New Doc boss a man of action as well as words

Aaron Fleming
Aaron Fleming

The Department of Conservation’s new boss for the southern South Island is a published author, in-demand public speaker and an Ironman triathlete.

Aaron Fleming has a chocka resume for a 34-year-old, including nearly a decade of experience working in local and central government.

He intends to harness that experience to see how Doc could work across agencies and sectors to handle the growing pressure tourism is putting on the environment and its facilities — "without compromising what we love about this region".

Taking up the job was an easy decision because the environment was his "natural passion", Mr Fleming said.

"That’s what I studied and what I started my career in."

He  began on November 6,  replacing Alan Munn,  after leaving a Hamilton-based role as a director of the National Library.

Raised in Taupo, he studied environmental science and public policy in Wellington before roles with the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Hamilton City Council.

A recipient of a Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award this year, he was a promising young gymnast when at 16, his right lung collapsed four times as a result of a condition known as spontaneous pneumothorax, his profile says. 

After surgery and years of pain, he became reclusive, depressed and addicted to painkillers, and his surgeon told him he could not physically over-exert himself again.

Five years later, he used those words as motivation to complete the New Zealand Ironman.

He wrote about his experiences in a book, Purpose, published in 2008.

"Through that experience I learnt a lot of life lessons, and once I had regained my health and got my life back on track, I wanted to share a lot of those life lessons, particularly with young people in New Zealand."

He had since done a lot of public speaking at conferences, schools and awards ceremonies.

"It’s an opportunity for me to send a message of inspiration and motivation, and more recently around leadership."

The response to the book had been "incredible" and the feedback from readers continued to be rewarding.

He had now completed nine Ironman triathlons, and described the sport as "a big part of who I am".

"It keeps me honest as an individual and tests me physically, mentally and emotionally.

"I’m a back-of-the-pack athlete — I’m not a podium finisher, but I’m proud of that."

He was halfway towards a goal of completing an Ironman race in every continent.

Mr Fleming said he was given the choice of basing himself in Queenstown or Invercargill, and  chose the resort because it seemed to be the best location from which to travel around the region.

"Also, I think when you look at the work we do, around biodiversity, recreation and tourism, there is a lot happening here."

His partner was still in Hamilton but would join him in the new year.

"It’s very early days, but we do intend to settle here."

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