What is The DOC, The Department of Conservation in New Zealand?

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What’s Up, DOC?

As you are travelling around New Zealand, it’s difficult to miss the iconic yellow and green signs from the DOC. But what exactly is the DOC?

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, more commonly known as DOC, deals with the national parks and recreation, and historical and wildlife conservation. It is a government sector (public sector organisation) that is probably the most prominent on backpacking travels around New Zealand due to the excessive walking, sight-seeing and wildlife-viewing that backpackers and working holidaymakers like to do.

It is usually the Department of Conservation that is keeping the walking trails maintained, looking after most backcountry huts on multi-day hikes, and doing measures of pest control to protect native wildlife species. Whether you like them or not, the Department of Conservation plays a big part in your travels throughout New Zealand so you might be interested to know what is the DOC.

What Does DOC do?

DOC oversees the following:

  • Walking tracks and NZ’s Great Walks
  • Campsites
  • The conservation of wildlife
  • The protection of New Zealand’s historic buildings.

DOC Walking Tracks

It doesn’t take long in New Zealand to spot a DOC walking track sign. Every walking/tramping track is well sign-posted, with an indication of the time it will take to get to the next checkpoint. The DoC also oversees the maintenance of tracks.

Checking for Track Updates

The Department of Conservation also updates its website with any hazards or track closures on its website. Be sure to check the DOC website if you are planning a walk on one of their tracks.

Choosing a DOC Walking Track

Hiking in New Zealand is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the famous New Zealand scenery whole saving on the cents. Our Hiking section of lists hikes by location, plus, our Travel Guides list some of the walking highlights around the country.

The New Zealand Great Walks

To pass through New Zealand’s most stunning scenic areas, try doing the Great Walks. There are 9 Great Walks, where the accommodation huts can be booked through the DOC’s website.

Great Walk huts are some of the most facilitated and maintained huts in the country, due to their higher-end prices and popularity of them. However, the DOC also oversees the maintenance of other backcountry huts across New Zealand that come with varied facilities, maintenance and prices. Popular huts will require bookings, while more “off the beaten track” locations are simply first-in-first-served. Again, be sure to plan ahead using the DOC website.

What is The DOC, The Department of Conservation in New Zealand?©

Conservation of Wildlife

Aiming to preserve the natural heritage of New Zealand means DOC works to keep threats and impacts on native wildlife to a minimum.

Pest Control

Most wild introduced animals in New Zealand are considered pests to the Department of Conservation due to their negative impact on the native ecosystem. A few pest species include possums, cats, dogs, rats and stoats. Another example of pests includes Kawau Island wallabies, Kaimanawa horses and deer. The two latter threaten native plant life, while wallabies affect the Kanuka forest’s health, which in turn impacts the birds there such as kiwis.

In an attempt to manage the populations of these introduced pests, they set up pest control methods. The DOC’s methods consist of fencing off animals from certain areas and, for example, ban pets from specific areas. The DOC is also an expert in, well, killing things with traps and poisons used as a way to minimise the populations of pests.

For more information on pest control, check out Why New Zealand hates possums.

Marine Reserves

The DOC’s marine reserves protect marine life from being wiped out through fishing and other disturbances, so we are able to see rare wildlife living in its natural habitat. Recreational activities like snorkelling, boating, scuba diving and kayaking are still permitted in New Zealand’s marine reserve, however, there is a no-touch/no-take policy where you cannot remove anything from the marine reserve.

There are 36+ marine reserves around New Zealand and its islands. Highlights include the Goat Island Marine Reserve near Auckland where many tour operators in the area hire out kayaks and snorkelling equipment to make the most of the reserve. Additionally, visit Akaroa Marine Reserve to see Hector’s dolphins, seals and small whale species.©

Protecting Historic Buildings

As well as native plants and animals, DOC also protects New Zealand’s historic buildings.

One site includes Cape Reinga at the very tip of the North Island, which has old Maori settlements and Cape Reinga lighthouse. Another is Denniston, which was once the largest producing coalmine with a population of 1500. Nowadays, it’s a ghost town that has been restored for visitors’ exploring pleasure on the West Coast.

Pexels© pexels

Volunteering for the Department of Conservation

Although the DOC is government-funded, their budgets are usually too low for the amount of work needed to conserve New Zealand’s nature and history. For that reason, they often look for volunteers to help with their projects.

Volunteer opportunities often include pest trap monitoring, hut and camp wardens, planting, beach cleanups and much more.

For more information check out How to Volunteer for the Department of Conservation of New Zealand and be sure to look for any volunteer opportunities on our job board.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Robin C.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Robin, who is the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. With more than 15 years of experience in the New Zealand tourism industry, Robin has co-founded three influential tourism businesses and five additional travel guides for South Pacific nations. He is an expert in New Zealand travel and has tested over 600 activities and 300+ accommodations across the country.

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