Karioi Lodge gets technological reboot with environmental twist

Founder of Vend and OMG Tech! Vaughan Fergusson and his partner Zoe Timbrell are the new owners of Karioi Lodge.

Their friends said they were crazy buying a 100-acre bush clad property and questioned why they weren’t buying a bach in Matakana, but the philanthropic duo have a plan to combine technology and nature at the outdoor education centre.

As Vaughan says in a recent Stuff opinion piece, ‘the best innovation is not exclusively a byproduct of big cities. Good ideas happen everywhere, and to turn ideas into reality you need inspiration and smart people.’

For the past 17-years Charlie Young and his wife Erin Rogers have run their surf school and accommodation business from the sprawling property which can accommodate over 100 people, and they will continue to operate at Karioi and collaborate with Vaughan and Zoe.

It’s an ideal blend for the two businesses, as the tourists head out of town the schools will take up residence at the lodge.

The lodge started life in the 70s as a school camp set up by the Huntly Karioi Outdoor Trust who were looking to sell the property.

“The trust was conscious of handing it to the right people,” Vaughan says.

Turns out Vaughan and Zoe were those people; a deal was struck with the trust investing the money from the sale in a project turning a former Huntly open cast pit mine it into a recreational lake – providing employment opportunities for local people.

This means a new lease of life for the Karioi Lodge as an enviro-tech camp with the couple planning to develop the property by adding classrooms and other infrastructure.

The “Institute for Awesome” will cater to schools, businesses, teachers and the wider community to explore the interplay between technology and nature.

“Parents worry that technology is just about their kids sitting over their keyboards in dark rooms. We’re taking tech back out to nature,” Zoe says.

The couple say the lodge, which sits amongst pristine native bush at the base of Karioi, is the ideal place to show how technology is not just about kids being glued to their devices but can be used to benefit the environment.

“Technology has to exist in the environment,” Vaughan says.

Through the “Institute for Awesome”, the couple will provide the tech resources for young minds to develop solutions to the environmental issues facing the world today and in the future.

“They (young people) never stop dreaming about saving the planet we will give them the tools to dream crazily big,” Zoe says.

The couple also run the Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust, a charity Vaughan set up in his mother’s name and through OMGTech! it aims to bridge the gap between industry and education by bringing passionate tech professionals into classrooms.

Vaughan’s founded one of New Zealand’s fastest growing and successful technology start-ups Vend which makes cloud based retail software and he credits his mother with his success. A single parent and paraplegic, she had insight into the importance of technology buying a computer for Vaughan and his two brothers in the 80s when computers were cumbersome, complicated and expensive.

With Vaughan’s tech nous and Zoe’s event management skills from a previous career, and their combined connections and networks with the technology and education sector, the “Institute for Awesome” promises to be a powerhouse innovation and creativity.

And they want to take the community on the ride and hope to build connections with Whaingaroa organisations that will benefit from what they are doing but also add value and ideas to the institute.

“We want the community to know that we have this incredible gift and you are welcome to share,” Zoe says.

Check out www.inawe.co.nz for more information about the Institute of Awesome and to find out about the community open day in March.

Janine Jackson