Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre

The Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre is a nature based education space where the cultural and creative connection to the land, sustainable use of resources and the restoration of ecology and biodiversity management can be taught through using the outdoor environment as a context for learning. Our main sponsor is the Air New Zealand Environment Trust and the project involves partnerships and collaboration between a variety of different organisations including the HBRC, DOC and in particular Ngāti Pārau. Our aim is to grow future generations of New Zealanders who understand the impact of their actions and inactions on creating a healthy and sustainable future for us all. Within the rich context of the natural world, te taiao, we are working to support learning with community groups and across all sectors from early years through primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

What is the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre?

‘Imagine growing generations of New Zealanders who understand environmental issues and actively contribute to a healthy sustainable future for us all’

-Environmental Education for Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan 2017-2021 (Dept of Conservation 2017)

A focus on the future, including sustainability, is not only a core principle in the NZ School Curriculum, but also aligns with the overarching aim of this new Outdoor Learning Centre. Activities at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre provide a range of opportunities for learners to; connect with nature so that they can understand the impact of their actions or inactions on the environment, and benefit society through their positive attitudes and behaviours.

With generous funding from the Air New Zealand Environment Trust, we have established this community centred Learning in Nature space as a collaboration between the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), Ngāti Pārau (the mana whenua), Department of Conservation, Predator Free Hawke’s Bay, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, EnviroSchools and others.   Our mission is to develop connections, positive attitudes and future behaviours through enabling and promoting learning across the curriculum and between disciplines, in an environmental context. The Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre, is a unique regional facility, providing different user groups with the opportunity for to immerse themselves in nature whilst they are developing their knowledge and capabilities.

The Centre has a particular role in developing the skills and confidence of our trainee Primary and Early Childhood degree student teachers, as well as providing professional development for teachers wishing to use nature as a context for learning.  In addition, EIT students across a range of programmes now have part of their curriculum delivered outdoors, and the Centre is increasingly utilised by local community groups, schools and local hapū.

Connecting our communities through learning in nature is a vision driven by the community, for the community. Whilst the project’s roots are embedded at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre, it’s potential reach extends far beyond the boundaries of EIT.  Working collaboratively, we aim to promote nature literacy across the New Zealand education curriculum, for the benefit of all.  

In 2020 Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre was a finalist in the prestigious Green Gown Awards and in November 2021 the Centre won a Green Gown Award in the International category, Benefitting Society. This award is an acknowledgement that the ŌOLC and the wider learning in nature project, promotes values of sustainability in Aotearoa/NZ, enhancing the lives of individuals by connecting them with nature, cultural heritage and the community through the landscape and curriculum.

The Awards, run by the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS), are open to all Australasian Tertiary institutions and were established in 2004 to recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken within the sector.  


Resources for Schools

Please explore our virtual Outdoor Learning Centre. Check out the Resources Room and download our free resources which are linked to the New Zealand curriculum.

Inspirational Teaching Resources

To celebrate International Outdoor Classroom Day 2021, we’ve collated some of our favourite inspirations for learning and teaching outdoors. Our thanks to the producers of these excellent free resources! Whether you’ve got the ‘end-of-year-frazzle-blues’ or are already planning your programme for 2022, there’s something here for you. Jump in and be inspired!

Why should you invest in the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre

Watch this short video to find out more about our learning in nature project and how you can invest in the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre.

The Ōtātara Gully is Open for Walking

Just before lockdown, we started work to reopen the gully pathway, adjacent to the ŌOLC.  The native trees in the gully were planted by EIT staff and  students around six years ago and last month, students from  the Certificate in Horticulture General Level 3 were able to get involved by laying grass seed. 

Despite the lack of rain in over the last few months the grass grew well and we are now able to enjoy this walk.  A small grass platform for student groups to stand or sit on the ground has been created and longer term, a seating area will be installed for quiet reflection.  The views from the top of the track are truly breath-taking.

Taradale High School Visits

In early April, the first Year 9 Social Science classes from Taradale High School, used our outdoor environment to learn about, and play traditional Māori inspired games. They learnt what life was like in pre-European New Zealand and Chad Tareha also took them on a walk to the Ōtātara Pā. 

Back at school the students created their own Pā from a variety of mixed media, such as papermache, posters and Mindcraft.  We will be working closely with TDHS this year to develop some collaborative pilot workshops and classes.

EIT Candidate Teachers boosted by Blake Inspire experience

Three Candidate Teachers from EIT are excited about the possibilities in environmental education after an intense week of learning and leadership development at the renowned Blake Inspire for Teachers programme.

Talia Hōhua (Tuhoe), Te Kaiirirangi Harmer-Te Ropiha (Ngāti Kahungunu) and Mia van Dulm, who are in the third year of their Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) degree at EIT, became the first Candidate Teachers to attend the week-long course. The programme is normally attended by only qualified teachers.

2021 Green Gown Awards Australasia Winners

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Despite being unable to utilize the ŌOLC as planned during the lockdown, Helen Stewart-Mackenzie facilitated an inspiring and interactive online Science Disciplines class for the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education students.  Our colleagues from DOC/Predator Free HB, Megan McBride and Robyn McCool, worked hard to develop a Padlet, which is an online tool based on collaboration.  A Padlet can include photos, videos, weblinks and enable students to comment.  This interactive tool focused on engaging EIT students to consider and share ways that children can find examples of chemistry, physics and biology in nature and support study outside rather than relying on inside classroom teaching. 

This was a great example of innovative teaching using nature as the context for learning.


Members of our community, EIT staff and students have begun in earnest to revitalise the pā harakeke at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre.  There are two important plantings at the site.  The harakeke on the upper level were planted by those who were at the weaving roopu in the original stables when the Community Arts Centre was based on site.  The second planting, was one of ten locations of a nationwide harakeke evaluation trial that Manaaki Whenua carried out in the 1990s.  Three plants of 12 named harakeke varieties from the Orchiston Collection were grown at each of the 10 sites. The cultivars were: Ngaro, Ate, Parekoretawa, Paretaniwha,  Arawa, Paoa, Māeneene, Kōhunga, Tapamangu, Tapoto, Hūhiroa, Oue. 

There is a rich history of mahi raranga on this site and what better way to pay homage than to breathe new life into it and promote healthier plants which look their best at all times.  The Harakeke  working group also intends to undertake some research on the plant origins.

If you are keen to get involved with the working group, please contact Puti Nuku pnuku@eit.ac.nz.



Rongoā (Māori medicine) Garden

Have you seen our newly planted Rongoā (Māori medicine) garden at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre?  Rongoā Māori is the traditional healing system of Māori and incorporates the use of plant based remedies.

The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 saw the demise of rongoā Māori because the tōhunga (experts, priests) who administered the rongoā could no longer continue this practice. However, as with many of this countrys’ traditional knowledges such as te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, toi Māori, a resurgence has occurred since the 1970s to revitalise these taonga tuku iho (heirlooms handed down from the ancestors). 

It is therefore an honour for us to be a part of this revitalisation and teaching of Rongoā thanks to an exciting collaboration between staff and students in Te Ūranga Waka, Nursing and Primary Industry.  The garden provides an opportunity to link knowledge with practice for many of our students across campus.  Our Nursing graduates, for example, will come be able to better engage and manage patients who use Rongoā in managing their own health. They will also be able to discuss possible interactions and complementary actions of the plants they are using.  All of our students, staff and visitors  will be able to see, touch and smell the native plants.  An additional project will enable the access to information on how each plant can be used as a natural alternative to modern medicine to alleviate, even cure a range of medical issues.

Are there opportunities to use Rongoā?  If you would like to know more about how you can use the garden please contact The Manager, otataraoutdoorlearningcentre@eit.ac.nz

Improving Mental Health – in Action!

Robyn Gray has worked in various health settings as a nurse for the last 30 years and with 10 years in Primary Health Care roles has also had a lot of experience working with clients in the field. As a relatively new Lecturer she has found enormous satisfaction teaching at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre and recommends that you use the space too.

Robyn says,  “From the moment the students leave to go on their walking journey to the ŌOLC they are transported into the realms of a ‘real community visit’. They are in the moment! This experience enhances their attitudes to holistic health and  positive health promotion begins. There is a connection to the land and history at Ōtātara which lives and breathes around us. The plants and trees become a venue for extended activities and lend themselves to complementary therapies like mindfulness and nature (rongoā), without focusing on just medications, which students are inclined to do, in this field.

I devised a Depression scenario because it is one of the main mental health disorders in New Zealand and I invited an actor to take the role (Kathleen McCrory). This enabled me to assist and prompt as needed during the mental health assessment with the development of the ‘therapeutic relationship.’ It was inclusive and multi- cultural in approach.  The idea was for it to be spontaneous and allow the students to practise assessment and conversational tools they acquired from the text book.  I also discussed props for a ‘real live scene and advised the students they would be knocking on the door of a client’. This kind of spontaneity cannot be found in the classroom and the outdoor environment allows students to see that there are new ways of looking at a person’s health. The holistic way!.”

Feedback from students was positive and Robyn already has other scenarios planned for the ŌOLC.

Book the Centre

To find out more about our Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre and to register your interest, please contact:

The Manager
Email: otataraoutdoorlearningcentre@eit.ac.nz

Environmental Studies

Equip yourself for a role in the exciting and ever-expanding world of environmental management. Develop knowledge and skills in environmental sustainability and how to manage environmental projects in business, community and government.

EIT strengthens team leading sustainability strategy for community

EIT has added two experienced environmental educators to the team leading its sustainability strategy connecting local communities.

Megan McBride and Robyn McCool, who were previously employed by Department of Conservation (DOC) to work on Predator Free Hawke’s Bay (PFHB) education projects, have transferred their knowledge, skills and contacts to EIT.

Māra Kai

In September,  Kumara tubers were laid down undercover in the EIT campus Greenhouse. Tipu will be planted at the site early November to demonstrate a traditional and Sustainable Food Production Practice.  A storage pit is also planned to accommodate the cyclic growing, harvest and storage methods of the Kumara.           

Revegetation Planting

At the beginning of September 2019 the NZ Certificate in Sustainable Primary Production (Level 4) cohort planned and implemented the first stage of revegetating the  bank by the log cabin at the Ōtātara Outdoor Learning Centre.  Some 350 appropriate to site and eco sourced native species are now planted.  As they grow, they will both beautify and contribute to the biodiversity of the region. The students have recorded their work with “Trees that Count” https://www.treesthatcount.co.nz and will continually monitor their planting and record data for course assessment.

Long term weed control will be practiced using sustainable releasing (by hand and solely around the base of each tree) and maintained by future EIT Horticulture students.