Pupils at Hamilton's Hillcrest Normal School will soon be heading outdoors to experience one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks after winning the Virtual Great Walker competition run by the Department of Conservation with support from Air New Zealand.
The year six students from Hillcrest Normal School's Room Seven walked the equivalent of more than half a Great Walk together during Term One, while learning about the Great Walks and their importance to New Zealand. In doing so, they beat out 152 other entries from schools and community groups around the country.
The competition aimed to inspire primary and intermediate school children to learn about our native species and natural environment as they walked together to clock up the kilometres weekly. Groups were asked to explore their school grounds, local neighbourhood, reserves and tracks until they had walked at least half the total distance of a Great Walk of their choice.
The students were also required to collaborate on a creative presentation to demonstrate what they'd learned along the way.
The judges praised Hillcrest Normal School's unique approach which saw them create a website about Lake Waikaremoana which they chose as it is in their own backyard. The class detailed their walking progress each week and their reflections on their experience which saw them clock up an impressive 32.8 kilometres walking as a group.
The lucky class will travel further afield to redeem their prize during Conservation Week in November. Air New Zealand, which sponsors the Great Walks, will fly the 32 students, along with teachers and guardians, to Nelson where DOC will treat them to a tailor-made Great Walks experience on the world-renowned Abel Tasman Coast Track.
DOC Outreach and Education Manager Sarah Murray says: "The competition has been a real success with an enormous amount of effort put into videos, posters, websites and scrapbooks by children around the country. It's heartening to see conservation being incorporated into the curriculum in this way and the impact it's had on Kiwi kids and we hope as a result more families will consider getting out and experiencing a Great Walk for themselves.
"It's also great to see that Hillcrest is part of the Enviroschools Programme, so has really taken the message of conservation and sustainability onboard," says Ms Murray.
Hillcrest Normal School's Room Seven teacher Stacey Vowles says the class is very excited at the prospect of experiencing a Great Walk.
"The Virtual Great Walker was an amazing competition that excited the kids. It gave us a purpose to go outside and learn more about the living world around us. The kids learnt to appreciate their community and notice things they wouldn't normally. It was also special to get families involved in our learning journey. Over half of the class haven't been to the South Island before and a third have never been on a plane so they are all incredibly excited about their upcoming trip as you can imagine," says Ms Vowles.
Air New Zealand Head of Sponsorship and Communities Meghan Blair says as one of New Zealand's largest tourism operators, helping to protect New Zealand's natural environment is a key focus for the airline.
"We work with DOC in various ways including supporting four key biodiversity projects taking place on the Great Walks, promoting the Great Walks and Coastal Gems networks and helping to transport endangered species.
"Education is another very important aspect of preserving New Zealand's natural assets for the future and it's been fantastic to see thousands of Kiwi kids getting outdoors and learning about the environment as part of this competition. We're incredibly excited to be able to support this winning class with an experience to one of New Zealand's most spectacular areas to visit," says Ms Blair.