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Outdoor Recreation Guide/​Instructor

Kaiārahi o Waho/​Kaiwhakaako o Waho

Alternative titles for this job

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors teach or guide outdoor activities such as rafting, kayaking, canyoning, skiing, hunting, climbing, caving and mountain biking.

Pay

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors usually earn

$34K-$58K per year

Source: Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an outdoor recreation guide or instructor are average as jobs are often seasonal.

Pay

Pay for outdoor recreation guides and instructors varies depending on experience, qualifications, and the type of work they do.

Pay rates for outdoor recreation instructors

  • New outdoor recreation instructors with entry-level qualifications usually earn between minimum wage and $39,000 a year.
  • Instructors with higher qualifications can earn between $39,000 and $58,000.

Instructors at outdoor education centres may receive an allowance for gear.

Pay rates for outdoor recreation guides

Outdoor recreation guides are often paid by hour, day or trip.

  • New guides or guides in training can expect to earn between minimum wage and $20 an hour.
  • Guides with more qualifications and responsibilities can earn between $20 and $28 an hour.

Guides may be paid extra for longer trips with more clients.

Source: Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2018.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors may do some or all of the following:

  • plan outdoor recreation activities and instruction programmes
  • assess risks involved in an activity, taking into account the weather and different clients' abilities
  • lead, guide and teach people taking part in activities
  • organise safety procedures including checking equipment, running rescue practices, and providing first aid if necessary
  • prepare recreation areas by doing things such as signposting or fencing off paths and hazards
  • organise bookings, transport, food and accommodation, and drive clients to activities
  • clean and store equipment after use
  • keep logbooks of their trips.

Skills and knowledge

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors need to have:

  • a high level of skill in their outdoor activity or activities
  • knowledge of health and safety procedures relating to activities they undertake
  • outdoor survival and first aid skills
  • knowledge of weather conditions and geography in the area where they work.

Working conditions

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors:

  • may work long and irregular hours, including weekends and nights
  • work at locations such as national parks, mountains, forests, caves, rivers, lakes and the sea
  • may work in hot, cold, wet, windy or dangerous conditions
  • may travel within New Zealand or overseas to areas where the outdoor activities take place.

What's the job really like?

Miki Wills

Canyoning Guide

Working in an outdoors office

The best part of Miki Wills' day is jumping into waterfalls with clients. "It’s an awesome job. If you’re into seasonal work, the work is super fun."

Miki works over summer as a canyoning guide in Queenstown. During winter she works at a ski field.

Commitment is key

Putting on a happy face is part of the job whatever the weather, Miki says. "Sometimes it’s cold – and when you’re cold you have to act happy and look after your cold clients.”

It takes commitment to be a guide, she says. "Since it’s guiding and you’re relying on clients to get work, you have to be available seven days a week. I’m on standby. You don’t find out if you’ve got work until the night before. It’s very inconsistent income. You get paid per trip."

Be willing to learn

Miki studied a two-year certificate in outdoor recreation, then received on-the-job training. She didn't have a canyoning qualification when she started her job, but she had many useful skills from her certificate course, such as knowing how to use ropes and manage herself and others in white water.

Being willing to get out and explore was also important for growing as a guide. "If you do get a job, go the extra mile to learn as much as you can."

Todd Murray talks about life as an outdoor recreation guide - 2.34 mins. (Video courtesy of Skills Active Aotearoa)

Todd: Oh what I love about my job is getting out in the sun. Hanging with clients you meet some really cool people.

We kind of have a saying – you know: fun, safe, positive experience. And it's getting youth into the outdoors. We're getting kids out rafting and kayaking and it's teaching them to step away from the PlayStations and computers. So it’s a real positive experience for me to see them enjoying the outdoors as much as I do.

My name is Todd Murray and I work here at Wild Earth Adventures as one of the main staff doing a wide range of different activities, like, from rafting to sea kayaking to bushcraft survival, with some day walks, mountain biking, a bit of whitewater kayaking and canoeing. So it’s a huge wide range of different activities that I absolutely love doing.

Well, it started out when I was heading to polytech for a year. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I thought I wanted to be a jetboat driver.

After one year I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I did a short award in rafting for three weeks and saw Wild Earth Adventures' name on the bit of paper and applied for a job.

They weren’t hiring at the time and I’m off a farm originally so I just stayed at home and Steve rang me one day and said “Can you come up and do a day’s work?” and I said “Yeah, no worries.” And that turned into a couple more days' work and then it turned into a full-time job and I’m still here today, which is awesome!

What I do in my off-time during the winter – I actually head to Queenstown and work for NZ Ski. It’s quite a cool atmosphere down there and I’ve done two seasons beforehand as a lifty and really have a passion for being in the snow so it’s quite cool to have both a summer job and a winter job and I get to stay quite local – and they both line up perfectly.

Having these qualifications has been quite good – it’s kind of given me a world of opportunity. You’re obviously a lot more employable and having that client work so it’s great for having a qualification while working with clients because you're building up both of those levels, which – every employer in the world wants someone who’s got those quals and the understanding of working with clients. So, yeah, it’s done wonders, actually.

Entry requirements

There are no specific entry requirements to become an outdoor recreation guide or instructor. However, a diploma in outdoor recreation (Level 5 or 6) may be useful.

Outdoor recreation qualifications from Skills Active Aotearoa or the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors' Association (NZOIA) may also be useful.

You must also have a high level of skill and experience in the relevant outdoor activity.

Skills Active Aotearoa oversees outdoor recreation instructor apprenticeships.

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become an outdoor recreation guide or instructor. However, geography, physical education and English are useful.

Year 11 to 13 students can learn more about the outdoor recreation industry by taking part in a school and workplace partnership through Skills Active Aotearoa.

Additional requirements for specialist roles:

Mountain or Glacier Guide

The New Zealand Mountain Guides Association provides advanced training and qualifications for climbing and trekking guides. This includes the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA) qualification.

Ski Field Patroller

Many employers prefer ski field patrollers to have a Certificate in Ski Patrol.

To work on bigger ski fields, such as Coronet Peak, you also need to have passed an Avalanche Safety Stage One training course and a Pre-Hospital Emergency Care course.

Whitewater Rafting Guide

Whitewater rafting guides need a National Raft Guide Award that relates to the grade of river they want to work on. For example, guides working on a Grade 2 river must have a National Raft Guide Award, Grade 2.

The National Certificate in Outdoor Recreation (River Guide) covers the qualifications you need to guide commercial raft trips on whitewater rivers in New Zealand.

Personal requirements

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors need to be:

  • mature, responsible and able to stay calm in emergencies
  • able to make good decisions under pressure
  • patient, sympathetic and enthusiastic
  • confident in their own abilities and able to inspire confidence in others
  • excellent leaders with good communication skills
  • good at planning and organisation, with strong problem-solving skills
  • able to work as part of a team
  • alert and observant.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes the weather is terrible and you have to really focus on performing the job safely and efficiently.

Photo: Shanan Miles

Shanan Miles

Outdoor Instructor

Useful experience

Useful experience for outdoor recreation guides and instructors includes:

  • paid or voluntary leadership of outdoor recreation groups
  • teaching, sales or customer service work
  • work involving contact with the public
  • first aid and accident emergency work
  • conservation work.

Physical requirements

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors need to have excellent fitness and health. They must be strong as they may have to transport equipment, walk, cycle, ski or ride long distances, or take part in a range of physical activities.

Registration

Registration is not compulsory for outdoor recreation guides and instructors. However, they may choose to register with the New Zealand Outdoor Instructors' Association (NZOIA) or join the New Zealand Register of Recreation Professionals (NZRRP).

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors who register their qualifications are re-evaluated by NZOIA every three years to ensure they are up to date with current standards. 

Adventure tourism operators need to register with WorkSafe and pass safety audit inspections to legally operate.

Find out more about training

New Zealand Rafting Association (NZRA)
(03) 696 3537 - nzrivers@nzrivers.co.nz - www.nz-rafting.co.nz
NZ Mountain Guides Association (NZMGA)
(03) 435 0864 - info@nzmga.org.nz - www.mountainguides.org.nz
NZ Outdoor Instructors Association (NZOIA)
(03) 539 0509 - admin@nzoia.org.nz - www.nzoia.org.nz
NZ Professional Hunting Guides Association (NZPHGA)
www.nzphga.com
NZ Stand Up Paddling (NZSUP)
021 149 4777 - info@nzsup.org - www.nzsup.org
Skills Active Aotearoa
0508 475 4557 - info@skillsactive.org.nz - www.skillsactive.org.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Many outdoor recreation guide jobs seasonal

Your chances of securing a job as an outdoor recreation guide are best if you're willing to work casually or for short periods of time. This is because many jobs are seasonal, part-time positions with tourism operators.

However, the tourism industry is growing by 8% annually, and demand for guides is increasing.

Some businesses employ overseas workers with specialist skills, such as mountain guiding or climbing, due to a lack of qualified guides in New Zealand. 

Outdoor pursuits centres offer best chance of full-time instructor position

Outdoor education and pursuits centres offer instructors the best chances of finding full-time, year-round work.

Types of employers varied

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors may work for:

  • tourism businesses
  • ski fields
  • polytechnics
  • schools
  • outdoor education/pursuit centres.

Sources

  • Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL), 'Sport and Recreation Sector Workforce to 2026', accessed February 2018, (www.sportnz.org.nz).
  • Sutherland, S, business manager, New Zealand Outdoor Instructors' Association (NZOIA), Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, January 2018.
  • Tourism Industry Aotearoa, 'State of the Industry 2017', accessed March 2018, (www.tia.org.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors may move into senior, management or training roles, or may set up their own guiding businesses. They may also teach at polytechnics or outdoor recreation centres.

Outdoor recreation guides and instructors usually specialise in an area such as:

Bungy Jump Master
Bungy jump masters direct, supervise and control bungy jumping activities.
Canyoning Guide
Canyoning guides organise and lead canyoning trips.
Fishing Guide
Fishing guides organise and run guided fishing trips for individuals or groups.
Horse Trekking Guide
Horse trekking guides organise and lead trips along beaches, parks and New Zealand's back country.
Hunting Guide
Hunting guides organise and run guided hunting trips for individuals or groups.
Mountain Biking Guide
Mountain biking guides organise and lead mountain bike tours.
Mountain or Glacier Guide
Mountain or glacier guides organise and run guided trips of mountains and glaciers.
Outdoor Adventure Instructor
Outdoor adventure instructors provide education in outdoor adventure sports and bushcraft.
Rock Climbing Guide
Rock climbing guides teach different styles of climbing at indoor climbing walls or on guided climbing trips outdoors.
Ski Field Patroller
Ski field patrollers provide a safe environment for skiers and snowboarders by ensuring conditions are safe, and educating visitors about mountain safety.
Trekking Guide
Trekking guides organise and run guided bushwalking and trekking trips.
Whitewater Rafting Guide
Whitewater rafting guides organise and run guided rafting and kayaking trips on whitewater rivers.
An outdoor recreation guide leading a group of people across a snow-covered slope

Outdoor recreation guides lead group outdoor activities (Photo: Chris Prudden, Alpine Works)

Last updated 10 December 2018