Our People

The Whakatipu Reforestation Trust is the brainchild of Neill and Barbara Simpson.  Their hard work, over 15 years on Pigeon and Pig Islands restored once bare and weedy islands into a haven for native birds.  In 2013, inspired by this success, Neill and Barbara recruited support from several funding agencies, and founded the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust.

Our Trustees

The Trustees are responsible for the overall strategic and financial management of the Trust.

Neill Simpson

Neill Simpson: Founder

Neill is a botanist/ecologist and acknowledged expert on native plants and the effects of exotic pests on their ecosystem. Neill has held many roles with DOC throughout New Zealand and, since retiring, consults privately on native planting.

Neill was awarded the Queens Service Medal for services to conservation and in 2015 his work, with Barbara, was recognised when they were joint winners of the Loder Cup.

Neill’s vision is for the Whakatipu area, or large parts of it, to be returned to its native cover providing a habitat for native birds. With Barbara he would like to see natives replacing exotics and a community that prioritises planting natives before exotics on their own land. He has created his own roadside native garden along Peninsula Rd to show off native plants. In his spare time he enjoys planting, reading, playing classical piano (once his hands have been washed) and occasional skiing.

Barbara Simpson (Founder)

Barb is a retired teacher who is both passionate and knowledgeable about NZ botany.  She has introduced thousands of children to our natural world through successful school and community volunteer programmes. Her work in conservation was recognised when she and Neill were awarded the Loder Cup.

Barb has also supported the Whakatipu High School Branches Camp for over 35 years as the “Queen of Camp Cuisine” and recently established wetland planting as a camp activity. She has formed lifelong bonds with many of these students, some of whom have in turn joined her on native reforestation planting missions.

Barb works closely with both the Nursery and Education sub-committees within the trust. At home, her property is full of native plants and birds, and sits alongside an impressive vegetable garden.

Katherine Durman (Acting Chair)

You can contact Katherine at chair@wrtqt.org.nz.

Jill Hodgson

Jill Hodgson

Jill is a teacher and has been involved with environmental education and sustainability for over 20 years. She has a strong belief in teaching children about respecting the environment in all its forms. She is currently working with Shotover Primary, restoring the wetlands near the Shotover/Kawarau river confluence, increasing the number of natives within the school, teaching the pupils how to grow native plants from seed, and propagate from plants that are flourishing in the wetlands. Jill works closely with the Education sub-committee within the trust.

Jill comes from a strong gardening family and is enjoying learning more about the plants from this region and how to bring them into her own garden.

Blair Devlin

An interest in sustainable development led Blair to study town planning at Otago University and he is now a local planning consultant. He has worked across private practice, local government and central government, in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Blair drives the Advocacy strand of the trust’s strategic plan and has also been involved with the Whakatipu Wilding Conifer Group.

He has a young family, is interested in environmental issues generally, and would love to see more native plants and birds in the Whakatipu Basin. Blair also likes watching and occasionally playing football.

Christina Shaw: Treasurer

Christina has a background in information systems and technology. In her role as Treasurer she is responsible for financial oversight of the trust’s activities.  As secretary she provides administrative support for trustee meetings. 

Christina has a keen interest in gardening, both ornamental and productive, and hopes to use the knowledge gained from working with the trust to establish a mini native planting corridor on her own property close to Lake Hayes.

You can contact Christina at finance@wrtqt.org.nz 

Emma Wilson: Minutes Secretary

You can contact Emma at secretary@wrtqt.org.nz 

Our Staff

The Trust has three part time staff, who oversee the day to day operations and co-ordinate volunteer workgroups.

Karen O'Donahoo

Karen O’Donahoo: Operations Manager

Before making Queenstown her home, Karen worked as a project controller on large scale construction projects in Western Australia. She brings impeccable organisational skills to her role managing the day to day operations of the trust. Karen works with the nursery and sites & maintenance sub-committees within the trust and manages relationships with the many external stakeholders.

Karen has a love of nature, the outdoors and the environment and has travelled and tramped extensively. She was an early adopter of organic food in response to a belief that overuse of chemicals and pesticides was polluting the planet.

Karen is developing her own vegetable and native garden at her Kelvin Peninsula property. She enjoys walking her two dogs around the peninsula while marvelling at the Tuis singing in the Kowhai trees.

You can contact Karen at: volunteer@wrtqt.org.nz.

Jo Smith

Jo Smith: Education Officer

Jo has held various roles with DOC including with the DOC Youth Development Programme and the National Biodiversity Monitoring Programme. She has been lucky to have worked in some very remote areas and offshore islands. She is a plant enthusiast with a particular soft spot for alpine vegetation.

Jo believes that by increasing knowledge through narrative and experiential learning we can narrow the gap between humanity and nature. In her spare time Jo enjoys gardening, biking, and all things outdoors and has a love of visual arts.

You can contact Jo at: educate@wrtqt.org.nz.

Catherine Robb

Catherine Robb: Nursery Volunteer Coordinator

Catherine joined our Community Nursery in 2022 as our Volunteer Coordinator. She is a qualified Homeopath with in depth knowledge of plants being used as medicine.

Catherine grew up playing and walking in the native bush of the North Island. She is passionate about nature and enjoys skiing, tramping and horse riding. She has a keen interest in the native plants that grow in our unique environment, and enjoys being a part of our vision of restoring our biodiversity and leaving a lasting legacy for future generations.

You can contact Catherine at: nursery@wrtqt.org.nz.