In the early 1960s, Police Sergeant Noel Oxnam from Murchison first suggested the idea of building a youth hall in Nelson (where the Trafalgar Centre is presently located) as a way to improve public relations between the Police and the increasing numbers of urban youth. Around £3,000 was raised for the hall through public subscription, but then the project seemed to stall.
When he was appointed to the Nelson Lakes National Park Board in 1964, Noel saw the potential for realising his project within the Park. His idea was finally accepted by the Park Board, but significant further funding for the project was required before construction work could begin. The Board applied to the National Parks Authority in Wellington for a two to one subsidy for the project, which was finally approved.
Noel Oxnam’s unfailing enthusiasm and drive for the project led to significant contributions being made to the building of the Lodge by the regional community, secondary schools and Rotary Clubs of Nelson and Marlborough. High schools from the Nelson and Marlborough provinces contributed sums of up to $1,000 on the proviso that they be given a preferential booking entitlement to the Lodge during the school terms (approximately 37 weeks of the year). So much money was donated from these sources that it took three years for the National Authority to pay the subsidy out in full.
With the promise of volunteer weekend labour from service clubs, commitments from the business community to donate materials, and money pledged from numerous sources, work on the Lodge finally got underway in 1967. Although many people contributed their time and money to the project, the history of the Lodge would not be complete without special mention of George Lyon, Chief Park Ranger of the Park from 1959 to 1980, who worked almost constantly on the Lodge during weeks and weekends during it’s construction. The Lodge was officially opened on the 24th of February 1968.
A Lodge Trust was established to manage and staff school groups visiting the Lodge by the contributing high schools in 1968, but overall Lodge management and maintenance was carried out by the Nelson Lakes National Park Board. The Park Board, which was appointed by the National Parks Authority, employed Park staff under the umbrella of the Department of Lands and Survey.
Activities and programmes developed over the years, and a classroom for biology and geography studies was built on to the main building in 1980.
The Department of Lands and Survey, along with two other government departments, merged to form the Department of Conservation in 1987, which by default assumed the management of the Rotoiti Lodge.
In 1992, the contributing schools formed the Lake Rotoiti Outdoor Education Trust and in 1994 this Trust was officially registered as a charitable Trust.
The Department of Conservation began negotiations with the Trust to relinquish their financial and administrative support role of the Lodge in 1996. The Trust eventually agreed to the conditions and terms of a 30 year lease arrangement and on the 4th of February 2000, the Lodge began officially operating financially independently of the Department of Conservation.
The 30 year grant of lease from the Department of Conservation is on Lodge buildings, roads and land associated with its activity areas. The lease expires in 2036 but may well be renewable for a further long term period upon application to the Department of Conservation or its equivalent authority.
Today the Lodge operates year round, offering camps for schools in the top of the South Island, and accommodation for local groups wanting to escape the bustling life in-town and enjoy the beauty of the Nelson Lakes National Park.
After nearly 50 years of providing experiential learning opportunities for students, a few small things have changed, but the original vision remains the same – provide a special place for youth to experience personal growth by means of outdoor education. We at the Lodge are proud to be a part of that culture, and encourage the use and development of places like RLOEC.