Meet Gillian Candler: naturalista and author of wonderful children’s books

She brings New Zealand nature to life via storytime.

Gillian Candler at Pukerua Bay. For #OceaininaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Gillian Candler at Pukerua Bay. For #OceaininaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Where were you born, and where do you live now?

I was born in England, there I was lucky if I got to visit the seaside once a year. Then while I was still a child, my family immigrated to New Zealand. We didn’t fly, instead we travelled by ship half way around the world. This was my first experience of the ocean, it left a deep impression. I remember seeing flying fish and albatross. In New Zealand I am never far from the sea. I live on the coast in Pukerua Bay. Now I can’t imagine not living by the sea.

Where are your favorite waters?

The sea here at Pukerua Bay has to be my favourite. It’s part of the Tasman Sea but a little protected by Kapiti Island and the shape of the land. I can watch the sea’s changing moods, colours and textures from my writing desk. I walk along the beach every day in all weathers, so the sea is part of my every day life.


How does water make you feel?

Being close to water makes me feel calm, inspired or energised. Not necessarily all at the same time!

Would you please share a few favourite water memories?

Here are three favourite memories, on thing they all have in common is that they were shared experiences – with family or friends. Shared experiences become stories that we enjoy retelling.

– My son’s delight when we once found an octopus trying to hide in the rock pools at low tide. It sounds such a simple event but the wonder of it stays with both of us to this day.

– Anchored off Adele Island in Abel Tasman on my brother’s boat, the sea glassy and still around us. The bird song that came across the water from this sanctuary island was incredible, we could even pick out the calls of tieke (saddleback).

– Snorkelling at the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve, with friends and family. I felt so privileged to see this wonderland of marine life.

Enjoying the sea by Adele Island and listening to the bird song. Gillian Candler, for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople Photo Andrew Candler

Enjoying the sea by Adele Island and listening to the bird song. Gillian Candler, for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople Photo Andrew Candler

How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?

I’m an author. I’ve written 10 children’s books about New Zealand nature – factual books about habitats and wildlife. My first book At the Beach won the Elsie Locke Medal for non-fiction in the 2013 Lianza Book Awards. I’ve also written about ocean habitats and marine creatures. Sometimes I write articles about nature for magazines or newspapers, usually these are about outdoor adventures or about conservation projects I’m involved in.


Taking part in a sea bird translocation – holding a fairy prion chick. Gillian Candler, for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople Photo Philippa Doig

Why do you do what you do?

I want to share the excitement of exploring and discovering nature with children and their families. I hope to inform and inspire the next generation of nature lovers. There were so few suitable books for children about New Zealand nature when my son was growing up, I could see this was a gap that needed to be filled.

Do you have a side ‘hustle’, a passion project? Do you find it blends nicely with your ‘day job’? Tell us more

When I’m not writing, I’m volunteering on conservation projects or out enjoying nature. Working with seabird experts on conservation projects or going tramping with botanists are great ways to learn more about our wildlife, while at the same time making a difference.

I volunteer with Friends of Mana Island and have been involved in seabird translocations there. I am also working to protect little penguins where I live. I’d like to make people more aware of the wildlife along our coast, in and out if the water. My current passion is protecting native lizards along the coast and beach.

What happens when you don’t have time for nature?
I’ve learned that life goes much better when I’m in touch with nature so these days I make sure I find the time!
At the Poor Knights, torn between snorkeling and birdwatching! Photo Jutta Post

At the Poor Knights, torn between snorkeling and birdwatching! Gillian Candler, #AmazingWaterPeople #OceaninaDropNZ
Photo Jutta Post

Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?

Yes this has happened more than once. Moving countries, changing schools, starting university. It used to take time to find my feet in a new place. At university I definitely felt lost in the crowd and even considered leaving before my course was finished.

How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?

I realised I was pursuing a course of study in a subject I wasn’t really interested in although I’d excelled at it at school. A family friend gave me some good advice which was to act as if I was interested in it! It sounds strange but it worked, I was able to follow through and finish what I’d started and at the same time find new interests and purpose.

Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco/green/conservation thing at the moment?

I am concerned that there’s a distrust in science among some people and communities, even at times at government level. Many of the issues we face today are very complex – agreeing on water quality measures, deciding how best to manage fisheries etc – so we need to know how to make sense of scientific evidence more than ever before.

What do you find is working? And what change do you hope to see in this lifetime?

I’m so impressed by the impact that volunteer groups can make: setting up sanctuaries, protecting species, restoring habitats. And also by what schools are doing in environmental education. I’m hoping that as these children grow up they will continue to take action to care for the environment. I’d like to see climate change taken seriously and a complete reversal in the use of throwaway plastics. I hope some people will figure out clever solutions for undoing some of the damage already done.

Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?

I’m amazed when I look back ten years to see where I am now, my experience of writing children’s books has brought more joy and success than I dreamed of. So I’d say – dream big!

Who would be a good person/ organization to donate merchandise profit portions to?

The Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet

Where can we find out more about the work you do?

Instagram @discovernaturenz

My nature blog

Facebook Page: Gillian Candler, Author


*Thank you Gillian for your support of this project, including sponsoring two of your ocean-themed books as prizes for the colouring competition. Closing date is 9 Nov 2018, 8 pm NZ Time. I met Gillian serendipitously, when she stepped into the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre with her friend. We had a fun chat, and I found out she was the author of a few of the books we have in the gift shop, which I am a big fan of. A little starstruck, I managed to share the project with her, and very grateful for her kind support and for sharing her story. Her latest book, Animals of Aotearoa was launched last week. Check it out on her website with links provided above.

** Don’t miss out on a chance to win one of her books or many other cool prizes which will be perfect for those impending summer beach days. Get your free download and more details here.

My everyday views of the ocean. Gillian Candler, children's nature book author, for #OceaninaDropNZ #amazingwaterpeople. Photo Tobias Wehr-Candler

My everyday views of the ocean. Gillian Candler, children’s nature book author, for #OceaninaDropNZ #amazingwaterpeople. Photo Tobias Wehr-Candler

23 September – 9 November 2018: #OceaninaDropNZ colouring competition is now on!

It’s for all ages #kidscolouring #adultscolouring and helps with creativity and mindfulness.

Enjoy some ocean art, and take part to win great prizes perfect for summer beach days!

Download your free copy here.

Ocean in a Drop : A series of illustrations by Candace Loy, with each water drop shape filled with sea life and the life that water supports, of a country or state (e.g., California). The bigger vision is to use portions of profits from the sale of beautiful and unique merchandise, to contribute to local marine, freshwater education, research and conservation initiatives in the region depicted by the drop.

#BlueMind is a movement started by Dr Wallace J Nichols, who is also a successful turtle conservation researcher. He has done collaborations with many people including neuroscientists, to show the positive effects of being around water, on the brain.

Not only is there an increasing number of organizations supporting people in overcoming PTSD and other debilitating circumstances through water-based therapy like surfing and swimming; his message is to encourage as many people to reconnect and strengthen their bonds with water, and be inspired as a result to take care of waters across our blue planet.

Combining neuroscience, honouring emotions and using it to create more beneficial solutions for our planet and the life she supports. Here are some of his talks on neuroconservation.

#OceaninaDrop + share your favourite water memory to inspire others, on Instagram and Facebook, and get featured xo