A career where you’re not bound to a desk, leading expeditions to places full of adventure, surrounded by stunning scenery. While it might sound like something from a storybook, this is a reality for many professional outdoor instructors.

We are a nation of explorers. And we’re not the only ones. Each year, thousands of people come to New Zealand seeking adventure and discovery. Our outdoors sector is an important contributor to tourism and the economy, as well as a pillar of our national identity.

We are the home of world-renowned mountaineers and adventurers such as Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Peter Blake and, more recently, people like four-time World Adventure Racing Champion Nathan Fa’avae.

These people are champions of the outdoors, but what does it take for someone who is just starting out?

A passion for the outdoors is something that comes naturally for many. However, the skills to tackle adventures like mountain climbing, caving and extreme river crossings aren’t always common knowledge, and often a journey requires more than common sense.

Likewise, a thriving outdoors sector relies on a great deal more than breath-taking and varied landscapes. We need to ensure the quality of the experiences on offer is high, so those taking part are having fun, staying safe and learning something.


Canyoning Instruction, New Zealand Canyoning School

The knowledge of how to approach extreme situations is developed by experts in their fields, over many years. It’s then reviewed, refined and delivered as a coherent qualification by organisations like the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association (NZOIA).

People with a love of outdoor adventure who want to turn it into something more should consider a career as a professional outdoor instructor. An NZOIA Leader qualification is a start point in developing recognised skills to lead experiences in the outdoors and teach others the amazing skills needed for rock climbing, cave expeditions, kayaking through rapids, canyoning or ice climbing, amongst other grand adventures.

There are many pathways to a career in the outdoors. Here are some steps you can take to get the skills you need to ‘live the dream’ and become an outdoor guide or instructor:

Step 1 – Get outdoors

Make sure you get outdoors to build your skills whenever you can. Whether this means informal outings with family and friends or experiences led by local clubs and volunteer organisations, spending time in the outdoors can only be good for your skills.

Step 2 – Get qualified

From half-day skills sessions to National Certificates and Diplomas, there are training courses that can give you what you need to thrive in the outdoors and cope in the toughest situations. While many take the polytech path to get the necessary outdoor skills, others can achieve accreditation based on club or volunteer experience.

Step 3 – Learn to lead

Once you’ve mastered the skills required in an outdoor environment, learn to lead others through qualifications like NZOIA’s Leader level.

Step 4 – Reach the pinnacle

Once you’ve got the skills to lead and instruct groups in the outdoors, there’s a world of opportunity out there. New Zealand’s outdoor instructors are known the world over for their skills and experience, and work on projects from exploring undiscovered cave systems and leading polar adventures to building the skills of the next generation.

As your skills increase, higher levels of NZOIA qualifications provide assurance to prospective employers. NZOIA’s website provides information to members on outdoor instruction and guiding jobs throughout New Zealand, Australia, and further afield in locations, such as Hong Kong and North America.

This guest post was written by Gillian Wratt. Gillian is the Chair of the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association. She is a former New Zealand white water kayaking representative, Antarctic expedition guide, and former head of New Zealand’s Antarctic programme.

 NZOIA offers NZQA aligned, WorkSafe recognised outdoor industry qualifications for leaders and instructors of outdoor experiences. See www.nzoia.org.nz for more information.

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