Students join explorers at conference

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern officially opened the inaugural Explorer Conference. Photos Jo Scott (Great Scott)

The Antarctic Heritage Trust was joined by the Prime Minister and some high-profile Kiwi explorers recently at their inaugural Explorer Conference.

Just under 100 students from nine east and south Auckland high schools attended the conference.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern officially opened the conference telling the students Sir Ernest Shackleton was her childhood hero and urging them not to let a lack of confidence hold them back.

William Pike, who lost his leg in a Mount Ruapehu eruption, delivered a keynote speech. William climbed Mount Scott in Antarctica as part of the Trust’s Inspiring Explorers Expedition in 2017.

“My message is to step outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid, have the confidence to know that new experiences will make your stronger – don’t let anything hold you back,” he told the students.

After William’s speech, the Year 12 students broke into workshops led by nine alumni, each of whom has been part of the Trust’s Inspiring Explorers youth programme. 

In the afternoon, the students headed to Wero Whitewater Park to embrace the unknown with raft building, river rapid rafting, kayaking and paddle boarding.

For Edgewater College students Hannah King and Yalda Ahmadi, the conference was a day to remember.

“I’ll always remember the Prime Minister saying that you never know what you’re capable of something until you try,” said Hannah.

Yalda says the stories the Inspiring Explorers shared were amazing.

“You don’t often hear stories like that. It made me realise that we can dream big and achieve hard things if we set our minds to it,” said Yalda.

Among the explorer alumni was Brando Yelavich who was the first New Zealander to circumnavigate the country on foot, walking the 8700km coastline. Brando joined the Trust’s expedition to ski across the Greenland ice cap in 2018.

Students at the Explorers Conference tested new skills at the Wero Whitewater Park.

“Through the many different and challenging experiences I’ve had, I’ve learned that achieving your dreams can be as simple as changing your mindset and how you perceive things. I shared some of the times I learned the hard way and urged the students to learn from my mistakes!”

Hollie Woodhouse (who was also the Greenland expedition) and has competed in 200km endurance events in both the Amazon Jungle and the Sahara Desert, was also there leading a workshop session.

“Nine years ago, I was dreaming about some big adventures, but I had no idea how to start. I wrote a simple list of goals and set myself the task of doing one adventure per year – that lit my spark. It may not be big expeditions our students are dreaming about – it could be sport, education or getting their first job. My message is to break the goal into small step and then just take the first step.”

Double Olympian Mike Dawson led a workshop on how to perform under pressure and the positive power of failure. Mike has joined two Inspiring Explorers Expeditions (2019 and 2020) to the Antarctic Peninsula as a mentor.

Leah Stewart wrote a bucket list when she was 16 years old – on it, donating a kidney. She’s done that and a whole lot since (including the Trust’s kayaking expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2019).

She urged the students to engage in their community.

Brando Yelavich was the first New Zealander to circumnavigate the country on foot.

“Making a difference for others can lift your own spirit. I’ve got so much inspiration and satisfaction from giving to others, filling my own cup and creating ripples that fill others’ cups too.”

The conference aims to give the students the confidence to head into the unknown by focusing on curiosity, resilience, leadership, innovation, and teamwork – traits used by Antarctic explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Edmund Hillary and their teams, whose physical legacy the Trust cares for in Antarctica.

Trust general manager operations and communications Francesca Eathorne says that it was exciting to see the Inspiring Explorers’ alumni sharing their stories, leading the Conference with passion and confidence and seeing how they engaged with students, encouraging them throughout the day to embrace their explorer mindset.

Also hosting workshops on the day was the creator of Antarctic Heritage Trust’s new Augmented Reality App Anzac Gallate, social change maker Georgie Archibald, and former Squawk Squad CEO Owain John.