GBI Centre Update – Life as a “vollie” on the island

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Great Barrier Island Centre Manager, Gemma Parkin (pictured left) introduces us to Kevin, the Centre’s most recent volunteer…

I’d like to introduce myself as Kevin or ‘Hoagie’, depending on who you ask, and I’m the current volunteer (or “vollie”) at the Hillary Outdoors Great Barrier Island (GBI) Centre.

One of the first questions I am often asked is how I first got involved with Hillary Outdoors. Coming from Canada, and with a previous career in accounting, I must admit it’s a great question and one with interesting beginnings. After four years of pursuing my accounting career back home in Toronto I had an urge to take a break from the office and return to the world class outdoors of New Zealand, where I had previously studied for a semester abroad at the University of Otago. While researching opportunities to explore the outdoors in more depth I happened across the volunteer position at GBI through the Hillary Outdoors website. After discussing the opportunity and working through the selection process with Gemma, the GBI Centre Manager, I was sold.

Kevin HoganThe Hillary Outdoors GBI employs one volunteer at any given time for a period of 2 – 6 months. From the day I accepted the position it would be two months until Gianna, the previous volunteer, would vacate the position and enable me to begin my own three month term on the island. While travelling around New Zealand during the two months prior to my February start date I was filled with both excitement and uncertainty of what life would be like on a rugged and remote island, limited in many of today’s conveniences – electricity, water, internet and TV among them.

Little did I know that it was these very characteristics that would make this place so special. What I gave up in conveniences I have gained in experiences, adventures and passion. On top of that, the challenges of life on the island have fostered a tight-knit, welcoming and supportive community that was apparent from the moment I stepped off the five hour ferry ride from Auckland. I was immediately welcomed by a fellow Hillary Outdoors instructor and subsequently taken for a tour of the island. That same evening I met the rest of the GBI staff at a welcome BBQ which had been organized in anticipation of my arrival. From this moment on, with the assistance of my flatmates at the Hillary Outdoors staff house who have shown me the ropes of living on GBI, the instructors who have provided invaluable tips, teaching, tools and guidance, and the greater community who have accepted me as one of their own, the transition to life on the island has been seamless.

One of the attributes I have most admired of those living on the island is their can-do attitude; a belief that the best way to learn, to experience or to solve a problem is to just do it. When Monday rolled around for my first day of work, I was thrown right into it – I would be shadowing alongside Tom, one of our long serving instructors, for the week to see what Hillary Outdoors GBI was all about. As volunteer at the Centre, my role alternates on a two week rotation – one week I am out with groups of students shadowing one of our instructors, and the next week I am in a support role at the centre helping out with maintenance, repairs, clean up and an assortment of other jobs to help the Centre run smoothly. Spending that first week alongside Tom and our group of year 12 students confirmed what I had already begun to expect: this was going to be an experience I would never forget.

As an experience in its own right, volunteering at GBI is an incredibly unique opportunity. Not only do you have a chance to live in a fantastic new environment while having your accommodation and food provided, but your hard work is also rewarded with an opportunity to experience the best that ‘the Barrier’ has to offer through the variety of kayaking, tramping, climbing, coasteering and sailing excursions offered by Hillary Outdoors GBI. This is not to mention the endless opportunity to take up many of the other island pastimes on days off, be it surfing, fishing, diving or simply relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the landscape and its people.

For those with an interest in pursuing outdoor education as a potential career path, such as myself, the volunteer role provides even more. It provides an invaluable opportunity to immerse yourself directly into the heart of the industry at one of New Zealand’s leading Outdoor Education Centres. To be surrounded and guided by the passion, enthusiasm and experience of the Hillary Outdoors staff has provided one of the most enriching learning experiences I have ever been part of. The opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally, seem attractively endless. And so with this in mind as my three months come to a close I am left wondering, like so many who have found their way to the island before me, if I might be able to stay a little longer.