Younger days: Branches Camp pioneer Ian Daniel

As Wakatipu High’s Year 10 students prepare for their ‘rite of passage’ camp, Branches Charitable Trust has published 320-page history of it. Philip Chandler into the camp’s origins, 52 years ago, and the role played by camp pioneer Ian Daniel

When 19 Queenstown high school students went on a geography camp to Branches Station in 1967, they couldn’t have known their pioneering role.

That’s because the camp’s since become an iconic rite of passage for Wakatipu High Year 10 and, 52 years on, the subject of a voluminous book, Long Drops and Hard Knocks, that’s being launched next Thursday.

According to the first trip report, “it was felt that an ecostudy of high country fauna and flora, and the study of a high country farm, would stand [the students] in good stead for their fifth form general science and geography courses”.

Interestingly, the then-Queenstown District High School only went to the fifth form, now Year 11.

The week-long camp was directed by science teacher Ian Daniel, who got the idea for the remote location, beyond Skippers Canyon, from a former owner’s brother, Alan Reid, who was guest of honour at the 2010 camp.

Daniel was apparently quite a disciplinarian, but, former students say, a very different character at Branches.

According to ’70s camp-goer Mark Hillary, he “brought what he taught in the classroom alive on the mountain”.

“He was so passionate and enthusiastic about science.”

Another ex-student, Christine Kelly (nee Grant), recalls kids trying not to giggle when he addressed them “with his bushy beard full of lost morsels from his breakfast”.

He’d wake up the camp with his singing, and led devotions.

Though later camps would indulge in more outdoors pursuits, as Queenstown’s own adventure tourism industry took off, he started the tradition of campers heading off to landmark lake, Lochnagar, where they’d take an icy dip.

Carol Monk (nee Bright), who attended the 1969 camp, says “it was so different for our children, who went during the 1980s”.

“We studied birdlife.

“They did abseiling and rafting.”

In-depth history: Branches Charitable Trust chair Louise Ward with the trust’s Branches Camp book which doubles as fundraiser for her trust

However, the book’s author Sue Fea makes it clear that students in those days, when Queenstown’s population was only about 1500, were more used to roughing it in the outdoors.

Typical of those days, there was more segregation between the sexes, Daniel, for example, taking only the boys rabbit shooting.

It was also the boys’ job to dig the long drops and put up the tents.

A theme of the book is how Daniel, and the school, formed close bonds with the station owners, originally Alexa and Lin Herron, then, for 32 years, with Lorraine and Arthur Borrell, and their families.

The camp’s been cancelled only twice – in 1999, after Queenstown’s record flood, and in 1975, when Daniel was unwell.

A big change has been in the financing of the camp.

In the first year, class treasurer, Reid’s son David, began collecting sixpence from each student each week – or five cents, when decimal currency came in that year – more than six months out, which he took to the Post Office to bank.

That $50 or so was for food.

Nowadays the camp, admittedly for about 180 students, costs more than $100,000 to run.

A lot of that’s to employ outdoor instructors, in these more risk-averse days.

Originator: Ian Daniel

Another change is that Daniel – who finished at Wakatipu High School in 1981 – would ban bad-behaving students from going to Branches Camp.

A more recent ex-teacher, Bruce Walker, says the school later started taking errant students.

Those kids weren’t academically motivated, but “they excelled in the slower pace of Branches life where there was no immediate pressure on them”.

“They were treated like an adult – not sitting in rows getting berated for not doing their homework.”

Long Drops and Hard Knocks is for sale for $59.95 from next Thursday from Wakatipu High School’s office, Summerfield’s Pharmacy, Brandland, Lakes District Museum, Remarkables Market and via and Branches Trust’s Facebook page.