Ngamuwahine Outdoor Education Lodge, in the lower Kaimais, is where lifelong memories are made for 3000 school children every year.
Eleven schools currently send their students there on school camp to enjoy outdoor adventures such as kayaking, orienteering, archery, target shooting and paintball. The nearby forest is a great place to teach kids about sustainability – so it’s important the lodge runs sustainably also.
Camp Administrator and Head Instructor Gerry Hart says the rising cost of electricity, plus a desire to make the lodge as environmentally-friendly as possible, has prompted the Ngamuwahine Lodge Trust to invest in three new solar power batteries which will be installed in early 2023.
“Twelve years ago we did a major building development and at that time we installed 52 solar panels on the roof of our new building,” Gerry explains. “This has subsidised our power to some degree over the years but because we had no batteries to store the power created during the day, much was exported back to the grid.
“The lodge uses most power in the evenings when the sun has gone down. If we can store the power produced during the day into batteries, that will allow us to utilise it during the evening.”
In addition to the new batteries, an extra 24 solar panels will also be installed. This will allow the lodge to run practically off-grid for approximately a third of the year, and have its $12,000 annual power bill heavily supplemented for the rest of the year.
“It will make things a lot more efficient than what we’ve got at the moment,” Gerry says. “We’ve also got hot water on diesel at present which we’re going to change over and use some of the power we’re generating with the solar system to heat the hot water.”
The solar batteries and ability to operate during a power outage will also make the lodge an ideal venue for the community to congregate during a civil defense emergency.
BayTrust has granted $35,000 to Ngamuwahine Lodge Trust which will cover approximately half the cost of the new batteries and solar panels.
“The Ngamuwahine Trust is delighted and appreciative of the BayTrust grant. This has been an on-going project which we have been waiting to finish for several years.”
The new system will produce 26,557kW per year which will account for two thirds of the lodge’s annual power requirements. The solar array will also be used to teach visiting students about environmental sustainability in action.
As the lodge moves towards greater self-sufficiency, it’s also expanding to cater for more students and schools than ever before.
The lodge itself can sleep around 100 people and a new ‘out camp’ is currently under construction to provide large canvas tents for another 30 students plus parents.
“We have made great progress with building our new out camp during the past two years and it will be functional at the start of 2023,” Gerry says. “We are building six platforms which our tents will sit up on so they’re off the ground. We’ve also constructed a covered lean-to building which is where we’ll have barbecue tables so everyone can be fed.”
Once complete, there will be room for three classes of students and parent/teacher help to stay at any given time. “They’ll just rotate around – they might spend a night in the tents, and then a night or two in the lodge. That will hopefully free up some more weeks for other schools to attend as we are always fully booked and there is more demand than we can cater for.”
Ngamuwahine Lodge Trust also plans to build a permanent water slide in future, which will only add to the fun.
“School camps are really important now because a lot of kids don’t get those opportunities anymore. You see a big change from when students first come in to when they leave. They grow in confidence by doing different activities. It’s a pretty special place.”