Ruapehu Schools Planting for Outdoor Classrooms

| By Enviroschools Manawatū Whanganui

The rural location of Raetihi School means that it has quite extensive grounds and they have a paddock next door. The paddock has been planted with a range of trees in the past, but these haven’t been looked after. A stream runs through the property before spreading out into a wetland area and then a pond. The school community saw the potential in this land and the modified waterway.

Cloaking the ground with native plants at Raetihi School.

What if we created a natural outdoor learning space? What if we planted it out and cared for native plants that like living in this area? What could we learn while on this journey? How could we care for it? Who could help us?

The school have been multiyear recipients of the Horizons’ Kanorau Koiora Taketake – Indigenous Biodiversity Community grant which provide funding and advice to community groups who are helping to make this region a healthy environment where people are thriving. With support from the community biodiversity team to prepare the site the mahi started! This included weed removal and preparing the ground for the first lot of planting.


Demonstrating the removal of the planter bags and release of the roots.

Raetihi students listen carefully about how to care for the plants.









The school held their first planting day, supported by their community, with 600 plants carefully put in the ground. Junior and senior students were buddied up so the whole school got involved. Securing more funding has allowed the next phase of planting to start on another area of paddock.

Anding another harakeke.

In addition to the plantings, the school fenced off a path through the area to provide safe access for their cross-country run (previously held on the hills of a neighbouring farm, but no longer suitable because lambing has now become an all-year-round affair).

The stream (in its current state) was the site of another inquiry. Where does it come from, where does it go, and what does healthy wai look like?  The Project Tongariro coordinator for the area will help the students map the space (as part of cultural and environmental monitoring) so they can then further develop the area, in an appropriate way, as a healthy ecosystem in which to learn. Ideas already popping up include creating observation platforms to look into the stream or to be able to sit and draw.


Ten minutes down the road in Ohakune, the primary school are also working on their own outdoor classroom space, but this looks vastly different to the one at Raetihi School. Ohakune Primary School is committed to establishing an Akomanga Ngahere, an outdoor classroom learning forest. Currently their school grounds don’t have many trees, but they are determined to change that.

Before planting at Ohakune.

Planting in fully action at Ohakune.








While they have a splendid Mara Kai, they lack a wooded area where students can congregate and explore the significance of their native ngahere. The vision is to create a special place where classes can embark on explorative and adventurous activities in a natural space regardless of the weather. These activities could include den-building, observations, art projects, designing mazes, constructing bug hotels, and climbing trees. This would complement integrated curriculum inquiry studies encompassing reading, writing, maths, science, and more.

Enviroschools teacher Suzi Couch said, “We wanted to do an outdoor classroom to increase biodiversity and give easy access to the whole school to the bush and learn more. It is still hard to get out of school grounds, we have the start of bush there and we wanted to add to it’.

Planting just right.

Careful placement.








Ohakune Primary School held a planting day in May 2024 with strong support from their local community. The day was opened by people from Ngāti Rangi’s environmental arm, Ruapehu WorX, who blessed the planting day and talked about their deep connection with ngahere.

The special woollen tree guards placed over the plant and mats laid.

Carina who owns a native plant nursery, from where the plants were purchased, came along and laid the plants out, spaced out correctly and ready for planting. Rita, who runs a nearby sheep farm and who has formed a startup business called SustainaGrow producing wool mulch mats and tree guards, gave the students a rundown of how to plant like a ninja!

When asked where this project idea came from, Envirogroup leaders Indi and Clair said that they ‘felt that we needed more trees in the school and make the outdoors better for other students to come and enjoy Ohakune Primary school. Plants are going to brighten up the school and it will be a place for some kids to relax a bit and need a connection with the ngahere.’



Clair says, “We want more bugs and birds into the school, and we’d like to see maybe a little path through the trees, maybe a little bench as well”.