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A trail of students hike through the snow, a snow-topped mountain can be seen in the background.
A trail of rangatahi hike through the snow on a Hillary Outdoors trip (Image: Supplied)

PartnersOctober 20, 2021

The power of outdoor education to break the cycle of poverty

A trail of students hike through the snow, a snow-topped mountain can be seen in the background.
A trail of rangatahi hike through the snow on a Hillary Outdoors trip (Image: Supplied)

Access to nature might seem free, but in reality poverty can be a significant hindrance to outdoor education and the benefits that come with it. Hillary Outdoors helps rangatahi experience our natural environment, without the stress of financial barriers.

From Cape Reinga to the Southern Alps and all the way to Rakiura, the natural environment of Aotearoa is famous for its unique beauty. But although it might be right on our doorstep, accessing the great outdoors is out of reach for many New Zealanders.

For the more than 20% of New Zealand kids living in poverty, the cost of extracurricular activities can make them limited or unattainable. The time and money it takes to drive to the beach or nearest mountain, or to an annual school camp can prevent kids in poverty from getting experiences most of us take for granted . 

The current dialogue around child poverty centres mainly on survival needs: do kids have food, water and a warm, dry home? But beyond the three pillars of survival, emotional nourishment outside the home is paramount for our future generations to thrive, not simply survive. 

Since 1972, Hillary Outdoors has been providing trips for school-age youth, taking kids to the great outdoors and offering enrichment in the form of outdoor education, adventure, challenge and leadership training. Donations to the charity provided scholarships for 5,000 rangatahi last year, but the full cost of the usual programme and a week away in the outdoors means it still isn’t available to everyone. 

Partner organisations like Share My Super – who help fund the scholarships – make a big difference in allowing more children access to the Hillary Outdoors programme.  Share My Super offers superannuants an easy way to donate a portion of their superannuation to the charity partners working to eradicate child poverty, providing both essentials and other enrichment needs. 

“Each partner is working at a different point along the spectrum of child poverty,” says Share My Super CEO Lorraine Taylor. “There are some charity partners that work to deliver an immediate response and that might be food or clothing, while other organisations are working at a more transformational level, such as scholarships. Hillary Outdoors provide programmes that help transform a young person’s life in the immediate and long-term.”

Currently 20% of children who attend Hillary Outdoors programmes come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through donor support, Share My Super wants to increase this to 40%. 

Hillary Outdoors teams up with schools, offering bespoke outdoors programmes that get youth to connect with the natural environment from their two facilities on Great Barrier Island and in Tongariro. Taylor says Hillary Outdoors gives donors the chance to help young people of all backgrounds reach their potential. 

“When you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, it’s about providing opportunities for self-awareness and self-actualisation and it moves beyond just providing the basic essentials,” she says. “We want to create passionate guardians of our environment, so getting kids outdoors is the first step in doing that.”

A student wearing a helmet crawls through a small gap in a rock, grinning and holding a rope.
A student crawls through a tight gap in a rock (Photo: Andy Thompson Photography NZ)

Hillary Outdoors instructor Jacinda Boully first found her passion for nature as a child in rural Queensland. “It’s where my love for the outdoors developed,” she explains. “Because you’re very connected to the earth and the way the weather patterns flow and how different systems and the environment can impact you personally.”

There’s a correlation between connection to the natural world and the passion to protect it, Boully says. She believes having a connection with a place can encourage people to take care of it.

Boully works on Great Barrier Island and hasn’t been to the mainland in four months. She’s immersed in nature and knows a lot about switching off. At the beginning of each programme, students have to hand in their phones; from then on, face-to-face connection replaces social media. 

“You’re building relationships and those relationships are deeper than they traditionally would be in a city. I really believe that sisterhoods and brotherhoods are created when you’re in these really epic adventures or in an environment where you’re challenged.”

Share My Super’s charity partners work together to impact children’s lives. Join the community uniting against child poverty today at

Three students look out across the ocean from a hilltop, silhouetted by the setting sun.
On Hillary Outdoors trips, students make lifelong friends and lasting memories (Photo: Supplied)

For John Ham, deputy principal at Te Kura o Hirangi in Tūrangi, outdoor experiences are a vital part of his students’ education. He’s a board member with Hillary Outdoors and his school has their own bespoke programme. Ngāti Tūwharetoa whenua is the backdrop for Hillary Outdoors’ Tongariro programme, and it’s Ham’s tūrangawaewae. At Te Kura o Hirangi, students are encouraged to experience the outdoors from a young age. The first local maunga they’re encouraged to climb juts out of the flat lakeside landscape of Tokaanu, near Tūrangi.

“Maunganamu becomes their first mountain climb. And that little mound holds great significance with Ngāti Kurauia. We say it’s one of Pihanga’s [another nearby mountain] babies,” says Ham.

While schools can take kids on their own outdoor education opportunities, such as what Te Kura o Hirangi does, Ham believes the equipment and expertise Hillary Outdoors offers is unparalleled. He says youth should have the opportunity to experience the programmes, no matter the decile or socio-economic status of their school. “When you see the smiles of the kids when they collect their gear for the week, all dressed up in their proper tramping boots and underclothing and good wet weather gear, they just think they’re the cat’s whiskers,” he says.

Ham’s 14-year-old granddaughter Mali Riwaka went to Hillary Outdoors two years ago and was thrilled with how it challenged her. “I loved the opportunities that came with going there and learning different things,” she says. 

Pushed outside her comfort zone, she even managed to go inside a cave, despite her ongoing fear of “small, dark places”. “I also learnt how to rock climb, but how to actually do it by myself instead of relying on an adult, so that was really cool.”

A group of students play in a stream, wearing helmets and wetsuits.
The outdoors should be for everyone – with Hillary Outdoors’ help, it can be (Photo: Andy Thompson Photography NZ)

Fifteen-year-old David Grey had a similarly positive experience. Hillary Outdoors has been somewhat of a family tradition, with both his parents attending Tongariro when they were young. For the ACG Strathallan student, heading out of Tāmaki Makaurau and spending a week in the outdoors was what he describes as “hands-down the best experience I’ve ever had”. 

“It teaches you so much and pushes you to your limits,” he says. “You have to step up and learn leadership skills. Through going on adventures, you learn so much about your classmates and gain an appreciation for the world and others around you.”

After he got home from the week-long adventure, Grey says he raved about it for days. His experience encouraged his dad to donate to Hillary Outdoors, in the hope another child might be able to experience the same leadership skills and confidence boost he gained. “He saw the possibilities that it opens up for young people, no matter where they come from,” says Grey. But at $1,000 for a week in the outdoors – a fee that covers food, accommodation, health and safety, instruction, gear and equipment – the cost can be out of reach for struggling families. 

Currently, Hillary Outdoors’ Hillary Step Scholarship is able to offer lower decile schools or cases of hardship upwards of a 75% discount. To fulfil the founding principle of accessibility, the charity needs ongoing financial support, such as that from Share My Super. Through that support, it hopes to continue its goal of helping youth become future guardians of the land. 

“Positive youth development is created through connection,” says Hillary Outdoors chief executive Hillary Campbell. “We break connection down into four goals: understanding of self, connection to others, connection to environment and connection to Aotearoa’s culture.” 

Donations ensure disadvantaged and minority groups can have access to outdoor education, regardless of their ability or financial circumstances. As a country that prides itself on having nature right on our doorstep, connection with our environment and outdoor education like that offered by Hillary Outdoors should be available to all. Improving child poverty isn’t just about addressing essentials, it’s also about providing social, educational and environmental enrichment.

This is why Hillary Outdoors is an important part of Share My Super’s holistic approach to solving child poverty. Share My Super provides a platform to support multiple organisations working in different fields in one transaction, to address both immediate needs as well as transformational and systemic change. Those donations go directly to the donor’s chosen charities. Through Hillary Outdoors, knocking down the barriers for youth who haven’t been given the opportunity to experience the outdoors is a crucial piece of this puzzle.

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