John And Helen Walk The Taranaki Talk
John and Helen Cooper’s commitment to Mt Taranaki gets trodden on, most days.
The Hawera couple are close to notching up 40 years of volunteer work supporting the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) management of Egmont National Park – a contribution which has included painting, hut construction and even building steps on tracks.
The retirees are humble about their ongoing commitment to working on the mountain.
“We’ve done bits and pieces up there since the early ‘80s,” John says.
Enthusiastic trampers and climbers, they’re involved with the Mt Egmont Alpine Club, and usually visit the mountain once a week. They still get into the bush areas but prefer the higher reaches of the mountain for their exercise and recreation.
“In a way we sort of feel it’s ‘our mountain’; it’s in our local area, and it’s easy for us to get there and do climbing, and do the odd job, as well,” John says.
An early piece of work the couple were involved in was the construction of the 10-bed Syme Hut at Fantham’s Peak on the higher slopes of Mt Taranaki.
“That was back in about 1986 – a joint project between the Mt Egmont Alpine Club and DOC – and over the years I’ve done some maintenance up there, too,” John says.
John points to a small task in 2018 as the sort of help they continue to lend. They had identified the need to do some minor repairs on Dawson’s Falls track – fixing up some steps which were slowly deteriorating – and with support, guidance and induction from local DOC staff, they got underway.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and although John doesn’t consider he and wife expert step builders, their efforts “seem to be holding up all right,”. They’ve now built more than 200 steps along the track. John has a professional engineering background which has been crucial to their work.
“In some ways we started off doing it for ourselves, and now it’s good for other people to see the improvements,” he says.
“We’re just mountain users, and we like to leave things better than we found them, I guess.”
While working on the mountain, the couple encounter plenty of visitors, “who really thank us for doing it, so that makes it worthwhile”. John, who is involved in Land Search and Rescue, also encourages visitors to the mountain to go prepared for the conditions.
John says while they can’t currently visit, tramp, climb or work on Mt Taranaki, they’re checking out the webcams and are “itching to get up there” once it reopens to visitors.
The couple’s conservation commitment also extends to Lake Rotokare, near Eltham – a community-led restoration and eco-sanctuary project – and their advice to would-be conservation volunteers is pretty simple.
“If you see something you think you can do, then give it a go. You shouldn’t be afraid,” John says.
Taranaki DOC Ranger Andrew Johnstone liaises with the Coopers on their work on the mountain and says it’s always a pleasure to catch up with the couple.
“John and Helen’s ongoing commitment and hard work on Mt Taranaki provides a great amount of support for the local DOC team,” he says.
“We really appreciate their amazing contributions, and along with our other awesome DOC volunteers, they provide such a huge boost to conservation work in Taranaki.”
Information on volunteering can be found in this section of DOC’s website.