Rangatahi (young people) are being given the chance to explore Mount Taranaki through a new wellness project that aims to increase their connection to the mountain. Taranaki Mounga is considering how to best support the pilot health project which is a joint venture between local health provider Tui Ora and Department of Conservation (DOC).

The project is boosting 10-12-year-olds self-worth which is crucial to communities, says Devon Intermediate Principal Jenny Gellen. “It’s an awakening as the kids don’t realise their potential and now they’re learning,” says Mrs Gellen.

Being taken on field trips made the pupils feel important. “They come back really excited and enthusiastic. They know it’s OK to express yourself as that’s all part of developing a holistic child.” Jenny hopes the project will expand in the future so more schools can benefit. “The partnership is really beneficial to everyone – it’s a win win all the way.”

So far 18 children have been on day trips around Egmont National Park to Dawson Falls and Hangatahua (Stony) River. Tui Ora partnered with two New Plymouth schools to identify children who would benefit from connecting with nature, says Project Manager Hinenui Wano-Bryant.

“We look at different aspects of health and merging it with the Mounga. It’s different to the other services we provide as we use the natural environment as a way of challenging and inspiring the young people – in a way connecting to the outdoors transforms their lives,” says Hinenui.

Highlights were seeing some of the rangatahi experience snow for the first time while staying at the Manganui Lodge where they got to learn survival techniques for the alpine environment. “They thought snow would be soft and powdery when it was more like ice.”

The rangatahi were looking forward to doing the Pouakai Crossing next month and returning to Manganui Lodge to stay with their whanau. There is a need for programmes for this age group as services are finding it hard to meet the demand, Hinenui says.

The programme is being evaluated by researchers from the Health Promotion Agency but initial feedback is positive, says DOC Partnership Ranger Jane Dobson. “While the project is in the early stages, it’s had overwhelming feedback and support. People have helped us to improve the focus which is centred on the child and whanau,” says Jane.

“Taranaki Mounga is looking at ways to give people better access to nature in the region and the Tui Ora programme, which has been co-designed with the kids, is a great example of how this can be achieved,” says Taranaki Mounga director Jan Hania. “The benefits to people’s health and well being from being involved in outdoor activity are well known, and we’d like to involve as many people as possible.”