26 Feb 2021

A coast to coast adventure for at-risk youth

From Country Life, 9:40 pm on 26 February 2021

Each year a group of college students set off to travel from the West Coast of the South Island through the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean on the east.

They're a special group. Some have been referred by the courts. Some have been in trouble. Some are encouraged to apply through their schools. Almost all are considered "at-risk" in some way.

They are part of a special annual trip organised by Christchurch's 180 Degrees Trust to help students.

It is a gruelling, challenging, character-building adventure for the teenagers that starts at a beach near Kumara Junction on the West Coast and ends at Brighton Beach in Christchurch six days later.

The group must cycle, hike and paddle their way in groups from west to the east, and stay in communal huts, cooking dinner, chatting and singing songs; all under the supervision of trained outdoors experts.

As Country Life producer Cosmo Kentish-Barnes and visual journalist Nate McKinnon discovered; these students have to come a long way, much further than the 243km trip across New Zealand.

Alysha, 16, was among the group. She was not looking forward to the trip when RNZ's Country Life caught up with her as the group prepared to ship out.

But after a few days of biking and hiking, as well as nights in the huts along the ways, she is changing.

"Honestly, I didn't want to come," she told Country Life.

"But now I am I don't want to leave."

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Photo: supplied

Logan, 16, is similar. "I thought it'd be boring. But I loved it."

He was revelling in learning how to work with people he didn't know in groups, getting away from his phone and messaging.

Country Life interviewed the students but has agreed to identify them only by a first name to help protect their privacy.

The group becomes happier, more in-tune - even if more tired - as the days unfold.

The purpose is develop new skills; some may be physical ones like riding a bike or paddling a canoe. But others are emotional and mental like goal-setting, discipline and respect.

By the end, they are looking forward to seeing their parents again and getting home. One told Country Life he was sore and just wanted to sleep on a pillow again. But they are also all proud of their achievements.

Their families gather on Brighton Beach as the teams arrive.

Kim, whose daughter Alysha was also on the trail, says she hopes she will learn to trust herself. "She sometimes doubts herself, but she is really amazing. And she needs to know that. She has come so far."

And Logan's carer, John, says he is so proud of young people who set out to overcome challenges.

Jeremy Nurse is a managing trustee of 180 Degrees. He has been a farmer and served on local boards and committees including Kaikōura Pest Destruction Board and Marlborough High Country Federated Farmers. Now he works to assist young people.

He's been overseeing the event since it first took place in 2008.

He says he still gets emotional as each wave of young people completes the Traverse.

"I can hardly speak at the end. I am always so proud of what they have achieved.

"What we have is success stories. Sometimes it is immediate. Sometimes someone years later will bowl up and ask if you remember them and I do; they may have a family, a job and they are a success."