Hardwork pays off - Otago Rail Trail Adventure

In May 2019, our Chairman Scott Gilmour was in contact with a potential donor, discussing our kaupapa and various ways in which donors can be involved. One particular donor – Nick White – happens to own a tourism business in the South Island, and put forward an irresistible offer. Nick said he would sponsor a group of Dreamers and Navigators to do the Otago Rail Trail. All I Have a Dream had to do, was to get the Dreamers to and from the South Island, and Nick would take care of the rest. 

It was agreed that a group of Navigator Mo’s Year 11 Dreamers from Tikipunga High School would gain the most out of this incredible experience – being both old enough and strong enough to take on the challenge of four days of biking; but also the trip could be used as an incentive – challenging those to focus on their NCEA and reach for a goal through hard work and teamwork. When discussing how we should select these Dreamers, Mo’s passion for rangatahi/youth came through strongly.

“At present, I have dreamers who are exceeding their markers, dreamers still striving to meet their markers and dreamers still to discover their pathway.  I believe in them and a trip like this would be extremely valuable in different ways, to their growth as individuals. They’re worth it.” Mo said.

With this powerful belief, nine Dreamers, from varied backgrounds were selected. The trip was an insightful and fulfilling adventure for everyone involved. The days were jam-packed and the Dreamers came away a kete full of knowledge and experiences. As Dreamer Samuel said, it was unimaginable what they experienced,

“This was the best trip I’ve been on ever. I never thought I’d be able to do anything like this. It was a great experience full of firsts.” 

As soon as the trip was confirmed, the Dreamers began preparing. A fundraising drive was arranged, fitness had to be addressed and a training regime implemented, gifts for our sponsor had to be crafted and sourced. Some of the gifts included a handmade wooden bowl by Aliz’e, a signed group photo by Davontae, Lyola organised a DreamBoard and two greenstone taonga were sourced by Joby. The Dreamers physical preparation had to be addressed too. Mo set about securing a structured training programme and enlisted the help of David and Nathan Mullan of Whangarei Aquatic Centre. Training consisted of eight sessions of cycle and cardio work, with Mo noting that even the fittest of the group had their ability challenged,

“Nathan worked us all hard and our lungs burned during each session. We felt really proud of one another at the end of every session and from then on, the encouragement and teamwork amongst the group played a crucial role while on the trail.”

But only so much preparation will have you ready for the real deal and come mid-December, it was time for the trip. The Dreamers had completed their first year of NCEA and there was an array of emotions flowing through the group. There was the obvious elation, excitement and happiness, but also present was anxiety, nervousness and even a bit of fear. Over 150kms of bike riding in a new environment with a whole lot of new experiences was ahead of them. 

Each day, the group took on the cycling challenge with a mix of enthusiasm and hesitation. The most difficult day for some was the first – a keen 41.5kms from Clyde to Omakau/Ophir which was mainly uphill and into a very strong headwind. Conditions like this naturally split the group into front, middle and back packs. The front pack were excited to be on the trail and finished each day with ease. The back pack were consistently challenged both physically and mentally. After the first day, one Dreamer went straight to sleep, before any dinner. Dreamer Davontae, found the experience very challenging and completed selected  portions of the trip. But through the support of the rest of the group, Davontae was able to keep going and even surprised himself with his abilities.

“I had never been south of Taupo let alone the south island. This [trip has] made me feel amazing. I’ve learnt I have much more stamina, will power, determination and lower body strength. ” said Davontae.

Aside from the physical challenges, it was the teamwork, camaraderie and leadership skills shown by the Dreamers, which was most impressive. Dreamer Thomas was hugely supportive of everyone whilst cycling and supported anyone who managed to pass him on the track. Another Dreamer, Samuel, was easily cycling in the front pack but after the first day, he chose to stay with the back pack and cycle with Aliz’e, who being new to cycling, was feeling anxious about the whole trip. Samuel provided encouragement and comfort and cycled with Aliz’e for the remainder of the trip. 

The cycling was interspersed with a range of sightseeing activities from the Clyde Dam through to Curling in Naseby, which the group had a blast learning to play. But most notable, was the overnight stay at Studholme College – student accommodation at the University of Otago which has a reputation as being the friendliest; and the following guided tour of the university by Lizzy Lukeman and her team. 

Many of our Dreamers continue to feel that places like Otago University, all the way at the other end of the country, are simply unattainable. This final experience on the trip was an opportunity for our Dreamers to get their first up close and personal look at a university. Suffice to say, the Dreamers minds were blown. The university completely exceeded their expectations and even inspired some Dreamers to return to Whangarei and speak to their whanau about reconsidering their career options.

“I never knew uni would be so interesting [with] so much classes to choose from. My career choice has changed after seeing Otago Uni for the first time. They have a lot of cool things like economics and maori studies.” said Year 11 Dreamer Thomas Becker.

When the trip drew to a close, the group felt the effects of four intense days of cycling but their mood was elated. They felt inspired, hopeful, closer to their peers than before and more certain about who they were and what they could achieve. It is these feelings that I Have a Dream aspire to create in each Dreamer. And it is experiences such as the Otago Rail Trail Bike trip which give us a platform to demonstrate our core values. 

Dreamers on the rooftop of Otago University
Dreamers at the southern hemispheres largest Indoor Curling Rink

I Have a Dream Values and the Otago Rail Trail Bike Trip:

  • Whanaungatanga / Relationships – the trip provided a vessel for dreamers to connect with themselves, peers, the environment and surroundings, educators and sponsors. There was a huge amount of respect shown to our hosts, immense support of one another on the trail as well as keeping one another to task.
  • Tumanako / Hope – the trip provided a bridge from a low-decile school, high-needs community to the other end of the country. Dreamer resilience was being built from the outset – challenging their physical and mental toughness throughout. We’re igniting career aspirations and educational options right from the first flight all the way through to the university visit. 
  • Ako / Learning – the trip provided a space for Dreamers to explore their thinking and allow them to draw conclusions for themselves. Hosts encouraged Dreamer inquiries and we were all there to provide guidance through mistakes. We saw the support of differences and respect of boundaries. 
  • Aroha / Love – the trip allowed camaraderie to develop and flourish while participating in a challenging event and environment. There was an incredible amount of peer support, patience, acceptance and motivation given freely without any expectations. Dreamers felt an enormous sense of achievement and self-worth from completing trail together.
  • Rangatiratanga / Autonomy – the trip provided a platform for Dreamers to be drawn out of their  comfort zone as well as allowing leadership and teamwork skills to shine. Dreamers were encouraged to identify their strengths and weaknesses and write about them. Ultimately we saw Dreamers taking ownership of responses, behaviour and future planning.


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