$100K donation saves Queenstown rite-of-passage

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A Queenstown trust has made a whopping $100,000 donation, guaranteeing the future of Wakatipu High’s iconic annual school camp.

The donation by the Peter Wilding Trust will allow The Branches Charitable Trust to set up a base fund enabling it to continue subsidising the camp at Branches Station.

Branches trustee Gary Healey says his trust is over the moon with the generosity of the Peter Wilding Trust plus its trustee and local lawyer Graeme Todd.

“We can’t say how much we appreciate the help,” Healey says.

“We feel so honoured to play a part in passing on Peter Wilding’s legacy to our community’s youth.”

Wakatipu High’s Year 10 students all attend the camp, held for 12 days at a time in December at the Branches Station in the Upper Shotover Valley.

In what’s regarded as a local rite of passage, students experience outdoor pursuits like rafting, kayaking and abseiling but also learn life skills.

The camp has run for more than 40 years, but has been getting harder to sustain financially with the need to pay outside instructors.

Healey: “It used to be teachers and everybody helped out, but nowadays you’ve got to have professional guides and safety people, otherwise you’d never run the camp.”

Healey credits former school board trustee member and re-elected mayor Vanessa van Uden with the idea of setting up the Branches trust in 2009. 

“We needed to catch it before it fell,” he says.

The camp costs about $20,000 to run each year – students pay $300 each and the trust funds the balance.

Healey, a foundation trustee along with Van Uden, says the Peter Wilding Trust donation will be invested.

“We need more than that to actually get a fund in perpetuity but this is a terrific start.

“Hopefully if we get a large enough sum invested, eventually interest off that will kickstart each year’s fundraising significantly.”

Upcoming fundraising events are the annual Queenstown Hill Challenge on November 9 and a Year 10 student work day on November 15.

Wakatipu High principal Steve Hall calls the donation “the best news”.

“I’m delighted for the Branches trust and for the Branches camp.”

Hall says the camp is “huge for our students and it’s huge for our community”.

“People frequently say that it’s a rite of passage. I think it changes how our senior students are – they‘re more mature, more engaged, more responsible.

“It’s a big part of Wakatipu High and a big reason why relationships between our staff and students are so positive and constructive.”

It’s the second dose of recent good news for the school – two weeks ago Mountain Scene revealed new charitable trust the Wakatipu High School Foundation aims to establish a mega-bucks endowment fund to supplement Government contributions and make it one of the country’s best schools within five years.

The estate of the late Peter Wilding has been a major contributor to the Queenstown Trails Trust and earlier this year helped the trust purchase the Motatapu cycling/running event held each year between Wanaka and Arrowtown.