American teens tackle Kiwi bush

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014
Lia Carver and Talia Rothman
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

ON OUR WAY: Lia Carver and Talia Rothman are put to the test during the youth search and rescue programme.

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A handful of American teens have been thrown into Kiwi bush for a holiday programme that tests their limits.

The group is taking part in a pilot summer camp run by Youth Search and Rescue Hamilton and American-based HeroPath for Teens International.

Navigation exercises, caving, a 24-hour orienteering exercise and learning tracking skills are all on the 18-day programme, with the Americans receiving help from senior Hamilton Youth Search and Rescue (YSAR) members.

"They're just about halfway . . . they're [the Americans] starting to adjust to it. The first couple of days they were getting really tired," YSAR Hamilton manager Barry Were said. "They're just blown away by New Zealand bush. They just love it."

The camp is a trial, but if it proves successful the partnership could become an annual event.

HeroPath co-founder Jeffrey Leiken is a friend of Were and the idea for the camp came about when he was in New Zealand a couple of years ago to work with YSAR teens. "He took one look at the [Pirongia] bush and said ‘Wow, you really need to get American teens out here'," Were said.

The summer camp aims to equip teens with new skills and show them what they're capable of. They got two-and-a-half days training at home before they came to NZ to go through the whole of the first-year YSAR programme.

Were is impressed with their performance so far. After days of clambering around Pirongia the 16 to 18-year-olds have developed a "love-hate" relationship with the tough Supplejack vines, or kareao. Were compared getting through them to a three-dimensional game of Twister. The time at Pirongia was both "in tents" and intense, he said.

After that the group went caving near Te Pahu then moved on to the base of the Kaimai Range. There, the Americans had their first navigation exercise without the help of Kiwi buddies.

"They're out there - two of them - with a map and compass and they're on their own," Were said. "Initially for a lot of them that first time is really scary."

But radios with live tracking means Were can monitor their location on a map, and roving Kiwi teams could help if needed.

Tracking skills will come later - where the teens use marks left behind to trace people's trail through the bush - and a 24-hour rogaine [strategic orienteering] exercise which requires "budgeting" time, energy, food and sleep.

The teens head back home on July 20.

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