Children fishing
Image: Andy Thompson | ©


The Healthy Nature Healthy People programme ran in DOC from 2015 until 2021. It encouraged New Zealanders to connect with nature to improve their health and wellbeing.

Healthy Nature Healthy People.

How it started

Healthy Nature Healthy People started in DOC after the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature World Parks Congress, where Healthy Parks Healthy People was a major theme.

Healthy Parks Healthy People was already a significant workstream in many countries worldwide. It recognised the positive connection between nature and wellbeing.

Foundations of the programme

Key drivers of the programme:

Four principles of the programme:

  1. Protected areas nurture healthy ecosystems.
  2. Community wellbeing depends on healthy ecosystems.
  3. Contact with nature is essential for improving emotional, physical and spiritual health and wellbeing.
  4. Protected areas are fundamental to economic growth and thriving communities.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing were identified as a strong framework to support the Healthy Nature Healthy People kaupapa and so became part of the programme’s key messaging.

Five Ways to Wellbeing | Mental Health Foundation.

Key projects and partners

From 2015 to 2021, DOC ran a series of projects alongside a range of partners to support the Healthy Nature Healthy People programme.

These projects embedded the principles of Healthy Nature Healthy People into DOC’s day-to-day work and encouraged new opportunities to enhance the wellbeing aspects of nature. Many of these projects continue to enable nature connections for New Zealanders today.

Mental Health Foundation

According to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime (Mental Health Foundation 2016).

Therefore, DOC and the Mental Health Foundation worked together, especially during Mental Health Awareness Week and Conservation Week, to raise awareness about the positive effects of adding nature to people’s daily activities to increase mental health and wellbeing. 

DOC also learned from the Mental Health Foundation’s research and developed resources from a DOC perspective, applying new knowledge.

Find your inner nature: mindfulness activity sheet (PDF, 200K).

Department of Corrections

DOC is partnering with the Department of Corrections to assist offenders in being involved in conservation work while learning new skills. This Good to Grow partnership uses many of the two million hours of community work labour in conservation spaces throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. 

In recent years, the partnership has developed to see prisoners building many hundreds of trap boxes for use in predator control, growing native plants and processing native seeds. 

In 2019, over 130,000 hours were contributed to conservation, with more than 3,000 seedlings grown and over 3,000 conservation products built. More than 15,000 of these hours were completed by community workers maintaining DOC assets, such as tracks.

Team effort starts Motukaraka restoration: Media release 2 October 2019.


The Halberg Foundation, the leading sport and recreation provider for disabled New Zealanders, joined DOC in running a trial with new wheelchair technology on the Abel Tasman Great Walk in 2016.

DOC investigates wheelchair access: Media release 23 March 2016.

Once the trial was completed, Sensibel joined DOC and Halberg to create a solution to the lack of information for disabled visitors to nature. This partnership led to the development of Accessibel, a public website that makes the outdoors a space for all abilities.

Accessibel website.

Jobs for Nature funding enabled the mapping of DOC tracks in South Westland in 2021 for Accessibel purposes.

Understanding the needs and aspirations of the disabled and ageing community

Following on from the Abel Tasman Great Walk wheelchair trial, DOC invited a variety of representatives from the disabled and older persons sectors to meet and respond to several questions to better understand their aspirations in terms of connecting with nature.

It was found that, in what might be considered the typical ‘Kiwi way’, people are getting out and doing far more than might be expected. Disabled and older people are pioneers in their own way and are accessing nature settings despite the barriers.

A key finding was that information is critical to people being able to exercise ‘Challenge by Choice’. Not knowing what barriers may be found keeps people from accessing nature – hence the development of Accessibel. 

Several changes to how DOC makes decisions when building new (and updating existing) assets were proposed.

University of Canterbury

In 2017, the University of Canterbury ran a trial to improve learning in Christchurch schools, where children are suffering from a lack of focus and sleep and an inability to relax due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the devastating Christchurch earthquakes of 2011.

Several schools participated in the trial, during which individual children who were finding the classroom setting overwhelming were able to choose to watch two nature clips created by DOC and Natural History New Zealand on a mobile device. They were given the device and headphones, remained in the classroom, and were able to decide for themselves which clip to watch and how long to watch it for before they felt able to rejoin the other students.

This nature imagery trial was part of a multi-faceted approach to improving learning outcomes of children, and since its completion, these and several more sound clips based only on nature’s sounds have been shared on DOC’s YouTube channel.

Visit (171) New Zealand Sea to Mountain Ambience | Study, work, relax, immerse yourself in nature | 10 minutes – YouTube for a sample sound.

Visitors to the channel are encouraged to get immersed in a virtual nature experience for the betterment of their wellbeing.

Project Taranaki Mounga

The 10-year Project Taranaki Mounga vision is He Kawa Ora – sustaining the health and wellbeing of Te Kāhui Tupua and their people.

The Taranaki Mounga project team has worked hard to bring many parts of the community into the mahi to transform birdlife around the mountain.

Bringing the North Island robin back to Taranaki: Media release 16 March 2017.

Blind Low Vision NZ

According to Blind Low Vision NZ (formerly the Blind Foundation), 180,000 New Zealanders are affected by severe to moderate vision loss.

DOC’s GIS mapping team worked alongside Blind Low Vision NZ to explore developing the capability to create both braille and 3D maps for blind and low-vision visitors to nature.

The Ōrongorongo Track to the Turere Lodge in the Remutaka Forest Park was chosen for the trial, and a GIS team member worked closely with Blind Low Vision NZ to present a useful set of maps for their members. The maps allowed blind and low-vision visitors to gain information at the same time as everyone else in a group, enabling more equitable and simultaneous experiences.

Highlights are the clear and distinct symbols, the ability of braille and sighted readers to use the maps together, the creation of a location map followed by detailed tramping maps, and the track elevation profile.

Conservation Week 2016

Healthy Nature Healthy People was the theme for Conservation Week 2016, during which 130 community events took place around Aotearoa New Zealand to give people new opportunities to connect with nature.

Northlanders urged to get outdoors and enjoy health benefits of nature: Media release 30 October 2015.

There were many varied activities based around the Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Join the War on Weeds this Conservation Week: Media release 25 August 2016.

Universal design principles for DOC assets

Multiple discussions around DOC instilled the principles of universal design into some asset development planning.

Simple and practical design changes were adopted for the hut replacement at Kōhanga Atawhai – Manson Nicholls Hut at Lake Daniell in the Greymouth area, including lowered kitchen benches, a fully accessible living area with more space, beds at varied heights, wider doors that were flush with the deck and, importantly, an toilet that could be accessed on the same level as the hut.

Popular hut rebuilt: media release 2 June 2020.

The Hokitika Gorge track redevelopment also included consideration for wheelchair users to the first lookout.

New views at Hokitika Gorge for Conservation Week.

Let nature in

DOC’s ‘Let nature in’ campaign was initiated in 2020 to support New Zealanders during the initial nationwide lockdown for COVID-19.

There were numerous activities for individuals, families and school groups to encourage increasing their connections with nature, many of which could be enjoyed outside at home in recognition of the limitations on travel during lockdown. These included ‘Learning from home’ content, ‘Fifty things to do’ in nature, adapted Toyota Kiwi Guardian activities and Royal Cam, the live stream of the toroa / northern royal albatross.

Sound hub

Immersive digital nature sound recordings were developed for Conservation Week 2021, which was themed ‘Take a moment to notice nature’. These recordings, which range from 1 minute to 5 hours long, enable visitors to the DOC website and DOC’s social channels to boost their wellbeing.

Listeners are encouraged to play them in the background to bring nature into their day.

Sound hub: take a moment to refresh in nature.

The future of nature and wellbeing at DOC

While the Healthy Nature Healthy People programme has now concluded, wellbeing and nature have been integrated into much of DOC’s work. New opportunities will arise for this mahi to continue to teach us how and why people should connect with nature, especially through these key strategies.

Back to top