After I graduated from University I worked for a short period at an outdoor activity centre in a remote part of Scotland. It was an amazing experience at that point in my life; working daily in a stunning location alongside fun-loving people and getting paid to help deliver some great activities (rock climbing, quad biking, archery, canoe trips etc.). In hindsight it was one of the jobs which confirmed in my own mind that I wanted to work in education.
Like many of the employees there, for me it was something though which I only did for a short period of time. After a while the demands of the 24/7 lifestyle as well as fairly low pay can tend to take people away. Despite that, I have always been fascinated by those that stay in the industry longer-term; often because of their love and passion for the opportunity to do a job each day that is so close to their dream.
Famed for its range of outdoor activities and amazing landscapes, there are lots of people in New Zealand who work in such roles. In the Abel Tasman National Park I met Harley, who leads kayak trips along the coast. I was in fact part of a group of eight he led on a three-day expedition, paddling down the coastline of the National Park, and camping in small campsites next to the beaches.
This type of role is seasonal and Harley had been working this job for six years, returning each summer with his winters spent either travelling, skiing, or working in other seasonal roles, for example as a guide leading whitewater kayak trips in Canada.
‘I love this job, it’s pretty simple. There’s nothing I like more than being in a kayak in this area and so the fact that I can get paid to do it every day is just amazing.’
‘I grew up on a fairly large farm and although I was keen on working there when I was younger, once I got involved in outdoor activities I knew that it what I wanted to do. I was a bit lucky I guess – the school I went to had an amazing outdoor education centre and so I just got really into kayaking, rock climbing, and things like that…’
Although Harley gave a very positive outlook on his job he was clear there were of course downsides with long, tiring days, having to work outside in whatever conditions nature throws at you (it can rain a lot in the National Park!) as well as during the busy Christmas period having to work pretty much every day and so miss time with his family. And so to that extent, like many roles, it is a lifestyle option: working very hard for a number of months before then having time later in the year to do other things..
‘Oh, like any job you have good and bad days. Some trips it will rain the entire time but if you are with a really good group you still have a great time. I couldn’t do a job though in an office; just sitting still; I need to be doing something. It also helps though if the organisation you work with understands this. I work for a company with about eight regular guides who have all been coming back for a number of years and so it’s like a big family.’
Later in my trip I was travelling through Fjordland in the South of the country, home to the majestic Milford and Doubtful Sounds that New Zealand is so famous for. On one of these sailing tours I met Kendra, who, now 21, had been working on the boats for the last three years as a Nature Guide since she finished high school, providing commentary and information on the local area.
Kendra grew up in the gateway town to the fjords, Te Anau, which with a population of just over 3,000 is really quite small. That said, from speaking to Kendra and a few other families in the area, it sounded like a fun place to grow up in; with the national park on your doorstep and the bigger city of Invercargill only two hours away. Having worked on the boats for the past three years she will shortly be studying for her Skippers License and then intends to move to Australia with her boyfriend who also works on the boats. University is on the cards at some point but she was very clear it would have been the wrong thing for her to do straight after school.
‘There was a lot of pressure on me, and all of my school friends to go to Uni [she was only one of two students who didn’t go]. I knew though that I wanted a gap year, and that’s now become a whole new career path [in sailing], and I am enjoying it, and having fun. I still want to be a nurse and go to Uni, but when it’s right for me.’
‘I work one week on and then one week off which suits me really well. Yes it’s a bit of a bubble but this means I have a full week off to head back to town to catch up with my friends.’