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. 

Icebreaker NZ empowering youth through adventure

We are incredibly grateful to partner with Icebreaker NZ, which sponsors Rosehill College as part of our Kotahitanga (adopt-a-school) programme.

With their extraordinary support, students from Rosehill College have had the opportunity to grow through adventure, develop resilience, confidence and leadership skills, and strengthen their career pathways; without financial barriers holding them back.

Icebreaker NZ and Hillary Outdoors believe that all youth, no matter their abilities or finances should have access to nature. Nature is a great teacher and offers solutions to creating a healthy, sustainable future, for the planet and young people. Through outdoor education, rangatahi learn how to grow and adapt, connect and work symbiotically with each other and the environment, and practice kaitiakitanga to foster a more sustainable future.

In 2021, the first year of our three-year partnership with Icebreaker NZ, students from Rosehill College ventured to Hillary Outdoors’ Education Centre on Aotea, Great Barrier Island, during Matariki, for a 5-day programme. Amplified by this significant time of reflection, celebration and renewal, their experience was life-changing.

Upon returning from the 5-day programme, one girl who was intent on dropping out of school remained in school and graduated at the end of the year. For another two students, it was their first time leaving their home community in Papakura, South Auckland, and for another, who struggled with anxiety, she was able to overcome her challenges and connect with her peers.

For Evan, a student from Rosehill College, “having a full experience of no light pollution, and just looking up at the stars, and feeling really good” reflected that “Life is the best thing you can have, and this trip has taught me to keep going, and the reward will be worth it at the end of the tunnel.”

This short video showcases Evan’s and Rosehill College students’ journeys on Aotea.

Following on from this experience, with invaluable sponsorship from Icebreaker NZ, Rosehill College media students were the first to participate in our ‘Through My Lens’ programme at our Centre in Tongariro.

The immersive programme, developed by Hillary Outdoors, supports students in developing their visual storytelling skills through adventure and outdoor education.

Throughout the programme, students receive instruction and guidance from our adventure videographer, Charlie, from Runner Films.

Students are empowered to build skills and confidence while exploring the world around them and developing deep connections with themselves, others and the environment – for many students, this was their first time experiencing snow!

During the programme, students produce a video showcasing their adventures and learnings from their perspective. Check out the magic they captured.

For one student, the Through My Lens programme inspired her to pursue film-making as a career; “I am planning to study Screen Production down in Christchurch in the new year which is very exciting. I do think that seeing that I have the ability to be independent and pushed out of my comfort zone has given me more confidence in my everyday life and made me more comfortable with the idea of moving down to Christchurch. I also got to experience filming in a different environment than what we do at school which gave me a different outlook on the idea of film-making and the fact that I enjoyed every part of the experience pushed me to pursue it even more.”

With the incredible support from Icebreaker NZ, we have delivered 200 outdoor education days to students from Rosehill College, inspiring them to challenge themselves and build life-long connections and skills.

We are also truly grateful to Icebreaker NZ for keeping us, and Rosehill College students, warm in natural, high-performing gear.

“I have nothing but gratitude towards Hillary Outdoors and Icebreaker for allowing us the opportunity and freedom regarding adventure” – Rosehill College student.

Surviving to thriving!

Imagine you’re fifteen again. You’re on your way to school. You walk past the shop that has the new Sting-Ray bike you’ve been saving up for in the window, the one with the high-rise handlebars. After countless weeks of braving the wind, the rain and Old Bob’s dog who chases you down the street, you have only a couple more weeks of doing the paper round, and you will have saved up enough to buy it. The finish line is so close! You visualise yourself riding to school every day. You get to school and tell your friends that you’ll be riding with them soon, unable to contain your excitement! 

The following week, you take the same trip to school, past that window, just one more round of papers, and it’s yours. Except you notice the new price tag in the window. A sinking feeling settles in your stomach as you realise the price has gone up, and all your hard work now seems like it was for nothing.  

Sadly, this is the reality for many youth in Aotearoa. At Hillary Outdoors, we hear numerous stories where a student is incredibly committed to attending one of our programmes with their school. They’re determined and motivated to raise enough funds so they can come to Hillary Outdoors. They have all their ducks in a row but all it takes is for one thing to change; the groceries have gone from costing $200 a week to $250, and now there’s not enough money to put aside, a weather bomb rips through their town and their family’s life gets turned upside down, or they’re let go from their after school job because the company can’t afford to operate any more, due to the ongoing strain from Covid and never-ending increase of the cost of living.  

For many rangatahi who attend our programmes, they’ve done the hard yards and only need a nominal amount of support to get them over the line. Thanks to the ongoing generosity from the Share My Super community, individual donors and Trusts, we can distribute funds directly to those students who may only need $25 – $100 to make up their programme fees and be able to experience real adventures, build stronger relationships with their peers, and unlock their full potential. 

Other students may need more significant support. Rimu was just 15 when her parents tragically passed away in a car accident. Rimu was booked in to attend a five-week Hillary Outdoors programme but due to the tragedy could no longer afford to attend.  

It’s at times like these when it often seems futile to engage in such activities, but ultimately a Hillary Outdoors programme can offer a safe space for youth to express themselves and work through their struggles. Generous funders stepped forward to support Rimu to attend the programme with her class, and during her Hillary Outdoors experience, she formed trusting bonds with her peers, teachers and instructors. Rimu realised her resilience and strength at a time when she most needed it.  

Once Rimu returned home, she started volunteering to support others in her community who had faced tragedy and became the Head Girl of her school.  

Rimu reflects on her five-week journey as “…what can only be described as a life-changing experience facilitated by Hillary Outdoors, going to Great Barrier Island was the best experience of my life, and I was fortunate enough to have received a full scholarship to go on the five-week programme. For me, Barrier is one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever been on. And it wasn’t just a trip. It was a period of time that I was allowed to grow in and to develop new talents and skills, without any outside pressures.” 

Your donations, no matter the amount, can make a huge difference to New Zealand youth, changing their world from simply surviving to thriving.  

Hillary Outdoors Changed the Course of My Life – YouTube

It is the generosity of philanthropists, like you, who help to make these experiences a reality. Hillary Outdoors provides 40,000 outdoor education days each year, with a goal to fundraise $1 million to support youth, who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend due to hardship, to grow through adventure and connect through participation.  

For just $25 you can provide an outdoor education day*, changing a young person’s world and creating pathways for them to flourish into young leaders. With regular donations, together, we can amplify these opportunities for our youth and help to reduce the cycle of poverty.  

We are truly grateful to incredible people like you, who help to change the lives of extraordinary young people like Rimu. 

Donate today to make adventure happen tomorrow and grow our future leaders.

*An outdoor education day provides young people with an instructor who is highly trained in outdoor safety and in soft skills facilitation. It provides food, safety gear, equipment, transportation to adventures and accommodation.