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Weather doesn’t stop Irongate kids

That is the thing about weather; it can scuttle the best-laid plans.

But in the case of Irongate School’s camp plans, weather on the west coast of the North Island which blocked the access to their planned destination led to new adventures.

“In the end it was fantastic,” said deputy principal Tony McCann. “The kids saw things most of them had never seen before – including glow worms on a guided blackwater rafting expedition in Waitomo – and had a great cultural night with two French families whose children spoke hardly any English.”

The camp was planned for the end of term four last year. The fundraising effort had been huge, involving the whole community. The pinnacle of those efforts was an art auction with 68 pieces of donated art from noted, emerging and student artists from across the region. All works sold, providing the last of the funding needed to get the 65 year 7 and 8 students and their accompanying adults to Mirumiru Mare in Marokopa, only accessible by barge, about 150km north of New Plymouth.

But the weather had other ideas. A call from a Mirumiru Mare committee member a couple of days before they were due to leave gave Mr McCann the heads-up that the weather did not look good, which would mean the barge trip to the marae was likely to be cancelled for safety reasons.

A scramble found the group accommodation for two nights at Kiwi Holiday Park in Taupo, the only place between the east and west coasts that could take such a large group at short notice. The plan was revamped, with the barge trip postponed to Wednesday, when the weather was due to clear.

Taupo was a huge hit with the kids, said Mr McCann. “They walked to the Huka Falls along the mighty Waikato River, soaked in a thermal stream, played in the Taupo centre park, and spent an afternoon at the AC Baths, where there is a section for ‘bombs’. The boys were in their element.”

The next decision was whether to continue over to the marae for the second half of the week; tricky given that while there was good weather forecast for the Wednesday, it was due to deteriorate again the following two days and they might get stuck on the other side of the Marokopa River.

Mr McCann said the risk was too great, and a decision was made to abandon the plan. “It was about the safety of the children, and not putting the barge operator in the position of having to make a decision to cross he was not 100 per cent happy with.”

And so the crew moved to Waitomo, where Kiwi Paka now had space for them, and most of the group donned wetsuits to go black water rafting.

“It was especially wonderful that while we couldn’t get to Mirumiru, several kaumatua visited us at Kiwi Paka. One of the aims of the trip had been to explore family links between the two coasts. We were enthralled by the stories that they so kindly brought to us.”

One very unexpected pleasure was a friendship that developed between the Irongate students and the children of two French families who were travelling New Zealand. “Our students had enjoyed attempting to communicate with the French families’ children who spoke very little English over a couple of days. The French parents had heard our children singing and asked if it would be possible to hear all of the children singing together. Our students needed little encouragement and several waiata and a rousing haka later our European friends had tears rolling down their cheeks.

“The we were treated with several French folk songs on guitar. What a priceless cultural exchange.”

Mr McCann said that while the trip had not gone as planned, it was worth all of the effort. “And, hopefully, one day a school party from Irongate School will cross the Marokopa River.”


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