NZCT Supports Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits & Educational Centre

“At TOPEC we aim for equity in our delivery and without NZCT funding our ability to provide the same level of opportunities to all students would have been severely hindered"
TOPEC Administration Manager Claire Allen

NZCT has awarded $25,000 to the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits & Educational Centre (TOPEC) to secure the employment of a qualified lead instructor for 2023.

TOPEC programmes include skills in leadership, river safe, bush safe, pest eradication and survival as well as week-long residential camps, and NCEA courses. There has been an increase in demand from local primary, intermediate and secondary schools, and also community groups.

“The programmes develop self-confidence, self-awareness, resilience and interpersonal skills, through outdoor challenges and collaboration with others”, says TOPEC Director Christine Worsfold. “At TOPEC we are passionate about offering every young person the chance to develop these skills without barriers, and NZCT funding allows us to offer opportunities to all.”

The main stakeholders of TOPEC, who set up the centre back in 1986, are sill the thirteen Secondary Schools in the Taranaki region which support the centre to harness the benefits for their students. The feedback from schools is that the confidence, communication and work-ready transition skills that students develop and refine at TOPEC are much in demand, directly transferable, and make a significant difference in future careers for young people.

“We’re developing both new and existing programmes to adapt to the needs identified from this direct feedback”, says TOPEC Director Christine Worsfold. “For example, flowing from our NCEA courses we have established a tertiary partnership with WITT (Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki), creating a pathway from a Level 3 Outdoor Experiences Certificate (2 days a week for 30 weeks) while at school, through to a Level 4 Leadership and then Level 5 Adventure Guiding Diploma.”

TOPEC Administration Manager Claire Allen adds, “At TOPEC we aim for equity in our delivery and without NZCT funding our ability to provide the same level of opportunities to all students would have been severely hindered. We don't want cost to be a barrier to schools and/or students not willing or unable to participate in our programmes, so we rely on supporters like NZCT to assist us in maintaining manageable fees for our students.”

Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre is managed by the TOPEC Trust and is a registered charity. The outdoor centre is located on the banks of the Waiwhakaiho River, just outside of New Plymouth, and is situated in an area that allows students to make the most of the taonga of Taranaki - the sea, rivers, bush, and iconic Taranaki Maunga.

TOPEC follows the principle of kaitiakitanga, whereby humans act as guardians and stewards of the water and land to preserve and protect the physical environment. This includes running the centre and all programmes to follow a philosophy of sustainability and having minimal impact on the environment. This kaupapa, along with whanaungatanga and manaakitanga keeps the mana / status of self, others and the environment intact.

The application to NZCT was to support the salary of our Lead Instructor, as around 2000 secondary and 600 primary school students from throughout the Taranaki region and beyond attend courses at TOPEC annually. The need to retain and develop our quality instructors is paramount, says Christine Worsfold.
“Inspiring learning, growth and potential is our vision, and our mission is to create positive relationships, community and personal change through experiential learning, adventure and challenge. TOPEC’s key outcomes centre around wellbeing, developing self-esteem, resilience and a sense of belonging in children and youth aged 7-24 years.”

TOPEC is an Adventure Mark accredited Outdoor Education Centre, and all funding assists TOPEC in keeping participation costs affordable without compromising quality or safety. Programmes assist in promoting life-long safe recreation, through connecting people with the environment and developing sound decision-making in the outdoors.

As part of its kaupapa, TOPEC offers opportunities for students and community groups to participate in environmental projects. Alongside being a Duke of Edinburgh Award holder, sustainability initiatives include:

An earth oven – made from clay, a recycled cattle trough and some good old kiwi ingenuity. The oven is fired from wood collected from along the river, and cooks fantastic pizzas

Recycling – TOPEC has been acknowledged for its waste recycling efforts, but has also rebuilt classrooms and cabins with a recycling ethos, and has a goal to be off-the-grid by 2030. For example, an Eco Lodge was constructed from recycled and or sustainable materials and is solar powered and harvests rainwater.

The instigation of an orchard and vegetable garden.

The promotion of the Environmental Care Code, River Care Code and Marine Mammal Protection Code.

Hapu connection, for sharing of local histories and stories of what the land was like, how it was used, and how it is used today to increase an awareness of human impact on the environment.

Creation of an E Hoki Ana Hei Kaitiaki Return to Guardianship project, involving planting native plants to encourage wildlife and birds, and to provide better shelter for awa wildlife around the Meeting of the Waters section of the Waiwhakaiho River. Pest Control started with possum and rat trapping at the Araheke Reserve, but now includes agreements with DOC, NPDC and hapu and iwi to look after 135 hectares of invaluable natural heritage.

The Project also involves WITT Construction students learning passive-build skills while working on a prototype solar-powered Eco Classroom which will be transported to TOPEC mid-2023. A composting toilet block, tunnel greenhouse and recycled shipping container shelter are also part of the project which will provide access to a wealth of ecological initiatives for students to join or create themselves.

TOPEC believes in community. Aside from catering for school and youth, its community recreation offerings include Adventure Bites, where locals, business, visitor, and conference guests can enjoy adventurous activities, accommodation, and team-building activities. With cabin accommodation for up to 100, separate staff / leader quarters, a commercial kitchen and main lodge, TOPEC can cater for large and small groups. The outdoor centre is divided into two sections for flexibility and to cater for more than one booking, and contains two modern learning environment classrooms, a superb tailrace controlled waterway and high and low ropes course nestled amongst mature Totara trees.

The TOPEC location, facilities, specialist equipment and passionate staff allow the outdoor centre to provide experiences that exceed expectations, and make TOPEC a hub of education and recreation excellence in Taranaki.