Going on school camp creates special memories for every Kiwi child and the Ngamuwahine Outdoor Education Lodge has provided that opportunity for almost 40 years.
Camp Director and Head Instructor Gerry Hart says the confidence kids gain by living away from home for a few nights is immense.
“You see a big change from when they first come in to when they leave. They grow in confidence by doing different activities. We do laser tag, kayaking, orienteering, archery, target shooting and paintball with the older kids. It’s a pretty special place.”
Thousands of Bay of Plenty students visit Ngamuwahine Lodge in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park every year. It is owned by Ngamuwahine Lodge Trust on behalf of Tauranga Intermediate School and is run by four trustees, providing invaluable life experiences.
“I think school camps are really important now because a lot of kids don’t get those opportunities anymore. They spend so much time in front of screens. You’ve got to get that balance so that’s what we’re trying to do – get them outdoors. “
Gerry has dedicated his teaching career to running the camp and has personally overseen its development. In 1980, a 3000m² parcel of land was given to Tauranga Intermediate on a 99 year lease by Ngamuwahine farmer Max Brown. Initial pre-fab buildings were eventually replaced with a permanent lodge which can now sleep around 100 people. An outdoor adventure course has been built and a conference room has been added over time.
“Basically the lodge is used for school camps during the week and then in the weekends it’s let out to different community groups – everyone from the Police Armed Offenders Squad, to church groups, scouts, guides, and family reunions. We also host quite a few weddings in summer.”
The surrounding forest provides plenty of bush walking tracks and students use the nearby Ngamuwahine River for swimming, kayaking and tubing adventures.
The camp’s expansion over time has required additional land and resulted in a mix of different lease arrangements. When the current owner offered to sell the land outright, trustees jumped at the opportunity.
BayTrust has granted $200,000 from its Community Amenities Fund to help with the purchase, and TECT has contributed a similar amount. “We’ve also managed to save up a good amount ourselves so between the three of us we’ve bought the land and can now look forward to greater security in the future,” Gerry says.
The trust has bought an additional paddock either side of the existing lodge and Gerry plans to build a new ‘out camp’ where students can pitch canvas tents overnight.
“That will allow us to offer more camp classes up here and I can let it out to more schools because there is demand. I get asked quite often if we’ve got any spaces but we’re basically booked out.”
Trustees were thrilled to bits to receive help from BayTrust, acknowledging it was a very large sum of money. “We’ve never been in debt since I’ve been running the lodge and I didn’t want to end up with a big debt by purchasing the land. But the way it’s all worked out has been fantastic.
“The community has really supported us too. We hold a fundraising 12 hour relay every year and we just raised another $60,000 in 2019. All the money goes into Ngamuwahine to build the walls and adventure course, buy equipment like mountain bikes and kayaks, that sort of thing.”
At the moment, students from Tauranga Intermediate, Bethlehem College, Te Puke Primary, Pyes Pa School, Katikati Primary, St Thomas More and Kaimai School visit the camp each year, with Hamilton Boys High having also recently visited.
With the land purchase now complete, Gerry is looking forward to welcoming many other Bay students in the years to come.