The Kaitaia College Services Academy's Delta Class students didn't have far to travel for this year's Northern Region Services Academy bushcraft course. Run by the New Zealand Defence Forces Youth Development Unit, in the past the courses have been based at the Air Force weapons range in Woodhill Forest, in the Kaipara, but last year it was decided that the Auckland academies should go to the Hunua ranges and their northern counterparts to Trefoil Park, Kaikohe.
It was there that service academy students from Northland College, Kaitaia College, Tikipunga High School, St Paul's College and Glenfield College gathered for four days of learning bushcraft skills designed to develop their character and competence in a far from familiar environment.
The students had already had lessons on navigation, map-reading, first aid, knots/lashings, fitness, cooking, tents, understanding the Environmental Code, packing a pack and more. to name a few, prior to the course date.
And, according to Kaitaia College academy director Dudley Andrews, the Delta Class students maintained the tradition of starting and finishing the course with high morale, smiles and pride, which was no easy task when heavy rain set in.
The first day was about setting up camp and establishing a work routine that involved chores, tasks, catch-up lessons, eating ration packs and general camp consideration. On the second day, after their morning routine, the students packed up their tents and began to navigate their way through thick native bush to their night location, taking turns, in pairs, to navigate and lead the way to specific checkpoints.
To achieve that they had to measure distances, study and understand maps and contour lines, and seek out stream junctions, high ground and prominent features.
Having arrived at their overnight location they set up their tents, organised track plans, toilet, cooking and central meeting area before lessons on water catchments, 'lost procedure,' basic bush survival, why things are seen in the bush and other basic bush detection and searching skills.
"Through the night they all sat around a light and told ghost stories, as most of us have done in these moments," Mr Andrews said.
The third day was much the same, trekking through bush before returning to the base camp to finish their day with the disciplines of camp life.
The fourth day was the wettest, but that did little to dampen the spirits of the Kaitaia crew, or to deter them from participating in a Kaitaia College Services Academy tradition, called 'Shut up and crawl'.
"This involves unpleasant conditions, mud, logs, physical and mental stress, exercises and a lot of crawling, aimed at pushing the students even further past their comfort zones in order to draw resilience, determination and leadership through pressure and pride," Mr Andrews said.
"I explained to them that sometimes life is hard, sometimes you just have to shut up and crawl. As long as you're going forward you will succeed, and because this is a group task you will succeed together."
Not only has shut up and crawl drawn them closer, but they are proud to have completed an activity that was done by Kaitaia College Services Academy students before them.
"As a reward for the efforts of all course participants the NZDF then transported groups to Ngāwhā Springs, where they enjoyed the thermal pools and the healing properties associated with this beautiful place."
The course had once again been a great experience for the students, with no access to social media, little access to high-fat or sugary foods and no cell phones. They had spent every minute of every day actively learning as they went through the routines of an effective camp and the disciplines of being members of an effective team.
"Having the course in Kaikohe has been a massive bonus for the students of Kaitaia, Northland and Tikipunga, as there is a historical connection to the whenua," Mr Andrews added.
"To have our youth enjoy our own backyard, seeing the native bush and its wildlife, was an invaluable experience for them. I have already been informed that next year's course will venture out further to tracks in the wider Kaikohe area."
On behalf of the Kaitaia College Services Academy he thanked the New Zealand Defence Forces Youth Development Unit for providing another great course. He also thanked the Northland College Services Academy, the land owners, local hapū and iwi for the use of "this beautiful land."
Next up for the students would be the Adventure Race Challenge, from Horeke to Waitangi, designed to test them on what they had learned through the year, along with some very physically and mentally demanding activities with students walking (with packs), running or riding as fast as possible over four days.