Notes from a journey to planet Outward Bound

Department of Conservation —  21/10/2016

DOC offers Outward Bound course scholarships to say thanks to the young people protecting our nature and our natural places.

Natalie de Burgh was a previous scholarship recipient, she shares her experience.


Outward Bound was not what I expected. I don’t think it’s what anyone expects when they sign up. To describe it as existing in its own dimension, or planet, or its own world would not be stretching reality. The combination of a new place, people and routine with no communication to the outside world completely shifts any ‘normal life’ perspectives.

Nikau the kākā at Cape Sanctuary.

Nikau the kākā at Cape Sanctuary

I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship nominated by the Department of Conservation to attend Outward Bound’s Classic Course. I have recently completed my Bachelor of Science in Ecology from the University of Auckland. During and after my studies I volunteered for several conservation projects including hihi supplementary feeding on Tiritiri Matangi, weeding on Motutapu Island, the Sir Peter Blake Trust’s conservation ambassadorship program to Kahurangi National Park and the Hamish Saunders Memorial Trust’s research expedition to Sloping Island.

On the first day of Outward Bound I met Shackleton watch – the twelve people I was to spend the next three weeks with. We would like to think that Shackleton 619 watch will be remembered for being a particularly ‘high functioning’ watch, the strongest team on this adventure, one big happy family and self-proclaimed number one watch to instructors Kristy and Gilby. In reality what we (and our trusted instructors) will probably be remembered for is beaching the boat, breaking said boat, beaching the truck and kidnapping a dog from outside its front gate.

Shackleton 619 watch on the ferry from Anakiwa back to Picton.

Shackleton 619 watch on the ferry from Anakiwa back to Picton

Deep water and I don’t really go together very well. Even jumping off a jetty in close proximity to a shoreline is a ‘no go’ zone for me (a zone that was visited far more frequently than was kosher during my time at Outward Bound). So on the third day of sailing by which point I worked out the boat was (probably) not going to capsize, I was surprised to discover I actually enjoyed it. That is until I got wet and cold and really needed to pee.

The first day of our sailing expedition was more of a rowing than sailing expedition with no wind to speak of.

The first day of our sailing expedition was more of a rowing than sailing expedition with no wind to speak of

The last day of our sailing expedition was the complete opposite of the first: it was marginal whether we would be able to even sail the winds were so strong. We managed to get the sail up and picked up some serious speed, the cutter heeling at such an angle the water was almost coming in the oar holes. At the front of the boat on the jib team we were soon soaked by the spray thrown over the front of the bow. I’m not sure how it came about but the person (me) who doesn’t like deep water was the same person that held the jib sail out each time we tacked to ensure we held enough speed while manoeuvring. A job that involved leaning over the edge as far as possible, and so when the cutter was heeling my face was merely inches from the water. This job soon escalated to three persons the wind was so strong. Then we were hit by a willy whorl – a small water tornado that whipped across the water. All we could do was ‘let fly’, letting go of the mainsail and gib ropes and leave the two sails to flap in the wind so we didn’t capsize. The fourth whorl was so violent, the pulley for the jib rope snapped. Needless to say we were towed back to Anakiwa.

We were all too busy and wet to get any cameras out on the last day of sailing – this was the only picture I could find of the sail up! Thanks Grayson for the awesome selfie.

We were all too busy and wet to get any cameras out on the last day of sailing – this was the only picture I could find of the sail up! Thanks Grayson for the awesome selfie

By the end of three weeks, it felt like I had been at Outward Bound forever and also no time at all. Surprisingly we hadn’t even reached the ferry before Pokemon Go was downloaded and Facebook checked. It turns out the world had carried on without us but I’m not sure anyone was particularly keen on going back to ‘ordinary’ life.

Whitewater kayaking Wakamarina Valley, Canvastown.

Whitewater kayaking Wakamarina Valley, Canvastown

I have often been asked what has changed in my life since returning from Outward Bound. I have heard stories of people quitting their jobs, selling homes and radically changing their lives after Outward Bound… but I haven’t done any of that. It’s probably because I know my adventures are still to come, Outward Bound has simply set me up for them.

Stopped for lunch, Richmond Forest Park.

Stopped for lunch, Richmond Forest Park


The Outward Bound scholarship offers a development opportunity for our future conservation leaders. It will help them to make life choices with confidence. Find out more about the scholarship on the DOC website.

One response to Notes from a journey to planet Outward Bound

  1. 

    Outward Bound sounds like a fantastic opportunity, I would love to send my kids to this. We love the outdoors, especially, snorkeling and diving.