ŌCHT staffer Keith tells us about a course that changed his life.
The goat sniffed the air as it wandered slowly through the deep greens and browns of the leaf-strewn forest above Queen Charlotte Sound.
It would run from the scent of danger but with the wind at its back, the goat sensed nothing more than the familiar smell of coastal native bush.
A stream ran through this part of the forest. It was the ideal place for a wandering goat to take a quick drink. It was also an ideal place for a camp site.
Keith was sitting quietly in the bush when he heard the goat crashing its way toward his bivy. He sat silent and still as the goat came ever closer.
The black and ginger goat sensed nothing as it passed 3-4m from where Keith sat. Motionless, Keith watched as it picked its way in front of him.
Suddenly, the goat stopped. It was downwind of Keith and could smell it was not alone. It leaped into a run and bolted to safety, 10m into the bush.
It stopped and looked around, sniffing the air as it did. Keith was no threat, but it still felt too close to danger. It ran into the bush, for good.
Keith was left alone with his thoughts – something he’d been encouraged to embrace during his two days and three nights camped by the stream.
He was there as part of the 21 day Outward Bound Masters’ Course, one of 10 people in his group challenged to enjoy the solitude of the bush.
One by one, each member of Hillary Watch was dropped at a camp site 200m from the next. The challenge started immediately: they set up their shelters in the dark
Keith’s bivy was a grey tarpaulin he’d strung between trees. He had three carrots, three apples, three flapjack biscuits and some scrogin to see him through.
The members of the Watch were told to stay within 20 paces of their campsites. They were to stay put, listen to their senses and the forest around them, and think.
“You don’t really just do nothing, even when you are on holiday you are always thinking about what has to be done, what you need to do next,” Keith says.
“In the bush, at the campsite, you didn’t have to worry about anything like that. You had all that time to just be in the moment, and think about stuff.”
Surrounded by the sounds of the forest, Keith “went all philosophical” and thought about whether he could kill such a beautiful animal for meat.
He decided he could if his life or that of his family depended on it, but not if there were other options. If there were other options, should he eat meat at all?
His musings became a gift for the rest of the Watch, written and read to them to show how what he learned about himself during his time in the bush.
It would also provide the impetus to try a meat free diet when Keith emerged from the bush and returned to life and work in Christchurch.
Keith returned a few weeks ago, but he says he arrived with a new outlook on life. He now abides by the course mantra “there’s more in you”.
“My attitude is that the glass is always half full now, and I don’t think it would’ve been before I went away,” he says.
“And you have to try things, and even fail, to get better, because if you don’t try you don’t get anywhere.”
The course was as challenging as it was full-on.
It started on the boat ride from Picton to Thompson Bay, when the participants were told they needed to prepare their own song for the powhiri they’d arrive to.
They were grouped into Watches when they arrived at Anakiwa. Keith’s Watch of seven women and three men would spend nearly every moment of every day together.
The days were as jam-packed as they were challenging.
The Watches rose at 6am and were on their 3.2km run by 6.20am. They’d run a half marathon on the Queen Charlotte Track the day before they’d leave the course.
They went tramping, including off-track hikes with compasses and maps, and they spent three days at sea sailing – and rowing – a 10m-long cutter to and from Motuara Island.
They kayaked the Pelorus River, they went rock climbing and they went through a high ropes course. They also performed track maintenance on a local community track.
“After each activity, we went back as a group and talked about it and what we got out of it.
“We were really encouraged to think about what we achieved and what it meant for us.
“It was all facilitated by really skilled instructors, they got a lot out of us.”
Outward Bound was on Keith’s must-do list for a while before his employer, Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust, supported him on to the course.
As a teenager, he’d watch Outward Bound participants slogging on trails and climbing rocks from the comfort of his family bach at Anakiwa.
His parents sold their bach 20 years ago. Keith says it was amazing to return to a place he loved to meet new challenges and learn more about himself.
“It’s just been super cool to go back and do the course, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
“If anyone is thinking about it I’d say go for it – you’ll find there’s absolutely more in you than you’d think.”