Image of the July 2016 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
July 2016 Issue
Home / Articles / Wild Club

The young and the restless

Intrepid Rathkeale boys descending the Hector River, into the Mid-Waiohine Gorge, Tararua Forest Park. Photo: Joe Nawalaniec

Rathkeale College Tramping Club isn’t averse to risk-taking in the outdoors

There’s a crucial ingredient in every tramping trip that goes beyond gear, food, and navigation devices. It’s trust, and it can make or break a tramping group.

Luckily for Rathkeale College’s Tramping Club leader Joe Nawalaniec, his students lived up to that tramping necessity when he found himself with a broken wrist and injured back in the middle of a tough five-day trip in Tararua Forest Park. Halfway through the trip, Nawalaniec slipped on a rock and fell several metres, and as the only adult on the trip in a very remote area, he was reliant upon the boys to look after him.

“I was confident enough in these boys to where if I became incapacitated, I could trust their decision-making,” Nawalaniec said. His students were “exemplary”, which he says is a testament to their strong interest in, and love for, the wilderness. One of the boys offered to carry his pack, and another fashioned him a walking stick. “The boys were able to look after me spectacularly well.”

The Rathkeale Tramping Club is a mix of roughly two dozen junior boys and senior girls and boys. They spend most of their time in the Tararuas, and with Nawalaniec’s guidance, learn outdoor survival skills, navigation know-how, and trip-planning expertise.

Nawalaniec is a chemistry teacher at Rathkeale College in Masterton, but his own love for tramping inspired him to reboot the college’s tramping club when he started teaching there in 2010.

“When I arrived, there was no real edgy, meaningful outdoor pursuits,” he says. He wanted to provide an outlet for student to take risks in the outdoors, so he set about providing a mixture of day-trips to the nearby Tararuas and multi-day trips further afield.

“Our tramping club is not a typical school tramping club, insofar as I actually strongly encourage the girls and boys to take risks. I encourage them to show initiative,” he says, adding that he thinks most schools tend to be risk-averse. However, he doesn’t abide by the notion that the outdoors is a dangerous place.

“I consider the outdoors inherently safe, and even safer than being back at school or in the city.”

Nawalaniec says he’s seen more injuries from school rugby matches than on his tramps.

There’s never a dull moment on his trips; one of his favorite things to do is stop his students in the middle of nowhere – ideally in an impossibly foggy location with no landmarks – and ask them to show him exactly where they are on the map. He’ll do it several times a day on a tramp, not allowing them to continue until they can, “with a very compelling argument,” show him exactly where they are on the map.

“Their intuitive abilities for reading the lay of the land and interpreting that – solving the riddle of the enigma, which would bamboozle most experienced trampers – they are usually infallible.”