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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 www.op.appstate.edu.