Volunteer in New Zealand to protect kiwi bird populations

Volunteer in New Zealand and help to preserve the native forest and kiwi birds of the Kauri Coast. Explore an undiscovered forest while learning about conservation and wilderness skills.

Join this conservation volunteer project in New Zealand and help preserve the native forest and birds in a Nature Sanctuary located in an unexplored forest on the beautiful Kauri Coast, New Zealand. You can volunteer for 2 weeks or more between November and March each year. Longer term internship postions also available.

Individuals, groups, students, all welcome.

Cost for food, accommodation (basic), equipment & training starts from £630.

Volunteer caring for a Kiwi birdView over the nature reserveThe volunteer group in actionAccommodation and relaxation area on the edge of the forestThe beginnings of a sunset over the New Zealand hillsLooking down over the native forestBait station for Species MonitoringHands-on volunteer conservationVolunteers getting stuck inVolunteers take some time out at the beachVolunteers cooking together in the kitchenView of the lakeBBQ for volunteersVolunteers restingMisty day on top of the hill Lunch room for volunteersBlue Mushrooms (Entoloma hochstetteri) are found in the forestPanorama of the New Zealand Nature sanctuarySun starting to go down over the nature sanctuaryVolunteers out in the forestNikau FallsSunset at the nature sanctuary

About the Project

Conservation volunteer holding a kiwi

This Nature Sanctuary is a privately owned native forest that is managed in cooperation with the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and the local regional council. The sanctuary consists of protected Podocarpus forest that lies in a greater kiwi zone. The Kiwi is an endangered native bird and protecting its habitat is very important for its survival. The nature sanctuary is located away from the beaten path and it is suited for those interested in carrying out native forest volunteering in a remote, wilderness setting. 

The sanctuary's goal is to enable the creation of the right environment to sustain the ten pairs of kiwi currently living in the forest. The volunteer programme covers a range of conservation activities within the forest. The only way of maintaining this number of kiwi in the forest is by keeping predators at low levels, through extensive monitoring, and through forest protection.

Kiwi Conservation & Native Forest Volunteering in New Zealand

Mist over the Native forest

Kiwi conservation volunteers will be working in teams of up to six volunteers with qualified and experienced leaders carrying out a variety of conservation-related tasks.

Work will focus on the completion of a grid network of forest trails that will be used for the control and the monitoring of the pests that harm the kiwi and other native birds. The trails will be built according to the best practices published by the Department of Conservation and DOC advisers will work alongside the forest volunteers.

Volunteer tasks will include:

• Track maintenance -  clearing and widening of the trails
• Bait station filling and monitoring
• GPS trail mapping
• Trapping
• Small mammal monitoring
• Kiwi monitoring
• Kokako monitoring
• Seedfall collection

Volunteers doing some tree maintenance

The Nature Sanctuary is an unexplored forest and the volunteers will have the opportunity to be the first people in more than a generation to discover the plants and trees that have been growing in the last hundreds of years.

This conservation volunteer programme includes wilderness training and the possibility to spend a few nights in the middle of the forest. Participants will also have the opportunity to go on night safaris looking for kiwis and glow worms.

No previous experience of this work is necessary, as training will be provided by experienced leaders. The working day normally runs from 10am to 4pm with breaks for lunch and listening to nature around. However, please be prepared for some flexibility due to the changeable weather. Most of the workday will be spent outside walking in the forest, so a reasonable fitness level is required. Please note that the facilities at the Sanctuary are basic. They do, however, include dry cabin accommodation and comfortable hot showers.


Internship Positions in New Zealand

Waterfall in New Zealand Forest

In addition to the main volunteer programme, we are also offering two internship positions as follows:

1. Forest Conservation Internship

This internship builds upon the volunteering program and aims to provide the participants with a complete understanding of all the conservation techniques employed at the sanctuary. Participants will be trained and mentored such that they will be able to take charge of one area of activity (i.e. pest monitoring, track design and completion) or of all activities in one of the four forests in which we are operating. Ideally, the intern will become the leader of a volunteer team in charge of planning, preparation, health and safety, and training. To be able to reach that level of competence a minimum stay of 10 weeks is required. The minimum age is 20 and participants will be interviewed via Skype before being accepted into the programme.

As an intern you will start by joining the kiwi conservation volunteers carrying out a variety of conservation-related tasks. You will receive extra training and you will have the opportunity to be involved in all conservation activities, all areas of the forest, and all other activities around the sanctuary. After about two weeks you will be able to start leading small teams of volunteers and start being involved in the planning and preparation activities of your team. After one month you will take charge of one conservation activity or one forest area and e responsible for the planning and completion of the required activities. Previous experience in a leadership role, be it at school or on a sports team will be beneficial to this role. Training will be provided by experienced leaders.

2. Hospitality Internship

Tree Tent in New ZealandThis internship is an opportunity for a participant to gain experience in the end to end process of running a small hospitality operation. Join a nature sanctuary and learn how to manage an environmentally sustainable hospitality operation. Set in an undiscovered forest on the Kauri Coast, New Zealand, the sanctuary offers accommodation in suspended tree tents for visitors that are interested in spending one night in our forest. Since our focus is on conservation we keep the number of tree tents capped at 3 which means that we never have more than 6 guests.

You will also have the opportunity to join the conservation volunteers and help preserve the native forest and birds. There is a minimum eight-week commitment and the start dates are on the first Monday in December or the last Monday in January. These suspended tree tents fit the sanctuary's sustainable and low impact philosophy. As an intern you will receive the training required to understand the sustainability aspects that need to be considered when setting up an operation. You will also learn about the sanctuary through theory and practice thus being able to introduce the sanctuary and its activities to the guests.

Native Forest Volunteers in new Zealand

After two weeks you would be able to understand all the sustainability aspects of the sanctuary (the use of rainwater, solar power, compost toilet, etc.) and you will be confident explaining the sanctuary's conservation goals and activities. After four weeks you will be able to independently receive guests, take them on a forest tour, and prepare the tents for the next visitors. Our hospitality is a very small scale, an average of eight guests per week which makes it ideal for learning all aspects of it. You should be between 18 and 28 years old, fit, healthy, able to work on your own, and capable of carrying out work in all conditions in a cold and wet climate. the rest the same until uneven terrain. This internship will especially appeal to those with an interest in hospitality, off-grid living, conservation, wilderness, and exploration. Participants will be interviewed via Skype before being accepted into the programme. Internship tasks include:

- Welcome guests and offer them an introduction to the sanctuary
- Offer forest tours to guests
- Prepare and clean-up tents
- Prepare breakfast
- Discover and prepare new tent sites
- Participate in conservation activities

Dates & Costs

Artwork in the volunteer camp

21st January to 4th February 2019
4th to 18th February 2019
18th February to 4th March 2019
4th to 18th March 2019

Volunteers can stay for 2-week durations and longer. Please note that the dates above are listed only a guide, it is possible to join the project starting on any Monday between 29th October 2018 and 18th March 2019, as long as you can stay for at least 2 weeks

If you have any questions about dates and costs please email the volunteer coordinator.

Forest Conservation Interns can join on any Monday between November and the end of January, for a minimum 10-week duration.

Hospitality Interns can join on the first Monday in December or the last Monday in January, for a minimum 8-week duration.

Volunteers gathering conservation equipmentProject Costs

The cost for the main volunteer programme is £630 for 2 weeks, 4 weeks is £1090, 6 weeks is £1500, and every extra week costs £215.

The cost for the Forest Conservation Internship is £2180 for 10 weeks, and every extra week costs £160.

The cost for the Hospitality Internship is £1180 for 8 weeks, and every extra week costs £100.

These costs cover all food, accommodation, excursions in the surrounding area, night safaris, pick up & drop off in Dargaville, all training and supervision by instructors, and WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support. 

Your airfare to and from New Zealand, transport to and from the project start location in Dargaville, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses are not included within this price.  It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.

Lodging, Travel, WeatherView overlooking the volunteer camp in New Zealand

Lodging and Accommodation

You will be living and working in a Nature Sanctuary which is located on the second highest peak in Northland at an altitude of 560 meters. The closest town is about one hour drive away. The facilities are basic but very comfortable. Volunteers receive home cooked, healthy food, and you will sleep in bunk beds in insulated cabins. The living area has the following facilities: kitchen, eating area, hot showers, and outdoor toilets. A list of personal items to bring will be given to you with your final package if you are accepted on the project. Please note that you should expect to live in fairly basic conditions close to nature, with limited access to hot water and regular electricity and should be capable of working in all weather conditions.

New Zealand coastTransport

The meeting point for the commencement of the project is on the starting dates (always a Monday) at the Dargaville bus station. To get from Auckland (where the international airport is situated) to Dargaville, volunteers should take a morning bus to Whangarei (Intercity, nakedbus.com) and transfer to the West Coaster bus that runs between Whangarei and Dargaville. More details will be provided with your final package if you are accepted on the project. Please note, you are responsible for all of your bus and airline costs to and from the meeting point. 

Type of volunteers needed

Volunteer managing the woodlandYou should be between 18 to 50 years old, fit, healthy, capable of carrying out work in all conditions in a cold and wet climate. In addition, you need to be prepared to do a lot of walking and hiking on uneven ground every day, and to be comfortable living in rustic conditions for two weeks. The Nature Sanctuary is one hour away from the nearest town and there might be no opportunities to go into town. This is not the programme for you if you find it difficult to be out in remote areas and cannot hike at least 4 hours every day on uneven terrain. No specific skills are needed, but those with previous experience of conservation work, wilderness travel, botany, etc. would be particularly useful, as well as those who are self-motivated as you will get more of the project if you are. The project will especially appeal to those with an interest in conservation, restoration, wilderness, exploration, and off the grid living. The internship programmes have some additional specific requirements (please see the internship descriptions in the project tab) and also require a Skype interview with us before candidates can be accepted.


View of the clouds over the nature sanctuaryThe Kauri Coast is located in the north of New Zealand, in a region known as the “winterless north”. The Nature Sanctuary is located on the top of Northland’s second highest peak at an altitude of 560m. This means that often there is a cloud or a rain-shower that sits over the forest while at the bottom of the hill the weather is dry and hot. The wind up there is pretty strong, too! This is why sometimes we descend to the Kai Iwi lakes and spend the day at the beach.

During the day, the temperature will not drop below 15 degrees, but it can get chilly at night so a sweater would be a good idea if you wish to spend some time watching the stars.

Interactive Map & Background

Interactive Map showing the project's location


View overlooking the Native forestAbout the region

The project is located in the Northland region of New Zealand, amongst the Native Kauri forests.

Northland’s many nature reserves shelter the most spectacular remnants of the ancient kauri forests that once blanketed the top of the country. The remaining giant trees are an awe-inspiring sight and one of the nation’s treasures.

It’s not just natural attractions that are on offer: history hangs heavily here as well. The country was colonised from the top down by successive migrations from Polynesia and a strong Maori presence remains to this day, adding an extra dimension to any visit. The Bay of Islands was also the site of the first permanent European settlement, as well as the signing of the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand by local chiefs in 1835 and the Treaty of Waitangi five years later. Northland is unquestionably the birthplace of the nation.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/new-zealand/northland-and-the-bay-of-islands

Volunteer Testimonials

Laura McClintock, from Canada, joined the project in 2016

I had an absolutely wonderful time in New Zealand! My two months spent volunteering at the Nature Sanctuary were more fulfilling than anything I could have possibly imagined. I loved the conservation work and the amount of time spent in the forest. As well, during my time volunteering, we were fortunate enough to develop a strong relationship with Trounson Kauri Park, run by the Department of Conservation. At Trounson we had the rare experience of helping the park rangers in their kiwi monitoring surveys, and monthly kiwi banding duties. I feel so lucky to have had these close interactions with the kiwi birds, as I know I would not have had these experiences if it weren't for the ongoing hard work of Octavian, and his volunteers.

The Nature Sanctuary is a very special place, that attracts like-minded people from all corners of the world. Octavian inspires volunteers through his dedication to forest conservation, and encourages volunteers to challenge themselves and share their skills and talents with the team. Volunteering at the Sanctuary was a perfect post-university trip for me, and opened my eyes to alternative ways of living, the importance of conservation, and the beauty of New Zealand.

Thanks again for all your help in making sure my trip would go smoothly. I'd definitely organize future volunteer projects through working abroad!

Ceri Thomas from Wales, joined the project in 2016

I have volunteered at many projects and managed my own but this is a project like no other. The amount you learn about New Zealand's ecosystem is top notch. The things you learn about yourself is even better. I felt really involved and valued. The community feel makes you feel welcome. The camaraderie is unbeatable. As is the setting. For proper volunteers who want to rough it and work, and see some amazing places you couldn't see any other way. Two weeks is nowhere near enough.

A volunteer pruning some treesPast Volunteer Kate Whitley joined the project for 2 weeks

I was involved in refilling bait stations for pest control, track maintenance, along with some basic construction work (helping assemble a small shed) and work around the facilities. The programme was explained to the group beforehand. We were thoroughly briefed on safety in the forest and how to find our way around the forest (we were all issued walkie-talkies and gps). We were provided with gloves and boots and worked together as a group (with a tail-end charlie when walking in the dense forest). The staff were knowledgeable and didn't push anyone beyond their comfort zone which I liked. They took great care to explain why were doing the various activities and how this would benefit the forest and native animals.

Clear instructions were given as to how to get to the transit/pickup point from the airport. A staff member was waiting for us at the pickup point to take us to the nature reserve, where we were shown around and given time to settle-in. The first day involved a comprehensive session on the purpose of the project, what the activities would involve and when we would have time for rest/relaxation. Hazards were identified and explained and the emergency procedures outlined. I thought the staff seemed very interested in ensuring the well-being of the group and also making sure we enjoyed the experience.

The highlights for me were the group camaraderie, especially in the evenings when we all helped to prepare meals. I really enjoyed the work we did in the forest as you could see directly how this would benefit the native birds and other creatures. I also liked the trips to the local attractions (the large Kauri tree, the night Kiwi walk and the beautiful Ka Iwi lakes).

The accommodation is simple but comfortable. The sleeping areas consist of bunks in a cabin. Everyone has fresh linen and it was warm and clean. The kitchen area could have done with a few more chairs but we indicated this to the hosts so they may have changed this. The food was good - great barbeques when the weather was good. We all helped with the food preparation which was fun and a nice way to mingle with the other volunteers. The packed lunches for the work in the forest were very good. One of the best features are the hot showers which are in a converted shipping container. It was great to have a hot shower after a days' work.

I would definitely recommend this to other volunteers. We experienced life in a remote spot without electricity (which was a nice break from technology!), and I felt that we were doing something that would really make a difference. 

View of the overgrwoth in the New Zealand forestPrevious volunteer Radu Popovici, joined the project for 1 week

While I was at the project I was involved with clearing a path in the bush and placing bait stations for possum control, as well as a bit of fencing work.

I felt the project was very well organised, we had a clear plan of what we wanted to achieve during each day of our stay. At the beginning of the week we had a very good presentation about the site, together with information about conservation programs in NZ and also safety when working in the bush.

Despite the sanctuary being in a quite remote area, I had no problems getting there, driving instructions were quite clear. Also during the time I was there we used GPS and markers while working in the bush. We were also provided walkie-talkies for everyone which made communication between smaller groups spread out in the bush very easy.

I learned a lot about native NZ bush and wildlife, I felt like my work there was important (pest control program), and there were some very special places to visit nearby (kai iwi lakes and the ancient kauri forest...awesome!!!)

There are a couple of cabins for accomodation and a big mess tent with hammocks for when you want to relax/chill out. Hot showers were also available. Food was prepared by our volunteer coordinator and it was great, there is a BBQ available (we even had fresh smoked NZ snapper one dinner!).

I would absolutely recommend this project to other volunteers, it was a great experience for me.

How to Join the Project

View looking up at the sky through leavesTo secure your placement on the Volunteer in New Zealand project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £180. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay the final balance 1 month before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive an information package on the programme background, your role as a volunteer, the work you will do, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc.


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