Board Members


Chairman – Max Mueller

I have fond memories of my parents setting aside a Sunday a month (a Swiss tradition), to take the family into the New Zealand bush. We tramped, traversed rivers, built huts, and drank billy tea. That experience certainly had an impact on how I developed a close connection to our natural environment.
As a teacher I had numerous opportunities to take students on school camps where they developed resilience in meeting challenges and acquired a wide range of new skills because they were exposed to effective outdoor education.
The opportunity came to join the Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre Board in 2015, which seemed a practical way to support the Centre in its mission to promote and foster environmental education opportunities for students and community groups across our region. In 2019 I was elected as the Chairperson for the Board & have the privilege of working alongside a very dedicated & committed team.

Deputy Chair – Sally Smart

Sally has been in education for over 35 years, initially as a secondary school teacher and then Principal before becoming an education consultant, working in NZ and internationally.  She has always been involved in outdoor education and has been the appointed governance facilitator for the first NZ Senior High School in Auckland.  Sally has led numerous international education projects in the Middle East and South East Asia.  Now based in Tauranga, she is involved in supporting school boards and management to ensure the best learning outcomes for students.

Treasurer & Secretary – Amanda Earl

Kia ora, I joined the Aongatete Outdoor Education Board in 2021 and have been Treasurer since July 2022. I have extensive experience working in the not-for-profit sector and have recently finished a Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting. Besides all the skills I’ve learned along the way, the thing I’ve enjoy the most is being part of vibrant communities and getting to know the people that make them tick. Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre has a special sense of community and I feel privileged to work with such a dedicated team.

Some of my fondest memories growing up were of attending school camps myself and later with my children. have grown, I’ve taken every opportunity possible to attend camps and outdoor education trips with them.  One of these trips was to Aongatete Lodge.  I’m so pleased to be part of an organization that provides opportunities for children, and adults, to learn new skills, overcome physical challenges and develop new interests – and, hopefully, a love of our native flora and fauna, as it did for me.

Diana Donker

Diana has a keen interest in nature, conservation and tramping. The New Zealand forest is unique in its beauty and diversity, and it’s vitally important to protect it for generations to come. We can do this by educating and inspiring young people by learning from, and through nature.

Diana started her journey in New Zealand in Tongariro National Park as outdoor lodge owner and has since gained many years of experience in the non-profit sector and education. She joined the board in early 2023.

Projects – Keith Pyle

Keith joined the Board of Aongatete in 2009 and was Treasurer until 2019. Keith has a passion for the outdoors and has been an active boy scout, tramper, mountaineer and sailor since the age of 13. Originally from South Africa where he obtained a BSc in Agriculture, he followed an agricultural career managing large corporate farms specialising in citrus and other crops in Zimbabwe and Eswatini (Swaziland) until 1997. He immigrated to NZ in 1998 where he has continued as a citrus consultant, a grower and active tramper. In the early seventies on an OE he spent just over a year working in the Outward Bound organisation, first in Zimbabwe and then the United Kingdom and Germany- experience which has been very valuable at Aongatete OEC.


Carol Radford

Kia Ora, my name is Carol Radford, Te Aroha is my mountain, Waihou is my river, my ancestors came out from Scotland on the sailing ship Gala. I grew up in a small district called Tirohia,  surrounded by the ngahere (native bush). I have lived in Aongatete for twenty years with my husband and daughter.

I have served on the Board of Trustees for four years and I am passionate about protecting the environment for generations to come.

Our Patron


We are honoured to have Rob McGowan as our Patron. Rob is a prominent rongoā Māori practitioner, well respected for his work in the restoration of rongoā practise and traditional knowledge of native plants and medicines in Aotearoa New Zealand.
He works to regenerate degraded land and streams, educate others and work alongside the Department of Conservation’s Nga Whenua Rahui unit to protect indigenous ecosystems on Māori land.
He is very passionate about why people need to listen to the land and their own surroundings, on the issue of sustainability.
“The number one priority is not profit, but caring for the whenua. That’s the only way to ensure long term sustainability. The Earth’s resources are finite. They are already beginning to run out.”
In April 2021Rob received a Queens Service Medal for services to Māori and conservation.



Karen Tobich

Karen & Allen both love the outdoors and always enjoy helping and supporting people to adapt to new and often challenging situations.

Karen has an entrepreneurial business background and worked for many years as a business and personal performance coach specialising in “Self- Management Programs”.

Karen says she wakes up every morning and thinks that she is the luckiest person in the world to be a part of AOEC and to have the opportunity of creating a sustainable future for the centre and being part of something that has a purpose for a greater good.

In their time at AOEC, Karen and Al have fallen in love with the the forest and witnessed the effects of the forest in the lives of humans and the importance for this planet. Introducing children and adults to the magic of the forest is one of Karen’s & Allen’s greatest privileges.


Emily Underwood

Growing up on a dairy farm, I have always had a passion for nature and exploring the outdoors. Adventuring overseas after high school, I instructed at Muskoka Woods, Canada, favouring high ropes as I got to help individuals faced the same challenges and fears as I did at their age.
I still remember my own school camps being the highlight of the school years, and I aim to be as inspiring and uplifting as the instructors I looked up to. I believe there is so much to be gained from nature-based camps like AOEC that can not be taught in a classroom. I love watching the bond that forms in a group that comes to camp, as they overcome challenges, step out of comfort zones, build teamwork, develop new friendships and connect with nature.


Jesse Wiltshire

I have always been fascinated by the beauty and complexity of our natural environment, beginning with childhood family camping trips and overnight tramps as a teenager. I would return home humbled and privileged to have spent time in the bush.
Finishing high school in leadership positions and taking out top Outdoor Education student twice, I completed a Bachelor of Design and served as Army Reserve Infantry.
I enjoy translating what I learned there to students, from practical bush skills to lessons of perseverance and teamwork. My ideal weekend is in the bush, tramping solo or with mates and appreciating our incredible backcountry, although trekking to Everest Base Camp is a lifetime highlight too. It is a privilege to be involved with AOEC and pass my enthusiasm on to students, inspiring within them an appreciation for nature and adventure.


Allen Smith

Most of my life I have spent my spare time playing or coaching sport to children, students and young adults. I have now, in the latter years, turned to coaching golf to all age groups and since joining AOEC have taken on and thoroughly enjoyed, the challenge of showing lodge users, the beauty of Archery.
As in all sports I taught, the greatest feeling is watching the students smile at their success. The Archery Range is at the edge of the forest where bird life is always present: Kerri, Tui, Piwakawaka, Kingfishers, Quail, Robin (mostly heard not seen), the students from the cities are in awe, especially since all the birds that fly past are named, so every archery session is integrated with learning about the birds in our natural environment.

Nisha Duncan

Tamar de Jong


Donya Feci

Kia Ora Koutou /Greetings All, Ko Donya Feci toku ingoa / My name is Donya Feci,
Enoho ana ahau ki Aongatete / I live in Aongatete. Our family love living near our Ngahere / Bush
I have been teaching children for over 20 years, starting as a teacher aide then studying for my Diploma in teaching ECE, my roles included being a facilitator for Enviroschools over the past 10 years teaching Education for Sustainability. I have had the pleasure of studying with Rob McGowan and Donna Kerridge to learn Rongoa Rakau / Moari medicine. I feel privileged to provide Rongoa Rakau /Maori Medicine education opportunities Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre.