It was a crisp April morning, and students lined the school steps with their sleeping bags, pillows, and overnight sacks. Three lavish charter buses pulled up, and the gleeful children and their gear were quickly loaded on. Apprehensive teachers, clipboards in hand, smiled and waved to teary-eyed parents before boarding the buses themselves, and counting heads of children to make sure no one would be left behind. Once a headcount revealed that all were present, we were off!
Just 45 minutes later, we arrived at our intended destination: Camp Adair. This outdoor adventure camp is located at the base of the Hunua Ranges, an expansive forested area within the south eastern portion of the Auckland region.
Gear was dragged into cabins and the kids sorted into groups, and the real fun began. In all directions, daring kids and brave parents were off to partake in an assortment of fear-testing, limit-pushing activities.
When I think about camp, as I know it in North America, activities such as canoeing, archery, arts and crafts, water trampoline, and zip-line come to mind. All such activities seem so wimpy in comparison to the sorts of activities that they made these fearless Kiwi kids partake in.
Activities such as “trapeze,” “horizontal traverse,” “centipede,” and “multivine” all required students to be supported by a harness as they climbed various apparatuses to towering heights. It was very surprising to observe many of my students freak out and have a bit of a break down up there, as they faced fears of heights and pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits. I was so touched, though, at how the students encouraged each other and were so supportive and affirming of one another, in both their strongest and their weakest moments. Coming from their peers, their words seemed much more powerful than that of a teacher. It was so neat to see some students really shine in this type of environment, and to see where challenges lie for others too.
Probably the most “extreme” activity of all was the “Confidence Course,” in which kids are coached through a series of aparatuses which require them to crawl through, jump in, and completely submerge themselves in pits of mud. I’m talking about slimy, smelly, opaque, mud, complete with flies buzzing above it. Absolutely DISGUSTING. But, the peer pressure was evidently quite strong in this context, because they all did it! Even the hesitant, fashion-conscious girls who would normally whinge at the thought of partaking in such revolting activities. My students made me so proud. And I SO enjoyed capturing their pricessless expressions as their brown, little faces, emerged from the mud.
Another activity that was a big hit with the kiwi kidlets was the mud slide. Basically, this is a permanent ‘slip and slide’ structure, carved into a hillside. Water from the nearby stream is pumped up the hill, and the kids fly down this bumpy slide into a pool of muddy water. Many a kiwi kid would say this was the highlight of camp.
Other camp activities included bivouac building (the building of huts in the woods using only a rope and materials found in the wild), and hobo stoves. The hobo stove activity required students to whip up a batter for “pikelets” (the kiwi word for mini pancakes) and then cook their pikelets on a stove fashioned from an empty tin can with a candle underneath. Some groups were more successful with their pikelets than others.
Camp meals were fairly similar to those consumed in North America: Nachos, chicken and postatoes, burgers, hot dogs. One thing I did find very interesting were the breakfasts… Day 1: Baked Beans (from a can) on toast. Day 2: Spaghetti (from a can), also on toast. Apparently canned goods on toast is a common Kiwi breakfast. The spaghetti was a bit hit with the kids, but they tell me that beans on toast is most popular with those of the older generations, especially their dads. Who knew?
Overall impressions were that Kiwis definitely do camp a bit more “extreme” than their North American counterparts. Camp activities definitely pushed kids to step outside their comfort zones. Kids were challenged to reach new heights (literally), get dirtier than they’ve ever been before, and achieve things they didn’t think they were capable of. As fun as it was for the kids, I’m just thankful that my role as “official event photographer” allowed me to bypass experiencing the mud, heights, and thrills firsthand…