Hiking New Zealand recently guided a school group from Beijing around some of the splendid nature on offer in New Zealand’s South Island. It was great to watch this group of young people - most of whom had never visited New Zealand before - discover a landscape and culture so different from their own. At the same time, we learned a lot from them about things we take for granted every day.
Thirty students between the ages of twelve and seventeen, along with four teachers, made this trip ‘down-under’ which had a focus on science. They were interested in the biology of New Zealand’s flora and fauna and the fascinating geology of our unique landscape - from the tectonic forces that formed the Southern Alps to the glaciers of the West Coast and the iconic Pancake Rock formations at Punakaiki. The teachers were able to focus on making this an educational experience for the students while the Hiking NZ guides took care of the logistics - guiding hikes, and arranging transportation and dining. Our intimate knowledge of the areas visited also came in handy - we were able to tell the group about the history of the places we visited, both Maori and colonial, as well as the Maori legends which related to some of these places, and the biology and geology of the South Island.
The kids were excited to be visiting New Zealand but some of them were also nervous. The initial hike we took them on, up Mt John on the shores of Lake Tekapo, was a short one - just an hour - but for some of them it was the first hike they had ever done! Coming from such an urban environment, New Zealand’s empty expanses seemed strange at first to many of the visitors but also a source of wonder. They constantly remarked upon the blue clarity of our lakes and rivers compared to the overtaxed waterways back home - a reminder for us to do all we can to preserve what we have! It was great to see kids who had been apprehensive about getting their shoes muddy on that first walk, progress to completing a challenging five hour walk near Wanaka later in the week and don crampons to go glacier hiking from a helicopter at Fox Glacier on the West Coast.
The group were amazed at the diversity of landscapes in the South Island as we drove them across the Canterbury Plains, into the Southern Alps, past lakes Tekapo and Wanaka, and across to the West Coast. The diversity of the landscapes was matched by the diversity of activities we had arranged for them. In addition to hiking, we saw glow-worms one evening, had a bonfire on the beach at Hokitika, went on a Hagglund ride in the Antarctic Centre and explored the limestone formations at Castle Hill. Where activities were too challenging for some students, we divided and conquered, with our guides offering older and younger groups different expeditions requiring different levels of skills and adventurousness.
It’s possible that some students never quite acclimatised to the strange western habit of eating cold food for lunch - we didn’t realise our sandwiches and wraps would be so controversial! But mainly, they responded with wonder and enthusiasm to us showing and telling them about New Zealand. Before they left they expressed interest in coming back again, this time to explore the North Island - New Zealand has so much to see! - and they were even interested in a tour to Iceland which we would organise through our global arm - Active Earth Adventures. We at Hiking New Zealand love it when customers come back and we hope to see this and other school groups again soon!