Walking the talk… Instructor Training

by Bree Arnott

Here at WIO our highest priority is safety including programme planning, checking of equipment and possibly most importantly, having highly skilled staff. To work towards this we run training sessions that focus on different areas of the tutors’ skill set and this time it was bush and rescue skills. Here’s Joni Tomsett with a tutor’s eye view of a WIO training session…..


Staff training at Whenua Iti was an exciting experience. It began with an email from Mark and Ross explaining that we would be going to be going training somewhere…  we weren’t given much information other than food would be provided, we would be sleeping together under flies and that we should expect to test our ability to manage our bodies and to exert ourselves physically and that we wouldn’t know what was happening until we were in the midst of it. What an email to get! I was initially a little apprehensive because I’m naturally a person that likes to have a lot of information so that I know what to prepare myself for and to ensure that I have the right gear but decided that I would go into this with a positive attitude, open mind and big smile.

professional educators instructing adventure based learning activities

We arrived and were told what was going to happen for the next few days. We drove up to the Baton River and did a river crossing session, this involved crossing rivers using different methods and workshopping which ones felt best and for what conditions. We then turned on our instructor brains and started thinking of how we could work white water into programmes to help engage young students and to make them confident, risk assessing leaders in New Zealand rivers. We came up with a lot of good ideas and activities that we could bring back to Whenua iti and we did so with a lot of cackling laughs, cheeky slips, and childish splashing. The sun was setting as we walked down the river, instructors laughing and thinking about brownie as we heading down towards the vans where we would pack up and head up to Flora Saddle.

We set up our camp and made the best camp we could. We worked cohesively as a team and delegated different jobs so that we effectively made a campsite before the sun came down, our job was to set up flies, cook our dinner over the fire and dig a glorious poop hole. We made an epic campfire and sat around the campfire, chatting, Sam and I cackling as we ate our fire cooked meal and three servings of carrot cake each.

The second day was my favourite! We had a navigation task – we work a lot with students on marked tracks but most instructors at Whenua Iti can be found off track, in caves, sea kayaking – all involving navigation so we grasped the opportunity to practice those skills and what better way to learn than by making it into a competition. We were paired off then we sent off with only a compass and map which marked where we would go and have to find something out eg how many stones are stacked together in a pile on the Y intersection of the river. Charlie and I paired up and set off into the hills. We made a game plan to set off and get the points that were a little further away and then get the closer ones as we finished. We set off on our mission and successfully found them all after some searching, climbing and relaxing. It was an amazing day and I felt like I really had the ability to test my skills and also solidify the existing ones.

We packed up our camp and headed for Canaan Downs. It was a busy day but the team just kept on going! We headed out and drove up the hill, 1.5hrs later we all bunkered down in the DOC house at the back of Canaan Downs for the night, asleep by 9pm preparing for whatever was in store for tomorrow.

We woke up early, head to toe in wet weather gear as we walked to Harwood’s Hole to ‘workshop’ safety management strategies around managing students around the top of the hole while still maximising their ability to explore. We were sloshing around in the water, knee deep in places. We had our discussion, had a play with different abseil set ups and anchor points and then headed back to the car park.

I knew something else was going to happen. Kieron and Mark, who were leading the training, had hinted a few times that morning so I had put a few extra things into my bag and I could sometimes spot their sideways glances. Then, unsurprisingly three boys ran out of the bushes yelling ‘help, help help! ’-  again, unsurprisingly it was the children of some of the staff!! We were handed a sheet explaining that this was a first aid scenario and that we had to rescue a ‘instructor’ who was with a group and was stuck at a certain location. We delegated Pip as a leader and started from there… Rob was the ‘casualty’ – he and his group had ‘hypothermia’(not very responsible Rob!) We stretchered him down the hill in the a stretcher that had been ‘dropped by a helicopter’ and got him to the path and then to the ambulance (aka the van).

The whole experience was a really challenging situation to be in and we really had to practice what we preached and work on the skills that we challenge students and groups to do on a regular basis. I felt proud to be part of a work place that strived to challenge and push ourselves and also to be a part of a team that came together like a tight family to work together and achieve a goal together effectively and efficiently. We got back to the vans, steaming, laughing and stuffing our face with brownie yet again. Successful training! Now I couldn’t wait to get into it & start work… feel pretty lucky to be able to say that!

*Editors note – You’ll be pleased to know that all instructors and their children were safely brought down from the hill in this scenario 🙂

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