Category Archives: Outdoor Programs

2010 SOLE Trip to New Zealand

On the eve of the 8th Annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition opening, I want to share with you a couple of highlights from one of the 2010 Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions (SOLE Trips) which are supported in part by AMPC proceeds.

This summer marked the 7th New Zealand expedition hosted by Outdoor Programs at Appalachian State University. The 28-day short-term study abroad program immerses students in the landscapes and cultures of this remarkable and stunning country. This year marked the fourth time I have served as a leader of this experience, and I have to say, on this trip, the stars aligned.

Dance lessons at Te Puna Wanaka
Dance lessons at Te Puna Wanaka

Twenty-one students participated in the expedition, along with Rich Campbell, Director of Outdoor Programs, and myself as expedition leaders. Ten semester hours of credit offered through four separate classes are associated with this active journey of discovery that offers rich and authentic experiences. One of the early in-country components of the New Zealand expedition is an introduction to the Maori culture.

Maori Carvings at Waikawa Marae
Maori Carvings at Waikawa Marae

Believed to have first arrived nearly 1,000 years ago in what is now New Zealand, the Maori (mow-ree) people present our students with a unique perspective on both the near-universal challenges faced by indigenous populations and an example of a country that is dealing head-on with reparations and integration of their native population.

Te Puna Wanaka and Waikawa Marae (y-ka-wa ma-rye) (both community centers for Maori tribes) welcomed us into their sacred spaces and shared their language, music, and culture. We in turn are excited to share our music and culture with them by presenting our own version of traditional Appalachian songs accompanied by traditional Appalachian instruments. This year, our team learned the song “Shady Grove,” and as it always seems, we were blessed with several talented musicians.

We were able to bring with us a banjo purchased at Appalachian Music Shop and put on our show. After sharing our song at Waikawa Marae, we presented them with the banjo, which has become tradition. From our years of visiting, we have gifted Waikawa a dulcimer, a mandolin, and now a banjo. If we can figure out how to get an upright bass in the overhead compartment of a 747, they will have everything they need for their own bluegrass jam!

Rafting in Karamea River
Rafting in Karamea River

Another component, and arguably the most complex part of the trip, takes place shortly after our departure from Waikawa: an eight-day east-to-west traverse of the top of the South Island that includes a source-to-sea experience following the Leslie and Karamea rivers.

This has traditionally been not only the most logistically challenging element of the expedition, but also the most physically challenging. It is five days backpacking up and over the northern end of the Southern Alps, leading us into the rainforests and river drainages of the west coast.

Supplies brought in for Karamea River
Supplies brought in for Karamea River

After five days of walking into the wilderness, we arrive at a large curve in the Karamea River, referred to as the Karamea Bend. Here, the trails end and we await several helicopter loads of gear and guides who will join us for three days of navigating the class III-IV rapids of the Karamea. (This is an incredible experience, as the Karamea is visited by no more than one hundred people in a given year.) Navigating the river demands focus, resilience, and an adventurous spirit. The water levels this summer were ideal, the weather rarely matched, and the group was well tuned and highly productive. As I said before, the stars aligned on this trip. We followed the Karamea with ease out to the west coast, taking off the river less than one mile from the Tasman Sea in the small town of Karamea.

Other components of the New Zealand SOLE trip include work with reforestation, in part to off-set our carbon footprint, and a five-day sea kayak journey along the Abel Tasman coast. These trips are far more than playing outside for the students who participate. They foster cultural competence and independence as well as interdependence, environmental stewardship, and friendships that endure long after the last tent is packed away.

Baby harbor seal in Shag Harbor
Baby harbor seal in Shag Harbor

The proceeds from AMPC and Outdoor Programs’s annual screenings of the Banff Mountain Film Festival are used to subsidize the budgets of these trips, lowering the cost and reducing financial barriers for those participating. I, too, see them as a right of passage of sorts; something that seems all but lost in modern American society. The students I know before arriving in New Zealand are rarely the same students I see returning from the expedition—as if this experience outlines a new chapter in who they are and what drives their passions.

New Zealand SOLE Trip Gallery

To learn more about Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions and everything Outdoor Programs offers, visit

It’s Good For The SOLE

The Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition has grown to be one of the top photography events in our region.   This year, we saw a nearly 20% increase in submissions and received them from 14 states and several international destinations.


A number of individuals, organizations, and businesses lend a hand to make AMPC possible, and we work hard to highlight those efforts.  Something we don’t spend a lot of time highlighting is what we do with the proceeds garnered from the annual competition, so I wanted to take some time to share that with you.

AMPC is coordinated by Appalachian State University’s Outdoor Programs (OP).  In our 37 year history, OP has grown to be the adventure authority at App State, introducing students to outdoor opportunities in their backyard and around the world.

In the nineties, OP began offering extended expeditions; trips typically 3 to 4 weeks in length that often carried academic credit.  Those initial expeditions included mountaineering in the Teton National Park and multidiscipline trips to Alaska.

Hiking Trip

This model of blending adventure, challenge, and expeditionary learning proved very successful, and in 2004 Outdoor Programs offered our first short-term study abroad course: an International expedition to New Zealand.  It was around this time that we started referring to these experiences as Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions, or SOLE trips for short.

In May, we will return to New Zealand with a group of App State students for our seventh expedition.  Another group will be traveling to Wales, our fourth expedition to that Country.  Since 2004, we have embarked on two expeditions to Fiji and returned again on one occasion to Alaska.  The proceeds from AMPC combined with the proceeds from our annual screenings of the Banff Mountain Film Festival are used to reduce the cost of OP’s Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions; opening doors for more students to experience the benefits of short-term study abroad through active journeys of discovery.

Sunset Hike

These expeditions immerse students in the rugged environments and unique cultures of the places we visit.  In 2008, a videographer from Appalachian joined our expedition to New Zealand to document the experience and to share the impact these experiences have on the students who participate.  The images and words of the students captured in this brief documentary communicate far more than I can, so enjoy!

Part 1 :: Outdoor Programs in New Zealand

Part 2 :: Outdoor Programs in New Zealand

Part 3 :: Outdoor Programs in New Zealand