Bound For Adventure - Outward Bound

Bound For Adventure

My Course, Inspirational

For those willing to step outside their comfort zone. Outward Bound offers the unique opportunity to make new friends, connect with the natural world, and possibly even find something in yourself that you never knew was there.

Words by Elisabeth Easther - MiNDFOOD, August 2019

Flying into Blenheim, I have to admit I was nervous. headed for Outward Bound - about to embark on their Wellbeing course in picturesque Anakiwa. While it sounded like an amazing experience, Outward Bound is notoriously challenging. I wondered how I would cope. Would I be strong enough, physically and mentally?

No matter what I thought it would be or what I’d heard or hoped it would be, I would never be able to sum up Outward Bound until I'd finished the course and was sitting on a plane again, eight days later.

At the Interislander Ferry Terminal in Picton, I joined a rather nervous assortment of individuals, most of whom were in their late teens and early twenties. Once my lot had been rounded up and separated from the rest of the herd, we were given our first command: ‘Change into something you can run and swim in’.

Reality Sets In

As we assembled outside, suitably attired - 11 women, one man, three instructors - we all took turns explaining why we had come on this adventure. One woman started crying almost immediately. Ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-fifties, we were a disparate group with one thing in common. We were all at some sort of crossroads. As we handed over our phones - the digital detox would turn out to be one of the course highlights - we said goodbye to the outside world and hello to the unknown.

With our luggage stowed aboard our launch, 35-foot the Kurt Hahn - capable Captain Lou chugged off with all our worldly goods while the remaining instructors, Kevin and Adam, shepherded us towards the part of Picton known as The Snout.

Conversations blossomed, shyly at first, until our stroll became a jog and the chatter petered out. Puffing and panting, I’m not sure how far we ran or for how long - but eventually we came to a bay where Lou was waiting with the launch, our sailing cutter tied up alongside. 

Once aboard, we bombarded our keepers with questions, only to be told that most of our inquiries were 'W.A.S.' questions - as in 'Wait And See'. It's best you don’t expect an itinerary at Outward Bound.

We cruised along the glassy waters of Grove Arm before tying up at Torea Bay - a pretty curving cove surrounded by bush, and home to a couple of sturdy looking buildings. Perhaps the Mindfulness course wasn’t about roughing it? I could only live in hope.

Set with the task of making dinner, only later did it dawn on me that our ‘watch’ – a nautical term for a group or crew with a common period of duty - was learning to navigate the complex machinery of group dynamics.

We were also instructed to string a fly between two trees because – surprise! - that’s where we’d be sleeping. All 12 of us. Cheek by jowl. Nothing but a sheet of canvas between us and the sky.

I knew there would be challenges and deprivations on Outward Bound, but sleeping outdoors - in May, with a dozen strangers - was not a life goal. Happily, dinner was a mouth-watering feast, and that evening we sat inside by a toasty fire, sipping tea and nibbling sweet treats. We were also told everything we needed to know. Nothing more. Nothing less. We’d learn yoga and meditation techniques. We’d work with purpose and compassion. We would deepen our connection with each other, the natural world, and ourselves.

Physical Challenges 

As we turned in, some of the older campers referenced The Waltons - while younger campers queried what 'Goodnight, John-Boy' could possibly mean. Sleeping bags rustled, zippers zipped, and we slowly dropped off to sleep. Fortunately, there was not a snorer among us.

The next morning dawned beautifully still, and we moved in silence to the beach to witness the pinks of sunrise ripple on the glassy water. As far as meditation went, this was pretty Zen. Desperate to ask questions, to know what was next, slowly we learned to accept the bare minimum of information - and, after breakfast, we compliantly boarded our 10-foot sailing cutter. Ordinarily, this is where we’d learn to sail - but, with not a breath of wind to be felt, we tackled rowing instead.

We had a crack at rock climbing. Suited up, harnessed and helmeted, we assembled in front of four ropes secured about five metres above us. In the course of this challenge, we learnt a new four-letter C-word - 'crux'. In climbing parlance, the crux refers to the most dangerous or difficult section of an ascent. 'Crux' became our new curse word.

Looking back, I’m so glad I was one of the first waves to climb because watching subsequent climbers would’ve freaked me out. Admittedly some clambered up confidently, but many were clearly intimidated. Some clung to the cliff face and cried. Others were frozen halfway up, halfway down; and a few just let go and spun helplessly against the cold, hard rock.

But lunch that day was a jolly affair. We had risen to a significant challenge and we'd all made it up and came down triumphant. But instead of letting us bask in boastful glory, just on dusk we were given our marching orders - hike to Davies Bay for an overnight camp.

"We moved in silence to the beach to witness the pinks of sunrise ripple on the glassy water."

In spite of the picturesque nature of our campsite, the night was rough. Several people discovered roots beneath their sleeping mats – arriving in darkness, the flies were pitched in haste. And who knew that paradise ducks are not only nocturnal, they are also querulous and are especially fond of squabbling at night?

Following orders, at 5:45am we rose and hiked to the Grove Arm lookout. In spite of the wretched sleep, to walk in darkness is magical.  There were glow-worms. The light drizzle was not unpleasant and the sound of birds waking was soothing. As we arrived at the viewpoint, the cloud lifted and a rainbow appeared on the distant shore. When the sun finally rose, golden in the east, all thoughts of thirst and fatigue evaporated. Temporarily at least.

At some point, the days merged and blurred. We clung to stately kahikatea on the high ropes course, we abandoned our egos while navigating a maze blindfolded and each morning we clocked faster times on the run. We looked inside ourselves more deeply than we’d ever dared to before, until finally it was time for the challenge we’d all been anticipating with varying levels of trepidation.

Ready For Action

While on Solo, I felt like a kid on a secret mission - a brave camper in the back garden. And there was plenty of time for contemplation. My navel hadn’t been gazed at so thoroughly in years.

When our keepers finally came for us the next afternoon, it transpired we were to row home in a waka ama, managing our paddles in silence. Someone broke the hush to point out two rotund seals sunning themselves on a private jetty. Briefly I envied their blubbery torpor but, having just enjoyed such a concentrated period of indolence, I was ready for action. Interaction too.

On one level, Outward Bound is about gratitude - and I spent a lot of time feeling grateful. Grateful not to have camped in torrential rain. Grateful not to have been savaged by bugs. Grateful for the excellent meals. Grateful to the other 11 members of my watch for being so affable. Once I was home again, I was grateful for my own bed, for loved ones, autonomy, books and coffee.

With my phone returned, I resolved to continue limiting my time online. For a short while, waking at 7am felt like sleeping in. And I was delighted to discover that there was more in me.

I learned that within struggle there is joy - and, without a doubt, we laughed way more than we cried.
Goals Attained

In amongst all the action, there was plenty of time for contemplation, rumination and, once home, percolation. We all set ourselves bold goals. Our leaders supportively pushed us when things became tense, and they also knew when to back off. Possibly this was the most disparate group on a single Outward Bound course but, just as we all had plenty to learn, everyone had something to teach.

At the end of the course, our dishevelled dozen said farewell and thank you. As we received our certificates and lapel pins, Kevin said he always appreciated how Outward Bound gave him faith in the general public, that with each new watch, he witnessed a collection of strangers draw close out of necessity, and that would always be powerful. Tears welled.

Flying home, I still didn’t know how I’d sum up Outward Bound to a seatmate - or a reader. Could I try saying something like - 'It cuts to the very core of who you are'? Or would paraphrasing an oft-repeated phrase do the trick: it’s what the army would be like if it was run by hippies.

But if you really want to know what Outward Bound is like, maybe you could take the plunge and do it yourself. Find out what you’re made of. Chances are, there’s more in you than you realise too.


Elisabeth Easther - Huria 653