Eastwoodhill Arboretum is putting a call out for volunteers over winter, hoping to attract some locals who want to touch base with nature and give back to the community.

“When people think of volunteering at an arboretum, they instantly think gardening,” says general manager Garrett Blair.

“But what the team really need help with will be the café, events, walking tour groups, visitor centre entry, accommodation turn-overs and general admin and up-keep.”

In return the arboretum offers its volunteers free entry to wander the trails, endless free coffee and “the best scones in town”.

Cruise ship tours are scheduled to start in November and Garrett said they were thrilled to already have twice the bookings that they had last summer.

“With tourism numbers forecast to build in Gisborne, the team need help to be able to accommodate them and show them around Eastwoodhill.”

Despite Eastwoodhill being New Zealand’s national arboretum, it is run as a charitable trust by a small team of nine and relies heavily on funding and support from volunteers.

Open 364 days of the year (every day except Christmas), it was “invaluable” volunteers who enabled it to keep the gates open on a daily basis through a pandemic and cyclone, “making it available to the Tairāwhiti community, our tamariki and bringing much needed tourists to the region”.

The years of pandemic followed by Cyclone Gabrielle have hit hard at the arboretum, with volunteer numbers affected. The team at Eastwoodhill are now trying to build back visitors and accommodation guests, while running tours and a daily café, all on a skeleton staff, he said.

Volunteers are welcome to come out for half a day or a full day.

“Scheduled right we can even offer some free overnight accommodation so volunteers can truly get away and soak in the nature. If you live a little further away, you might like to volunteer over a week or a weekend, for a mini-working holiday. It’s worth noting there’s also an area for self-contained vehicles to stay, free for volunteers of course.”

Winter is definitely the quietest months at the arboretum, so Garrett said it is a great time to get on board the volunteer schedule and get familiar with what is required.

Volunteers are encouraged to help in the areas that interest them.

“If your focus is to build up some event co-ordinating experience, then put your hand up to help out with the creative school programmes and events.

“If you’re theatrically minded, leading tour groups requires following a written script and would be perfect for anyone who enjoys an audience. Alternatively, you might just enjoy the social interaction of greeting visitors or you might be a catering whizz who can help with group bookings.

“There are so many areas to assist in, it’s hard to run out of things to do.”

Eastwoodhill Arboretum is open every day (except Christmas) from 8am-4.30pm. It is home to over 25,000 species of exotic and native trees, shrubs and climbers, and an arboreal ark – a safe haven for threatened and endangered trees, protecting and ensuring species security for the 67 countries the collection represents.

“Eastwoodhill is rare among the world’s botanic and arboreal institutions in its ability to host plants from the northern hemisphere in relative isolation,” Garrett said.

“This unique characteristic, combined with New Zealand’s stringent biosecurity regulations, makes the arboretum an ideal environment for the cultivation of threatened species.

“Our mission is centered on conservation, education and research.”