Hillary Outdoors’ All Staff Training: A Refreshing Retreat 

During January, 40 Hillary Outdoors staff members spent a rejuvenating five days together as the team gathered in Tongariro, where they immersed themselves in a blend of safety training, skill enhancement, mental health and well-being training, strategic planning, and much-needed downtime to foster connection. This time also allowed our Cultural Advisory Committee to meet and build on their research. 

Our instructors delved into refreshing their outdoor skills, ensuring they’re equipped to deliver top-notch experiences for our clients, from practising rescues to honing safety protocols and their expertise. Instructors also took the time to review Unit Standards and had a refresher on how they assess these. 

Meanwhile, support staff gathered and undertook training on our systems and processes to ensure that, as an organisation, we are operating efficiently and effectively. 

Recognising the importance of mental health and well-being, we dedicated time to focus on supporting the well-being of our clients – equipped with valuable insights and strategies to provide a nurturing environment where everyone can thrive.  

The above session aligned with a Hauora workshop where we deepened our understanding of this Māori philosophy, encompassing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects to help us promote a balanced lifestyle for our clients and ourselves. 

Our Cultural Advisory Committee attended a two-day wānanga, hosted at Otūkou Marae by Ngāti Hikairo and at our Tongariro Centre. The Committee dedicated time to reflecting on responses from our accountability-based research to better understand how rangatahi Māori can successfully participate as Māori at Hillary Outdoors. The responses informed our draft cultural strategy, and by the end of the wānanga, we had co-developed three strategic pou with success measures. You can read more about our journey in our blog. It’s not often that we are all gathered in one location, so it was great to collaborate with all staff to map out our future direction to ensure that we continue to innovate and adapt whilst staying true to our core values to empower rangatahi through adventure. 

Of course, amidst the enriching sessions, we also had moments to relax and get out and experience the outdoors. Our instructors led our all-staff canoe and kayak rescue trip, which saw some of us stay drier than others! These special moments helped foster bonds and strengthened our team spirit. 

At Hillary Outdoors, we’re not just an organisation – we’re a family united by our passion for outdoor education and youth development. Training days like this sharpen our skills and reaffirm our commitment to creating safe transformative experiences for rangatahi well into the future. 

Exciting Kick-off for 2024 Tertiary Programmes at Hillary Outdoors! 

It’s that time of the year again – Hillary Outdoors is buzzing with excitement as our 2024 tertiary programmes have finally kicked off – the energy around here is electric! 

Here at Hillary Outdoors, we’re all about learning safety through hands-on learning and immersive experiences – from our indoor classrooms to our outdoor laboratories – there is never a dull moment. 

We’ve welcomed both Diploma and Certificate students for what promises to be an epic journey of learning and adventure, and these guys wasted no time diving headfirst into the action! 

Our Certificate students have been absolute rockstars – after spending time in the classroom assessing and learning to manage risk and correctly use equipment, they put their newly acquired skills to the test under the watchful eyes of our experienced outdoor instructors. On just their second day rock climbing, they were already scaling cliffs and smashing out leads like pros at Whakapapa.  It’s been incredible to see their passion and determination fuelling their adventures from the get-go.  

Meanwhile, our Diploma students have been making waves – quite literally! Testing out their kayaking skills and camping out overnight – soaking in every ounce of adventure as they work towards the New Zealand Diploma in Outdoor and Adventure Education (multi-skilled) Level 5. 

The Diploma will see Graduates obtain the necessary skills to instruct and lead groups in the outdoors so they can, in turn, be our outdoor instructors of tomorrow. Graduates need to show excellent communication and interpersonal skills as well as demonstrate a high level of risk management during these activities, whilst also developing their existing technical skills. 

Putting these skills to use, in real life situations, develops students, so they can form an accurate self-assessment of their skills and abilities in a variety of conditions – think of it as Applied Kayak Physics where we test out Newton’s third law – for every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  It is only through the practice and testing of these skills in the outdoors, our labs, that we can prove or disprove the hypothesis! 

So, picture this: they start the week by getting their kayak gear prepped and fitted before hitting the pool to perfect their rolls, then they take on the Tongariro red hut run to gauge their paddling prowess. But that’s just the warm-up! They set their sights on Mohaka River, conquering new stretches by day and camping under the stars by night – truly epic stuff! 

And amidst all the action, they still managed to put their skills to the test at the opening of our brand-spanking-new, state-of-the-art Tūpiki Trust climbing facility followed by a welcome BBQ hosted by our staff – where staff vs tertiary volleyball antics flowed as freely as the BBQ sauce, creating bonds that’ll last a lifetime. 

Our programmes develop the next generation of inspirational instructors, advanced adventure guides, safety experts, and skilled recreationists. Our graduates become sought-after leaders. The type of people you want on your team who make a difference! 

So, here’s to an action-packed start to 2024 – and trust us, the adventures have only just begun! 

Hillary Outdoors Cultural Strategy: Our journey so far

In 2023, Hillary Outdoors was a recipient of the Tuia ki Tawhiti | Collaborative Futures Fund. This fund was managed and delivered by Education Outdoors New Zealand (EONZ) and enabled Hillary Outdoors to undertake a results-based accountability research project with a vision to improve the relevance and accessibility of outdoor education for rangatahi Māori. 

With the Tuia ki Tawhiti fund, Hillary Outdoors started our journey to conduct results-based accountability research with a vision to improve the relevance and accessibility of outdoor education for rangatahi Māori. This is our journey to date.

Before receiving the fund, we recognised that rangatahi Māori were under-represented in our outdoor education and adventure programmes. Schools with a high population of Māori students would attend Hillary Outdoors. However, the students who participated did not represent the school’s population. For example, a school with 75% of students identifying as Māori in their role would bring a group of 75% Pakeha students. 

This flowed through to our intake of tertiary students and staff. Currently, 10% of our tertiary students and 11% of our staff identify as Māori. 

Through Hillary Outdoors having long-standing relationships with iwi local to our Centres and drawing from our team’s network of connections, we were able to create an incredible team of Advisors, led by Dr. Ihirangi Heke. Our Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from Ngāti Hikairo and Tuwharetoa, mana whenua to our Tongariro Centre; Ngātiwai o Aotea, mana whenua to our Aotea Centre; Te Tonga o Tāmaki Makaurau, South Auckland; our Staff and Board members; and Māori Youth representatives. 

Together, we undertook a research-led approach to understand: 

  • The barriers for rangatahi Māori to participate in our programmes and 
  • How rangatahi Māori can successfully participate as Māori in Hillary Outdoors programmes. 

We developed research questions based on Sport New Zealand’s Te Whetū Rehua; a framework based on five key values important for Māori cultural and social development. The framework was adapted with our Cultural Advisors for outdoor education. The questions became: 

  1. Has your overall Hillary Outdoors experience included the integration of te reo and tikanga? 
  1. Has your overall Hillary Outdoors experience included integration with mana whenua and Māori practitioners in leadership, management, instruction and/or staff roles? 
  1. Has your overall Hillary Outdoors experience included whanaungatanga? 
  1. Has your overall Hillary Outdoors experience included working in Māori places of significance? 
  1. Are outdoor activities involving the maunga, wai and whenua integrated in your Hillary Outdoors experience? 

Initially, we had planned for a Māori Researcher to travel to schools throughout Aotearoa and ask students about their cultural experience with Hillary Outdoors. As we developed our research plan, Ihi made us aware that we had to create a safe space for rangatahi to take part in the surveys, and that they needed to be conducted by someone the rangatahi had built a trusting relationship. Through building a rapport on programmes with students, our Instructors were deemed the best people to facilitate the discussions safely and comfortably. 

We pivoted to onboard our Instructors and wider team to conduct surveys, including workshops on Hillary Outdoors values, how to survey, and Atua Matua. 

From the survey responses, we identified that our programmes met or exceeded expectations in the following areas: 

  • Immerse participants in Māori places of significance, 
  • Integrate maunga, wai and whenua, and 
  • Build whanaungatanga. 

To further enhance the experience and be more culturally responsive to Māori, we need to integrate the following in our programmes further: 

  • Te reo and tikanga in an appropriate place-based means, and 
  • Increase Māori leadership at Hillary Outdoors. 

We also found that financial constraints, the perceived view that outdoor education is not conducive to a high-level education, and family responsibilities and other commitments were barriers to rangatahi Māori participating in Hillary Outdoor programmes and Outdoor Education in general. 

In January, we hosted a wānanga at our Tongariro Centre with our Cultural Advisory Committee, facilitated by Katerina Kupenga from AraHina. Our wānanga began with a Powhiri at Otūkou Marae and with the purpose of creating a vision for our Cultural Strategy, developing 3 Pou | strategic objectives and defining success measures for each Pou.  

Whanaungatanga sits at the core of this kaupapa. With our extraordinary Advisory Board, we co-created a meaningful draft strategy to build a foundation for rangatahi Māori to successfully participate as Māori at Hillary Outdoors.  

Due to the many shifts and pivots we navigated throughout our research journey, we were able to deepen our connections with local Iwi, enable our staff to upskill and be part of the project, and enhance the cultural responsiveness of Hillary Outdoors. Our kaupapa transformed from being something that sat alongside Hillary Outdoors’ operation to becoming a huge, integrated part of our programme delivery and team culture. 

To build on the research and Cultural Strategy development we were able to undertake with the Tuia ki Tawhiti fund, we have received further funding from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). This strategic funding will support rangatahi Māori in our programmes, from student intake through to building pathways to support and develop more Māori leaders at Hillary Outdoors. It will allow us to identify and empower Youth Advisors and engage a part-time Cultural Advisor, to support the delivery of our Cultural Strategy. 

We extend a huge thank you to both EONZ and TEC for their incredible support and advocacy of our kaupapa. 

We are so excited to launch our Cultural Strategy later this year and continue our journey to improve the relevance and accessibility of outdoor education for rangatahi Māori. 

It’s official: our new Climbing Facility is open!

Excitement filled our Tongariro Centre on Friday 16 February, as Dave Bamford, Trustee of the NZAC Tūpiki Trust, cut the ribbon to open our new Climbing Facility.

Thanks to the incredible support from the Tūpiki Trust, we have a new technical climbing wall and classroom spaces. This state-of-the-art facility elevates what we can offer as a Category 1 Tertiary Provider and expands our outdoor and adventure education programmes for schools. 

We are thrilled to have this world-class facility to honour Nank’s legacy. John “Nank” Nankervis was an inspirational mountaineer, tramper, explorer and skier, who climbed peaks worldwide. Nank became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mountaineering and conservation, and sadly passed away in 2022. He dedicated his estate to creating the Tūpiki Trust with the purpose of fostering and supporting New Zealand climbing and conservation. The Tūpiki Trust granted over a quarter of a million dollars towards this project.

Nank believed that “youth are the future for a healthy Aotearoa”, and what better way to celebrate this than to have our next generation of climbers leading the way. Our Diploma students took charge, offering instruction, encouragement and belaying expertise to all our climbers on the day. We are so proud of Evelyn for undertaking the first official climb, and even navigating the tricky overhang! 

Our new climbing wall and classrooms provide a safe and controlled environment for students to build confidence, connections and leadership whilst learning new skills.

The wall offers an alternative climbing option in extreme weather and enables students to build competence before facing more challenging climbs. It also provides opportunities for school groups to build deeper connections by fostering trust and teamwork through climbing activities.

Rangatahi can study the theory behind new climbing skills in the classrooms before putting those skills into practice on the climbing wall.

It’s corny and true; teamwork makes the dream work! This project would not have been possible without the support of our amazing community. We acknowledge Trillian Trust who generously funded the new carpet in the classrooms, ensuring these spaces are comfortable and healthy for our students.

Our thanks also extend to Te Ngaehe Wanikau, tumaki for Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro for blessing the wall; our Trustees, Dave Tommas and Martin Hunter for joining us to celebrate; Apex Climbing, who built the wall; and our Hillary Outdoors team and Tertiary Crew who will continue to facilitate life-changing experiences for rangatahi from across Aotearoa.

Hillary Outdoors, Aotea Great Barrier Island Centre Permanent Closure

After operating from Karaka Bay on Aotea Great Barrier Island since 2006, we have made the tough decision to permanently close our Centre on Aotea as of 11 May 2024.

The challenges of operating from an island location mean the centre is no longer financially sustainable for our Trust. Increased costs to run outdoor education programmes for the many school and community groups we service have unfortunately made pricing out of reach for our rangatahi. 

We are sad to end our long-standing relationship with our Aotea Great Barrier Island community, including Orama, iwi, and the wider island community who have worked with us for 18 years. Aotea will always be a location that holds a special place in our hearts and minds. 

Staff and client safety and well-being remain our priority. Please be assured that Hillary Outdoors remains viable and is committed to continuing to deliver incredible programmes to Aotearoa’s rangatahi long into the future. Our Tongariro Centre, the Tertiary and Events programmes remain in operation. 

The capacity of our Tongariro Centre will increase to accommodate our affected clients. We are committed to supporting and offering other opportunities to our team and our clients through this time.

We thank the many schools, groups and organisations that have supported our Aotea Great Barrier Island Centre over the years. While it is the end of an era, it is the right decision for our organisation as we look to the future and continue to work towards Hillary Outdoors being a sustainable organisation for the next 50 years. 

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini – my success is not mine alone, but it is the strength of many.