Lara Sagatov, 20, of Vienna, recently completed a 77-day expedition in New Zealand with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
The first section of the Semester in New Zealand was a backpacking section exploring New Zealand’s high country. Students developed backcountry camping and traveling skills in New Zealand’s temperate rainforest/alpine environment. They learned campsite selection, cooking and baking with stoves and fires, Leave No Trace techniques and traveling techniques. Students then built on these basics with classes on map reading, compass use, route finding, outdoor hygiene and sanitation methods, expedition behavior and outdoor leadership. Finally, they covered first aid skills, emergency procedures, location-specific hazard evaluation, conflict resolution techniques, communication styles, group evaluation techniques, local flora and fauna, natural phenomena and environmental issues.
THE MOUNTAINS start at 1,000–2,000 feet and rise to 6,000 feet in elevation. There was significant elevation gain and loss, sometimes in the same day over 3,000 feet. Their route followed a series of ridges and valleys along the alpine backbone of the South Island. Lara and her course climbed high on rocky ridges of shingle and boulders. They also traveled through snow, grasslands, thick forest and along rivers. Some of the travel was on marked tracks in the valley bottoms, while some of their routes were exploratory that no other NOLS course had done before. These areas are also home to a variety of introduced mammals such as European red deer, Austrian chamois, and Australian brush-tailed possum. There are also many native birds like tuis, bellbirds and mountain parrots or Kea.
The second section of the semester was the cultural section. Students visited a local marae (meeting house) for a one-day cultural section with the Ngati Kurt people, a community of Maori. Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand. The course members learned about the traditions, art and mythology of a very warlike people with a deep and sacred connection to the land. The cultural section is an educational experience that enriches the student’s understanding of New Zealand’s cultural and natural history.
The third section of the course was sea kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds. Marlborough Sounds is a partially submerged mountain range at the northern end of the South Island. The section began with introduction to the sea kayak and basic maneuvering, with additional classes on paddling techniques including bracing and Eskimo rolling. Students also learned navigation, tides and currents, marine weather and communications and other aspects of kayak seamanship. The students traveled most days on fairly protected waters; however the area is well known for strong winds and tidal currents that influenced the overall travel plan.
THE LAST SECTION was the sailing section Lara and fellow students sailed in the outer Marlborogh Sounds/Cook Strait on two 30-45 foot keelboats. A comprehensive yacht coastal cruising curriculum was covered, which included nautical terminology, sail theory, boat handling under power and sail, docking and anchoring theory and practice, tides, currents and weather, rigging, knots, charts and coastal navigation, rules of the road, aids to navigation and crew over board drills.
Lara graduated from her NOLS course prepared to lead an expedition of her own. The course equipped students with the outdoor skills to safely and responsibly travel in the backcountry, coupled with the leadership skills to do so with others.