Te Mahi Ako Apprentice of the Year competition: Harrison: Caving apprenticeship superstar on the rise

Published 20 October 2023
Harrison began his professional life studying a diploma of Adventure Tourism Management in Queenstown before making the exciting move to Waitomo Adventures where he started his cave guiding career. Harrison always knew he wanted to work in the outdoors; his passion, driven by providing other people unforgettable experiences.


Harrison is one of three candidates for the 2023 Te Mahi Ako Apprentice of the Year Award. This award, now in its eighth year, goes to a highly skilled individual with commitment, passion and diligence, who is working to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders, through the medium of active recreation, leisure or entertainment.    

Through Te Mahi Ako, Harrison was given the exciting opportunity to complete a paid internship at Waitomo Adventures “I have completed and submitted my level 4 in caving and am now waiting on the results for my level 5”. 

Harrison attributes his technical knowledge to the apprenticeship saying, “for my most recent practical assessment I had to lead other guides through an unfamiliar cave and set up a technical abseiling rig for the team...this is something I wouldn’t have had the ability to do without my training throughout the apprenticeship”. 

Harrison states that without the apprenticeship he would likely still be an assistant guide “the apprenticeship also led me to have a better appreciation of working in the outdoors and what it means to provide customers with a unique experience”.  

Harrison’s professional journey did include some challenges though, explaining that “COVID restrictions meant that there were not many people travelling in New Zealand. We were running on incredibly reduced trip schedules...having fewer trips in operation reduced the opportunities to practice and enhance my abilities to become more confident when completing different tasks during a variety of caving trips”.  

When asked what his favourite part of the job is, Harrison said “I love working in the outdoors and providing clients with an experience that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s rewarding because this industry tends to draw in a variety of clientele that I can provide a memorable experience for”  

Scott, Harrison's training manager, thinks the apprenticeship “has given Harrison direction – the qualification provided something tangible...I think this has meant a lot for him. It’s been really cool to watch him grow and become so competent that he can train and guide people from all types of backgrounds”.  

Harrisons five-year plan is to be guiding in “new environments such as under the ocean, shipwrecks, or trekking up mountains. Exploring new and unfamiliar areas, achieving new skills and taking everyday people into the great outdoors”.  

About the apprentice of the year award  

The Te Mahi Ako Apprentice of the Year will be announced in November at the Recreation Aotearoa Awards.  

Media contact: Frankie Dale | frankie.dale@skillsactive.org.nz | 021 198 4612 

Skills Active Aotearoa Group is a not-for-profit organisation, 50% owned by Māori shareholders, supporting capability development in te ahumahi ā-rēhia: the active recreation, leisure, entertainment and events sectors. 

Te Mahi Ako is part of the Skills Active group and supports individuals to develop themselves through real-life learning within businesses, iwi and communities.