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Long Drogs and Hard Knocks: Celebrating 50 years of camping

Adventure, laughter, danger, romance and intrigue all grace the pages of the Branches Charitable Trust’s greatly-anticipated anniversary book, celebrating 50 years of Wakatipu High School Branches Camp memories.

Long Drops and Hard Knocks will be launched at a function in Queenstown on November 21 with all proceeds helping to fund the ever-increasing costs of running this highly-prized, character-building Year 10 rite of passage into adulthood.

From the conservative style of the first ever camp in 1967 through to the ‘70’s Wild Child’, the ‘Naughty Noughties’ (2000s) and today’s ‘Screenagers’ (2010 onwards), Long Drops and Hard Knocks is packed with hilarious stories and moving memories from 50 years of camp graduates, teachers and Branches Station farming families. The book also pays tribute to two very special graduates who passed away way too soon.

It all started in 1967 when Queenstown science teacher Ian Daniel marched 19 students into the beautiful, but remote Branches Station, some 50km from Queenstown to study ecology, biology and geology. During the past 50 years that camp has become a life-changing, personal journey of discovery for junior students about to step into a wider world.
The focus is now on outdoor adventure and it’s about as far from normal civilisation and cellphones as any teenager can go and still survive.
Clear, flowing rivers pass through towering mountain ranges at the 33,000ha (81,500 acre) station which sprawls beyond the notorious Skippers Canyon Road.

Hundreds of youngsters from Wakatipu High School have undertaken this unbroken, relentless two-week camp under canvas, fending for themselves, with few facilities, far from family and with little contact from the outside world. Tough physical, mental and emotional challenges are thrust their way, but they emerge as heroes, victorious, the challenges met and overcome, unique common bonds created that are shared for life. It’s their last ‘hurrah’ of freedom before the onslaught of serious, hard-core senior NCEA school exams.

Now in its 52nd year, it’s believed to be one of the longest-running school outdoor adventure camps of its kind in the country.

With rapidly growing school rolls and escalating costs, the trust is hoping Long Drops and Hard Knocks, written by Queenstown author Sue Fea, will be well supported by Branches Camp graduates from all over New Zealand and around the world.

Trust chairperson Louise Ward says the camp now costs just over $100,000 annually, up from $88,000 in 2016. The trust was formed in 2009 to subsidise the camp. It contributed $40,000 towards the 2017 camp ensuring that parents only had to pay $350 per student. “We also now have to pay experienced qualified tramping, rafting and kayaking guides,” says Louise.

“We’ve had such an amazing response from graduates who dug deep into their home archives and garages to contribute incredible photos, so this is a very colourful account of Branches Camp history,” she says.

Long Drops and Hard Knocks will be on sale for $59.95 from November 21 at:

Wakatipu High School office
Summerfield’s Pharmacy, Frankton
Brandland, Five Mile
Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown
Remarkables Market
Online via: and the Branches Trust Facebook Page

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