Meet a volunteer: Hans Arnestedt

Date: 19th June 2024

In this semi-regular series we take a look behind the scenes here, introducing you to the people behind the planting, and discovering what draws them to our work.

“I don’t like to sit inside. Well, not too much anyway,” say Hans Arnestedt in his typically understated manner, a Swedish accent colouring his Kiwi vowels. Anyone who’s met him knows Hans is not one to stay still for long, and that he prefers to let his actions do the talking – particularly when it comes to conservation.

“It’s nice to do things which you can see the benefit of later on,” he says.

Queenstown is already seeing the benefit of this mindset, thanks to all the voluntary work by Hans and others who have supported revegetation work since the very early days of the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust.

With a long history of involvement, Hans remains one of our most active volunteers, working most Wednesdays at the nursery. He can often be found at potting sessions and doing general maintenance, as well as helping load plants onto trailers before Saturday planting sessions.

Hans is always at community planting days too, and for many years he has also been an essential member of our maintenance team. While this group of hard-grafters prefer to keep a low profile they do the tough work of ensuring our planting sites remain weed-free, tidy and mulched. Thanks to Hans and the team, our plants have the best chance of survival once they’re in the ground.

This work can be best appreciated at our Lake Hayes South site – he prepared the site for the initial planting and, until very recently, has actively maintained it.

From the Stockholm archipelago to Lake Ohau

So what brought Hans to revegetation? “I’ve probably always been a bit outdoorsy,” he says. “I had been living in the middle of Stockholm, and spending time on my cabin boat on the archipelago.” When Hans arrived in Auckland, his sister who had been living there suggested he go on a tramping trip. “She said it was a good way to see the country. So I went with the Alpine Sports Club on a few alpine trips and I liked it, so it just carried on from there.”

That new love for the outdoors carried him down to Ohau in 1976, where he met his wife-to-be Dorothy, who was also working there. They married and moved to Queenstown, settling at a beautiful spot near the Old Shotover Bridge, overlooking the river and surrounded by trees. These days it’s loud with bird song and receives regular visits from tūī, bellbirds, waxeyes and the occasional kōtare/kingfisher.

No man is an island

Hans is a man of few words, and will cut straight to the chase when asked a question. Was he interested in botany before he met Neill Simpson? “No, probably not.”

Hans and Dorothy first met Neill and Barbara Simpson through the Wakatipu Tramping Club. All four were part of a group who restored the rundown hut on Wāwahi Waka/Pigeon Island in 1993, to honour the memory of two members who had passed.

Hans had trained as a builder back in Stockholm, working mostly on large construction sites in the city. The new work suited him better, as “I much prefer working on houses.” Later in life, Hans became a building inspector for the council.

Efforts ramped up on Pigeon Island after a fire tore through in 1996 and the Wakatipu Islands Reforestation Trust was formed to restore the precious vegetation. As a trustee Hans took part in 15 years of work by the trust to plant native trees and eradicate predators, restoring Pigeon and Pig Islands into a healthy habitat for native wildlife.

Since refocusing revegetation efforts on the mainland in 2013, with the formation of the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust, Hans has let his work speak loudly for his love of nature – both in background operations and in his unique, very hands-on way.

A patch of his own

Dorothy points out that Hans is responsible for an establishing stand of native trees on the banks of the Shotover River, not far from where the Queenstown Trail hooks up to Domain Road.

“Our daughter got married up there ten years ago and we thought, yeah, let’s see if we can do some planting up there so he’s done most of it,” she says. “I have been a helper at times – because you have to carry everything up. We put it all in our pannier bags on the bikes, or in the wheelbarrow.”

“There are 331 plants up there now,” says Hans. “Kōwhai, pittosporums and others. And people have actually made little routes in through from the river, and we’ve made it so that tone day hey will be able to walk through it.”

Hans agrees that volunteering with the Trust has helped them make lots of like-minded friends over the years as “it’s good to socialise over an activity.”

And surely, after all those years potting up, planting and weeding, he has a favourite native tree?

“The lancewood is pretty special,” he says. “I planted a few here on the corner of the house. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I can see is the lancewoods.”

“The bellbirds love them too,” adds Dorothy.

The Whakatipu Reforestation Trust is extremely grateful to Hans and Dorothy Arnestedt for all their support and work over the years.

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