for me in the past, both suggested I go to physiotherapy and take pain killers. I thought no I don’t like pain killers, they stop your functioning.

Well the benefits I have found, it helps remove the scar tissue, it also works on the ligaments between joints which help with mobility. Acupuncture uses warmth, like hot water bottles.

I also thought about taking a break for 4–5 days at the Te Henga Villas, an eco-art retreat by the ocean at Bethell’s beach north-west of Auckland city.

My taped-up arm

If you go to a physiotherapist, what they like to do is put ice on your injury and tape it up! I talked to my acupuncturist about this and went along to physio anyway, and they did just that. They taped my arm up but not the actual shoulder and said he was trying to drain the blood and bruising out of my arm.

I woke up that night at 2 am with more pain then I had been in for a long time. I ripped off the tape immediately.

I do consider myself lucky to have had the options available to me though. ACC has been wonderful, you do hear a lot of bad things in the media but I have nothing bad to say.

So moral of the story really is — Having a broken humerus is not much fun at all!

Another look at that troublesome Weka, looking at me

Safe and Happy Travels 

-Mary Jane Walker

Here is my Amazon author page. I’m also publishing my books, progressively, on other platforms.


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