Field Centre – A Rite of Passage

December 05, 2016 at 2:59 PM

As six buses and seven mini-buses pulled in to College to load 350 students, 66 staff and their 416 backpacks, daypacks, sleeping bags, tramping boots, wet weather gear, polypropylene undies, fleece tops, beanies, a change of socks and the all-important 416 toothbrushes, you begin to get an idea of the logistics involved in getting the whole of Year 10 ‘down the mountain’ for their annual ‘Field Centre!’ 

Field Centre is an amazing experience for Year 10, which takes months of careful, prior planning. The students are sorted into 12 Lodge groupings, along with staff who undertake the activities with them, and cooks who stay in the Lodge to prepare the meals. Another ten mountain ‘professionals’ are also engaged. That is, 426 people needing to be organised into activities, and requiring three meals, snacks and drinks a day whether in the Lodge or out on the mountain. 

A well-oiled team swings into action to co-ordinate food supplies. The figures are definitely noteworthy! It’s not until you see the shopping list that you start to fully appreciate the true scale of the undertaking: 4,666 loaves of bread, wraps and assorted buns, 252 litres of fresh milk to get the week started, backed up with 57kg (yes kilos!) of milk powder and 33kgs of Milo! 265 boxes of cereal, with a further 40kg of rolled oats to set them up for a day’s activity. 84kg of flour, 104 kg of sugar, 50kg of jam, 20 litres of honey, 27 jars of peanut butter and 431 packets of biscuits to ensure there’s something tasty on return. And 7kg of coffee for the staff! 

The bulk is pre-purchased and driven to the mountain where it is offloaded in the central car park and then carried box by box up to the Lodges – the students’ first chore on arrival! The initial supplies are supplemented by daily deliveries from the local supermarket in Ohakune. 

The equipment required for the overnight tramps is also another huge logistical undertaking. A tent is little use without its tent poles when you’re six hours hike from civilisation! Likewise, leaving your wet weather jacket back at the Lodge could spell disaster. Tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, food, water, spare clothing, first aid supplies, maps and, um…spades for essential business, all have to be distributed, checked, checked again and carried. That’s 105 tents with, 210 poles, 1890 tent pegs, 120 stoves and the, um, 14 spades to do the right thing! 

By the time the week comes to a close, the students will have chomped through a mountain of food to give them the energy needed for at least 60 km of walking each – that’s close to 25,000km collectively! 

Back in the Lodges there are the 4300 metres of Glad Wrap, 1200 Snap Lock bags, 27 litres of washing up liquid, 140 Chux cloths, 28 cans of fly spray, 1400 disposable gloves, 2,592 toilet rolls and the 105 large rubbish bags to aid clean up at the end. 

As Field Centre approaches each year, our students voice trepidation about what lies ahead; questioning whether they have the stamina to face the physical challenges of tramping, rafting and camping in difficult terrain; challenges that include the Tongariro Crossing and a three day tramp…. we’ll come back to that… 

The weather can be fickle on the mountain and sadly this year, it proved fickle in the extreme! Whilst the first group arrived in sunshine, it was quickly followed by rain, snow, blizzards, gale force winds and fog, adding a unique set of challenges as the daily programme was revisited to ‘work around’ the weather patterns. So extreme was the weather that some activities were deemed too dangerous to undertake under the circumstances. Only four out of 13 Lodge groups were able to complete the Tongariro crossing and none completed the Summit Walk to the Crater lake of Ruapehu. The usual three day tramps were scaled back to limit the nights under canvas when the weather conditions became unsafe.

Safety on the mountain is about being well prepared and with Field Centre now in its 47th year, there’s has been plenty of time to fine tune for all eventualities – as shown in 2013 when the mountain blew its top! Wet, cold, windy weather can be demoralising when your outer clothing is wet, your pack is heavy and you still have a long, uphill climb ahead of you - yet it’s amazing how students and staff dig deep. The revised programme this year still took our students out in some challenging conditions that served to raise the awareness of being prepared and adapting to rapidly changing conditions in the outdoors. It was heartening to see our students support each other when spirits flagged, learning a lot about themselves and others in the process. 

As each activity is ticked off, the students gain a growing sense of self and achievement. Field Centre is a unique opportunity to gain independence and explore personal strengths in an exciting, spectacular and challenging outdoor environment. – it’s a shame that for most of the week, the weather was so closed in, the students couldn’t see the vistas. This year certainly came with its own set of challenges, but we have seen this kind of weather pattern before. With the ‘rite of passage’ complete, the students returned bursting with stories to tell and will undoubtedly still recall Field Centre as one of the highlights of their time at the College.

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