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Transforming educational experience at Tihoi Venture School

Before attending Tihoi Venture School, 14-year-old Jackson Hay was apprehensive about spending 18 weeks away from home. He had never lived away from his family, didn’t know his roommates, and had never used a potbelly stove for cooking.
 |  The Informer  | 

Area view of Tihoi, left, a wonderful place of adventure and challenge.

As the first day unfolded, Jackson was assigned a cabin and met his roommates, easing his initial apprehension. He made his bed, unpacked his gear, decorated his cubicle with family photos, and explored the campus. He was about to embark on a unique educational experience at St Paul’s Collegiate School Tihoi Campus.

The Tihoi Camp is an integral part of the educational journey for all Year 10 students at St Paul’s. For 45 years, Year 10 boys have spent two terms at the specialised camp, participating in a programme focused on fostering independence, self-esteem, and a love for the outdoors.

Jackson’s cabin was one of nine, featuring the bare essentials with concrete floors, chipboard tables, and a potbelly stove. The luxuries included a toaster and an electric frying pan. The boys quickly learned to do their laundry, cook meals, chop wood for the fire, and complete other camp tasks.

The students’ weeks were split between academic studies, held four days a week, and outdoor activities, which filled the remaining days. This balance of learning appealed to Jackson. “Outside learning was better for me. Even on the days we were inside, we had just three periods, and I looked forward to spending the rest of the time outside,” he said.

A significant component of the programme was the fitness challenge. By the end of his time at Tihoi, Jackson had completed two half-marathons, which he said, “was my greatest accomplishment.”

Jackson and his roommates had to cook dinner for the eight of them in the house. Feeding 72 hungry boys each day took some organising by the chef. The boys received a hearty lunch to give them the energy they needed for the outdoors.

“The food was amazing, like a restaurant.” The boys were not allowed to bring any sugary products or drinks (called contraband) from home, so they relished the opportunities to bake and enjoy desserts.

Leaving behind confectionery was just the start. The boys also went device and gaming-free.

“We left behind our phones and Xboxes but soon found better things to do. When I came home, I wasn’t as interested in those things anymore.”

Jackson experienced significant personal growth during his time at Tihoi. “I made friends with boys I would never have met at school. The experience helped me mature and become more motivated. I learned to get along with others and gained confidence in the bush.” His most memorable moments were the solo times in the bush, starting with a six-hour solo, progressing to a 20-hour, and culminating in a 44-hour solo. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ll never get a time like that again.” Jackson also enjoyed completing courses in rock climbing, abseiling, caving, tramping, and kayaking.

Towards the end of his stay, Jackson participated in a two-day tramp with his parents, where he demonstrated his skills by managing the fire, cooking, and ensuring their safety in the bush.

“I was proud to show them what I had learned.”

By the time it was Jackson’s turn to pack up his gear and head home to Hamilton, he found it hard to say goodbye to the friendships and the comfort of his cabin.

“The bonds we formed and the joy of our shared adventures were hard to leave behind.”

This sentiment was echoed during the emotional graduation ceremony, where boys shared their journal entries and celebrated each other’s achievements, marking the end of an unforgettable journey.

Jackson is now in Year 11 at St Paul’s Collegiate School and feels a little envious as he sees the current Year 10s prepare to leave for their adventure. “I would do it all again if I could. I would even stay for a year. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had to go.”

Rock climbing at Tihoi

Jackson Working on the firewood.

About Tihoi Venture School

St Paul’s Collegiate Tihoi Venture School is the only school of its kind in New Zealand. It is located 30 minutes west of Taupo, adjacent to the Pureora Forest on the site of the Old Tihoi Mill.

The school has been operating since 1979 and has hosted more than 4,000 boys in its 18-week programme. This transformative experience fosters independence, resilience, and a deep connection to the outdoors. It’s an opportunity for students to grow in ways they never imagined, making memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. St Paul’s currently has spaces for 2025 Year 9 boarding students who will experience Tihoi in 2026. Enrol at St Paul’s to give your child this incredible opportunity.

St Paul’s Collegiate School – Hamilton, 77 Hukanui Road, Hamilton. Phone 07 957 8889. Enquiries Nerroly Hay,