HQ Team

Based at Pacific Discovery HQ in Queenstown, and in Wellington, New Zealand, we have an outstanding and dynamic team leading Pacific Discovery.

Zach Johnston

Executive Director

Zach grew up on a farm in the North Island of New Zealand. In his youth he hunted on horseback and scuba dived for food. At age 18 he joined the military and soon became a captain, commanding tanks and then to a specialized role in sniping and reconnaissance. After several other leadership roles, it was a 12-month position as the Senior Leadership Development Instructor at officer cadet school,  that he discovered his passion for mentoring young adults. 

After the military Zach ventured around the world rock climbing, discovering a passion for travel, exploration and adventure, believing they open and strengthen the mind, as well as inspire us to connect with ourselves and others.  He worked as an ambulance EMT and then began working as an Outdoor Educator and an International Expedition Leader, guiding expeditions on every continent except Antarctica. He has also ran a rock climbing company and a small group tour company. Wishing to enable more young adults to gain the skills and experience necessary to safely undertake adventures he developed the adventure travel program Pure Exploration.

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Scott Burnett

Founding Advisor

Scott's path was shaped by growing up wanting to be an adventurer; climbing mountains and exploring; through the Scout movement with it's emphasis on leadership, group dynamics and service; and through holiday work at a wildlife sanctuary. After high school, he decided that the way to gain independence and fund his adventurous dreams was through hard work and cold cash. He completed a 4-year carpentry apprenticeship. This gave him practical skills, valuable self belief and funded an enviable lifestyle of climbing, mountain biking, travel and adventure. The study of philosophy and experiential education, led to work as an outdoor instructor and to work for the environmental organization Greenpeace, where he met Rachel.

Pacific Discovery grew out of this grounding in practical self-directed learning and a desire to share with others his love of travel, the outdoors, adventure and experiential education. Scott has now led in excess of 30 programs for Pacific Discovery, gaining an unmatched understanding of how to mentor young adults. He's researched new programs, trained our wonderful program instructors, designed our website, and recently took time out to build a solar-powered Pacific Discovery office. He contributes to the gap year field best practice, serving on both the Standards and the Ethics Committees of the American Gap Association.

Scott has also spent 9 years on the board of a grassroots development organization, Books for Cambodia; and has resumed his studies, currently mid-way through a BA in Development Studies. When time permits he loves adventures with his family, mountain biking, orienteering and ultimate frisbee.

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Kim Pfeifle

Admissions Director

Born and raised outside of the city of Boston, Kim spent most of her childhood hiking, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and ice skating around New England. She returned to Boston to study music but spending all day in classrooms learning about different musical traditions created a longing to explore these cultures first hand.

Kim has traveled across Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania and has led students in Australia, Germany, Thailand, the Galapagos, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawai’i. Her favorite part of these programs is guiding the students through new experiences and seeing them - as well as staff - grow as a result. Her passion lives in access to education. Many people limit the idea of “education” to books and classrooms but there is so much that we can learn from nature and through the experiences and cultures of others. Educational travel allows participants to personally develop, step outside of their comfort zones, and challenge their perspectives and she's thrilled to continue to grow with all of you!

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Amber Latimer

Recruitment Director

Amber hails from the cornfield-covered state of Wisconsin (and you bet, she’s a proud cheesehead). In college, she studied Psychology, Education, and Studio Art at Lawrence University, and during that time completed two study abroad experiences in London. After graduation, she spent a few years in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia where she pursued purposeful travel and got to learn from a wide variety of perspectives and worldviews.

Upon return to the US, she worked as an Instructor in a therapeutic wilderness environment before entering into Higher Education. At St. Norbert College, she led an experiential-based service-learning gap program that combined outdoor adventure challenge and demanding study and travel domestically and in Guatemala, and at her alma mater she held a two-year Fellowship role in the Spiritual and Religious Life department. Most recently, she has enjoyed being an Instructor for Pacific Discovery for both the Thailand and Hawaii programs!

Amber believes a gap experience is one of the most powerful approaches to a holistic emergence into adulthood. Being based in the US, her role as Recruitment Director allows her to share stories of the transformative experiences she has witnessed students have while on a Pacific Discovery program and answer any questions about the gap year experience. She sends peace, light, and love to you all.

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Mechi von der Becke

Program Planning Manager

Mechi was born into a large and close-knit family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduating from university with a degree in Tourism and Hotel Management, Mechi decided to leave the comfort of her family and home for world travel.

Her global repertoire includes South and Central America, Europe, the USA, the Philippines, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Fiji, and Australia. It was true love when, after all that traveling, Mechi landed in New Zealand 10 years ago; she hasn’t called another country home since! Mechi values traveling for allowing her to step out of her comfort zone, build confidence, and develop cultural sensitivity and empathy for others. Since arriving in NZ, Mechi’s zeal for the outdoors has flourished.

In winter, you will find her on the tops of mountains, snowboarding her heart out. In summer, Mechi enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and camping around the beautifully lush South Island of NZ. When she’s not working, Mechi is either at the gym training for her next marathon, FaceTiming with her many nieces and nephews in Argentina and the USA, or planning her next international adventure.

Mechi is bilingual in Spanish and English. She deeply cares for others and is thrilled for the opportunity to combine her love of travel, and passion for bringing the world to reach with the students of Pacific Discovery.

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Breanna Miles

Program Planning Manager

Breanna Grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she spent her childhood years exploring the rivers and forests of the area. Her fondest childhood memories involved sitting around the fireside up her family's cabin in the Appalachian mountains telling stories and making memories with her cousins.

She always had a passion and drive to want to help the people around her which led her to pursue a degree in Nursing, where she would eventually become a travel nurse exploring the beauty of the United states. During this time she pursued many outdoor activities (mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking) and fell in love with the power connecting with nature had on her mental/emotional health. She then spent 8 months doing medical work in Southeast Asia (Indonesia/Thailand) where she experienced first hand the impact that working alongside different communities and cultures had on her growth as an individual. The idea of health being a balance of body/mind/spirit began to take root - and while in Bali she completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training course so she could help teach others to connect to their bodies and their breath.

Throughout her twenties she spent her personal time traveling both in the United States (specifically in the National Parks) and abroad to Ireland, Czech, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, and Canada. As well as devoting any free time to volunteer organizations in the communities she lived, most recently working in the Denver Homeless Shelters and Traveling to Puerto Rico with a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing basic health care to the underserved populations.

For the last few years she has been pursuing a career in Wilderness Therapy and began working with adolescents and young adults in the desert landscapes of Utah and the Mountains of Colorado, where she taught how the wilderness could be a powerful tool for personal development. She continues to pursue her passion for helping people find their authentic selves and to teach them to see the power of their own stories; and believes that this can be fostered through developing deeper connections to the natural world, different cultures/communities, and ourselves.

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Program Instructors

We value our dedicated Program Instructors - they are the cornerstone of a safe, transformative, and outstanding experience for our students.

Our Program Instructors are inspiring people with extensive experience in the regions we visit, who share a deep respect for the people and cultures, a fascination with local history, and an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues and politics.

They are people in whom you can trust, who remain objective and supportive even in challenging circumstances, and who take a genuine interest in your well-being and safety. They implicitly understand the importance of balancing the needs of individuals with group objectives, facilitating healthy group dynamics, inspiring a genuine appreciation for the areas visited, and an awareness of minimum impact travel ethics.

Pacific Discovery Program Instructors are generally aged 25 - 35, with an average age of 28. All are Wilderness First Responder (WFR) first aid certified, and they are trained in experiential education facilitation, group leadership and risk assessment/management.

Amelia Sease

Guru Program Instructor

Amelia grew up in Colorado exploring the many mountains and rocks of the Western United States. While studying Biochemistry and Environmental Design in college, she decided to take a semester off and spent Fall as a student on a Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia program. The experiences she had, the relationships she formed, and the incredible mentorship from the instructors coupled with all of the outdoor adventures were an enormous stepping stone in her personal growth and discovery, and since then she has been dedicated to being a part of facilitating that wonderful growth and experience in others.

Throughout college, Amelia began rock climbing and developing skills in alpine mountaineering, allowing her to explore some of the most isolated mountains in the deserts of the West, the Rocky Mountains, and the Cascades. This led to her passion for traveling to explore crags and mountain ranges across the globe and experiencing new and wonderful cultures everywhere. Each culture and country taught her something new about the world and about herself - from rock climbing up steep gorges in Morocco and dining on delicious tagine, to ice climbing up Andean Peaks in Peru whilst practicing her Spanish with local guides. Amelia learned how every person you meet along your many journeys has words of wisdom to learn from, as well as how important outdoor and experiential education is to personal development.

Between traveling and leading programs, she spends her time building out her van/home and working on organic farms, using permaculture and sustainable food production practices to grow veggies and experiment with preserving produce. She loves making kimchi, and is working on perfecting her kombucha brew.

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John Flagiello

Guru Program Instructor

For over 5 years John has been on a journey of exploration, excitement, and most importantly education. Finding his own path, John followed his heart to find a way of life filled with beauty, adventure, and connection to the world he lives in as well as the people involved.

After traveling through 6 continents and exploring the beauty of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, parts of Europe, South America, Central America and his home in North America, he finds himself in love with the cultures and experiences each place has to offer but always highlights the importance of his connection with the people he meets on his journey.

John is constantly reminded to challenge himself, to leave his comfort zone, and stay open to new thoughts ideas and perspectives. John has cooked different cuisines in restaurants all around the world, worked on farms and vineyards in Australia, snowboarded to work every day on a mountain resort in New Zealand, worked in multiple National Parks around the world, and most recently completed a year leading a conservation corps in the US, amongst many other diverse jobs.

To John, the greatest wisdom in the world is having, understanding, and being open to new perspectives you are faced with daily when being around people from different backgrounds. He is a strong believer in facing challenges head on because each obstacle brings us growth and new ways of thinking to help us navigate and understand the world we live in. John is passionate about connecting with others and experiencing all that he can in this life. His passion is fueled by his endless curiosity to learn, explore, and grow as an individual and strives to help others along on their journey through the human experience. John has been on the move for over 5 years and doesn’t plan on slowing down in the years to come. In his spare time John finds ways to challenge himself with a list of activities that continues to grow including yoga, rock climbing, snowboarding, slack-lining, juggling, hiking, kayaking, and rafting.

John believes that finding yourself in a moment of awe is one of the most rewarding aspects of life. Moments of awe can be experienced with beautiful views, being able to connect with nature, connecting with others, connecting with yourself, being mindful, and using your body. Each of these activities require a connection between mind, body and nature, allowing you to amplify the beauty and awe we are surrounded by, but not always conscious enough to connect with.

John looks forward to working with his students to help them see a bigger picture in the world and to find a way to bring comfort and excitement to our quest for meaning and purpose throughout our lives.

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Manuel Olvera

Guru Program Instructor

Manuel was born and raised in Mexico City, where he graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering. After 10 years of experience and training in Chinese martial arts, he followed his passion and ventured to China to learn more. While in China, he also studied the language and traditional Chinese medicine.

For the past eight years, Manuel participated in many cultural exchange and volunteering programs in China, focused on experiential education in multiple leadership roles, which led him to work as a facilitator and senior program manager for The Jump! Foundation, an experiential education provided operating in China and Southeast Asia. He also worked in the adventure tourism industry as a hiking and camping guide to the un-renovated sections of the Great Wall of China, and in the service-learning industry in China and Costa Rica. Some of his passions are permaculture, holistic medicine, martial arts and meditation.

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Anastasia Collier

Program Instructor

Anastasia is a kiwi with a strong passion for adventure, creativity and learning new things. Ever since she was a young girl she enjoyed exploring nature, the arts and learning any new hobby or skill that caught her attention. Her nickname as a child was monkey because family and friends would always find her climbing up trees with her cheeky smile.

As an adult, Anastasia has combined her passions to become an artist, teacher and part time adventurer. She is based in Raglan at the moment and spends most of her spare time surfing! When studying to become a primary school teacher, Anastasia earned a scholarship to teach in Denmark for 6 weeks. This trip ignited her desire to travel and since then she has spent time solo backpacking or adventuring with friends in Europe, Vietnam, Rarotonga, Australia and most of all her home country Aotearoa New Zealand. Any chance she gets she's out the door so when the opportunity to become a Pacific Discovery instructor came up she knew it was the perfect job for her. She is looking forward to getting to know the students and fellow co-workers on this trip!

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Liz Lucas

Program Instructor

Hey there! I'm a passionate gap year instructor with a deep love for nature and the great outdoors. Born and raised as a mountain kid in Colorado, I've always felt a strong connection to the wilderness around me. When I'm not guiding backpacking trips, you'll find me sharing my expertise as an instructor, helping young adventurers embark on life-changing journeys.

My enthusiasm for the outdoors is only matched by my excitement for travel and exploration. Whether it's navigating through dense forests, scaling mountain peaks, or simply gazing at a starry night sky, I find immense joy in every moment spent outdoors. My background as a backpacking guide has honed my skills in leadership, problem-solving, and ensuring the safety of all participants.

What truly fuels my passion is working with students. Witnessing their personal growth, fostering their self-discovery, and empowering them to overcome challenges is what I cherish the most. I'm committed to creating an environment where learning is hands-on, experiences are transformative, and memories are made to last a lifetime.

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Grace Crema

Program Instructor

Hello everyone! My name is Grace Crema (she/her).

I’ve spent the majority of my life on Long Island, New York surfing at the beach, exploring NYC, and playing almost every sport you can think of. I have a very intercultural family which allowed me to spend a lot of time traveling to visit relatives during my childhood. My exposure to other parts of the world at such a young age led me to develop a deep passion for anthropology, exploration, adventure, and the workings of the international system.

I have been leading trips for the past five years with my university and with ARCC, leading primarily in the backcountry of the Adirondacks for SUNY Cortland and in various US and international destinations for ARCC. I also was a participant with ARCC on their India and Vietnam/Cambodia trips!

My knowledge of the world comes not only from my experiences but also my formal education. I recently received my bachelors degree in Communications with a double minor in International Studies and Anthropology. A large part of my education was focused on my thesis topic, which explored the Cold War and its contribution to the creation of the developing world in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Essentially, I’ve done a lot of research on developing countries and the effect poverty, corruption, and colonization has had on the various systems within a nation. Most recently, I also had the privilege to study at the American University in Cairo in Egypt for six months at the beginning of this year, which is one of the leading universities in the Middle East!

I’ve chosen a career in experiential education because I believe it can be an extremely impactful education style that creates well rounded, confident individuals interested in bettering their world. I’ve taught outdoor skills in the Adirondacks, mentored students in university, been a teachers assistant for various courses throughout college, and supported experiential learning initiatives on ARCC’s programs.

If you want to know a bit more about me, here are some fun facts! I have a golden doodle named Lucy, a younger brother named Joseph, I’m in the process of getting my dual citizenship with Italy, I’ve solo traveled in Europe, I love to surf, Jordan is my favorite country I’ve ever visited, I love airports, my favorite book is Lion by Saroo Brierly, I’ve licked two world wonders, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty is my all time favorite movie, and Indonesia will be my 30th country!

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Katie Weigel

Program Instructor

Katie grew up exploring the vast ecosystems of Texas, scrambling around the desert, hill country, mountains and coastline alongside her older brothers. From a young age, her parents instilled a love of the outdoors, appreciation for nature, and innate curiosity to explore and learn. She became interested in all things environmental and moved to Tennessee to study Ecology, Biology and Spanish. Over the years she spent time studying or conducting research in Belize, Spain, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica, bridging her love of flora and fauna with her Spanish speaking skills. Upon graduating from university, she decided to shift away from research so her line of work could include her other passions: human connection, communication, science/nature interpretation, working with diverse cultural and age groups, experiential education, and community.

She has worked for years in environmental education, from the coastline of Texas to the Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California, Katie has facilitated students and adults through immersive curriculum, self-discovery and challenging perspectives. Over the past 5 years, Katie has taken students all over the world; heading out on epic adventures, diving into service learning projects, immersing oneself in culture and experience and tackling challenges while enjoying the company of others, nature and helping build self confidence, leadership skills and community.

Katie’s love of immersive education and innate curiosity has led her on many other expeditions sans students, traveling to five of the seven continents. She’s a hardy road warrior, having embarked on road trips across the United States and the entirety of Baja California. She is no stranger to delving into new experiences, cultures, and finding time to enjoy the little things in life; sharing love and laughter, a delicious meal, beautiful sights and appreciating the awe of nature and people.

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Erika Forbes

Program Instructor

I guess you could say I am a global citizen. My father is from the US and my mother from France. I was born and raised in Ecuador until I was ten and then we moved to Peru. At 16 we moved again, this time to Uppsala, Sweden. I’m not sure we could have found a more drastic change in culture. Despite the lack of ‘stability’, the constant juggle of cultures and other challenges that come from being a TCK (third culture kid), I wouldn’t ask to change my upbringing in any way. For starters it gave me fluency in three languages (French, English, and Spanish) straight off the bat. I think it also helped me develop a curiosity, and tolerance, for different cultures and backgrounds. And, of course, it’s given me the travel bug.

After finishing High School in Sweden I took a gap year and traveled around Australia. There I discovered that I could study something that combined three of my greatest passions; the outdoors, sports, and travel. So I returned to Europe to do a degree in Adventure Tourism Management in Scotland, with a year abroad in Kamloops, Canada. Since graduating I’ve been lucky to find outdoor jobs that have taken me to places like Hong Kong, China, Switzerland, Norway, and Costa Rica. I like the concept of ‘slow travel’, and I feel that getting to live and work in different places has given me insights to the cultures that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

When I’m not traveling or working (actually sometimes even then) I like to work on developing my skills in my various hobbies. These range from various outdoor pursuits (i.e. hiking, surfing, riding, biking, climbing, paddling, etc.) to playing music and different arts and crafts. I also find that being consistent in my yoga and meditation practices helps me stay balanced and content.

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Erin Good

Program Instructor

Hiya, I’m Erin and I’m obsessed with all things outdoors. Growing up on the beautiful central coast of California, my childhood was filled with swimming at the beach, hiking, biking and backpacking. Now living in New Zealand, I spend my free time tramping, climbing, scuba diving, bike touring and kayaking, as well as traveling when I can to South, Central and North America, Australia, and throughout Europe. I am in love with nature and everything it has to offer mentally and physically.

My love for the earth led me to pursue a degree in Environmental Science and Management where I gained a deeper understanding and respect for the environment. After graduating I moved to Auckland, NZ to begin a career as an Environmental Consultant working remotely on projects located all over Australasia. I recently took a leap and quit my corporate job of 6 years to follow my heart and pursue a career in outdoor guiding.

I moved into a van and completed the Queenstown Pure Exploration Outdoor Adventure Guide Program, earning my hiking guide and rock climbing instructor qualifications. Post-program, I’ve been working as a 4-wheel-drive guide taking people around the greater Queenstown area, having a blast meeting people from all over the world.

I have always looked up to my guides/instructors throughout my life, helping me to learn and grow as a person while having fun, and now I hope to return the favor and be that person for others. I am stoked to help create a supportive, enjoyable and fulfilling learning environment for my squad with Pacific Discovery!

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Kali Hill

Program Instructor

Growing up on the beaches of Byron Bay, it always comes as a surprise to everyone when they find out I somehow missed the whole surf grommet stage! However, all my free time was always spent outdoors either swimming in the ocean, playing sports, or heading away camping for the weekend with family. Finishing school, I bounced between hospitality, and sales and marketing. Knowing there must be something out there more suited to my personal values and love of adventure but unsure of what direction to take, I finally took off on a 7 week east coast Australian roadtrip with some friends which culminated in my first ever job offer in the outdoor education industry - my eyes were opened to a whole new world!

Since then, my time has been spent instructing everything from team building challenges, high ropes courses, abseiling, and quad biking, through to leading Duke awards and multi-day expeditions filled with hiking, paddling and self-discovery. It's now been 6 years, and my passion for sharing this wild world with others through adventure, exploration and child-like curiosity is only burning brighter.

The last couple of years have found me taking a much deeper interest into using the outdoors as a vehicle to foster resilience, deepen your sense of self, and build connections! When I'm not leading journeys, you'll find me picnicking with friends, having a laugh while finally learning to surf, listening to podcasts, or planning my next adventure!

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Jordon Burke

Program Instructor

From a childhood pitched amidst the embrace of nature, camping became my second home. Roaming forests, setting up tents, and learning the wilderness' rhythm laid the groundwork for my love of exploration. As years rolled by, the call of the unknown grew louder. So, armed with a backpack and insatiable curiosity, I embarked on a solo journey any chance I could over the last decade. Traveling around Europe, Vietnam, and New Zealand.

Each destination, a classroom; each experience, a lesson. This uncharted path led me to discover not just places but also my passion: teaching outdoor sports like rock climbing and skiing. Combining my travel tales with my love for teaching, I found my niche in the travel sector, where I weave my narratives into adventures and share the thrill of conquering nature's challenges.

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Madeleine Gendreau

Program Instructor

Madeleine (she/her) grew up in San Francisco, CA, and attended university in both Canada and Australia. She holds degrees in Urban Planning and Fine Arts as well as a certificate in Sustainable Agriculture. Dedicated to a life outdoors, she has spent the past three years living in Australia managing small-scale farms and, previous to that, worked as a garden educator and naturalist leader in California. When she is not out on the trail, she enjoys dancing in the sunshine, crafting with friends, and planning her next adventures.

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Verny Chavarria

Program Instructor

Hola!! My name is Verny, I am from beautiful Costa Rica. I grew up in a sporty family and my father became the first Costa Rican triathlete at the World Championships. I spend my childhood practicing all kinds of sports such as triathlon, adventure racing, open water swimming and more. Oceans, lakes and mountains were a big part of my childhood.

After high school, I started training to become an adventure guide. This included river guiding, white water kayaking, sea kayaking, rappelling, horseback riding, mountain biking, trekking and much more. Being around the water and the mountains for my whole life has made me so passionate about the outdoors. I have worked in adventure travel since high school and it has been such a great journey.

Working with people from all over the world and having the opportunity to visit countries such as Peru, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Guatemala, United States, and recently Mexico has been a life-changing experience.

Working in an industry that allows me to share my passion, my hobbies, my knowledge and skills with others makes me feel very fortunate.

Pura Vida and see you all soon.

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Jess Thomas

Program Instructor

Hello future connections!

I am a travel writer, facilitator of empowerment, adventurer and cyclo-tourer. I’ve always had a thing for people and for human development. I grew up on the ridiculously beautiful east coast of Australia. At six I would visit the elderly in hospital to ask about their lives, and at 16 I was raising money to send wheelchairs to children in developing countries. When I left home at 17 to join the army, Dad’s last words were ‘don’t join a cult’. I trained as an army officer in the Australian Defence Force, before having a pivotal experience in Nepal and deciding to shed my structured life and travel the world. I graduated with a Bachelor of International Studies and have explored over 65 countries - many of these by bicycle. When I finished my studies I became a gap year facilitator for PD, and also a hiking guide. I’ve been combining these two great loves over the past seven years.

I share my worldview and keep curiosity burning- I am passionate about being a role model for optimism and hope, off the beaten path adventure, showing that the ordinary can be extraordinary and creating connections to enrich the web of life.

I can’t wait to meet you and connect on an incredible experiential journey exploring this big old oyster.

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Chris Davies

Program Instructor

Chris hails from Auckland, New Zealand. He has a background in sport science and physical education, and absolutely fizzes over any outdoor pursuits! Chris has spent the last two and a half years working and traveling around North America, currently calling Fernie (a small ski town in British Columbia) his winter home. He cannot wait to swap the snowboard boots & thermals for flip flops & boardshorts and spend some time at the beach.

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Tari Kumari

Program Instructor

Tari has been travelling between worlds ever since she arrived on earth. Tari was born on Yuin country, on the remote south coast of Australia. Her life has been shaped by the boundless beauty of Australia’s coastline and Nepal’s majestic Himalayas: the two contrasting places she calls home as a half Nepalese, half Australian person. Her curiosities and unique lens for experiencing the world have instilled a deep sense of social justice, global citizenship and intergenerational change which led her to her studies in anthropology and development.

From community organizing within the grassroots women’s movement on the streets of Kathmandu, participating in humanitarian food aid distribution initiatives on the Jordanian-Syrian border, facilitating international education programs for students throughout Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, taking students on learning adventures in nature at the Green School in Bali, crafting curriculum through program development with education initiatives in Australia and America, architecting capacity building trainings for indigenous women leaders from Central Asia and Central America, providing support to refugee communities in Germany and sharing trauma informed yoga with diverse groups of people as often as she can- Tari is a student of the world and facilitator of connection. Between adventures, you will find her making pottery from recycled clay in her studio in Germany. An artist, activist and educator, Tari is a lover of life and the privilege of sharing adventures with young people from around the world.

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Henry Grayson

Program Instructor

Henry grew up in the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington. Growing up, Henry played plenty of sports, all of which connected him to people and the outdoors. At the age of 17, he would get his first taste of culture shock on a 2 month exchange in Munich, Germany.

Henry would complete a Commerce degree and a diploma in German Language at Otago University by visiting Germany for a final semester in Heidelberg. Following on from these travels around Europe and then Southeast Asia, Henry worked for an Insurance company in Auckland. After 3 years climbing the corporate ladder, his life changed course when he bought a one-way ticket to Latin America. Throughout the two years he spent backpacking the 'Gringo Trail', Henry balanced his time travelling by working a variety of jobs such as a barman, receptionist and nature guide, all of which changed his perspective on life.

In recent times Henry has been working in Tourism as a Team Leader on Stewart Island and at Milford Sound in New Zealand. He brings with him much experience about remote living, learning languages, making remarkable experiences and having some fun along the way.

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Megan Nyhuis

Program Instructor

Megan has always known the 9-5 office job is not for her. She hails from New Jersey, where she grew up and attended college. She studied public health and spent a semester abroad in Melbourne, which proved to be a great base for exploring Australia, Thailand and New Zealand. After graduating college, she embarked on a two year journey of volunteering for AmeriCorps NCCC to gain leadership and program management skills in a full-time residential federal volunteer program across the Pacific Region of the US. After completing this civilian service, she spent time in Alaska working as a sled-dog handler, chasing the northern lights, and learning how to backpack over glaciers.

To avoid the Arctic winter, she then moved to Hawaii in 2021, where she has lived and worked on organic farms across Maui, the Big Island, and Kaua’i. She also had the pleasure of being a mentor on a teen leadership trip focused on sea turtle and coral education in Maui. Her experience in rustic living and leading young adults has led her to pursue jobs in experiential education, and she looks forward to the opportunity to make connections with students that promote personal growth and forming new perspectives.

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Chris Tafili-Reid

Program Instructor

I was born in the North Island, yet raised in the South Island of Aotearoa - Land of the Long White Cloud. My father is from Samoa, whilst my mum's father is from Scotland, so I am an Islander through and through!

I take a lot of joy with my purpose as a bridge builder by helping myself and others to connect to people, places, nature, opportunities, experiences and things. Cooperation and collaborations are the style of opportunities I seek to foster to see others grow, change, succeed and thrive.

I am an ambivert that enjoys crowds, one on one and solitude in equal measure. I love my family, friends, sailing, scuba diving, hiking, food and travel.

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Sabrina Dukovski

Program Instructor

As a kid, I was adventurous and outdoorsy, which just grew as I got older. Back in Luxembourg I tried several sports because I always wanted to have something to do and get to know as many things as possible. From dancing to playing table tennis, until finally I found soccer.

My mom is Portuguese, and my father is from North Macedonia. I am very grateful for that, because this made it possible for me to travel every summer to one of these destinations, as we always travelled by car, it always felt like we were having a road trip together. This is why my love for travel and discovery developed very early. As soon as I was old enough, I started travelling with my friends through Europe. After a few years of travelling around with people, I thought it would be time to start solo travel. To find out what I really enjoy doing and just to get to know myself better, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.

After my graduation, I started working at Luxembourg’s leading qualified trust service provider. I enjoyed my time there, but my passion is the outdoors and that's the industry I wanted to work in. That is why after almost 4 years, I took a one-way ticket to Aotearoa New Zealand, as I always wanted to explore this beautiful country and thus possibly get into the outdoor industry.

I used this opportunity to gain experience by participated in a Pure Exploration program to become an adventure guide. As an instructor, I want to connect the students with nature, bring them closer to the culture of the respective country and see the progress that they make during the programs. In my opinion, you can only grow and expand your horizon with travelling.

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Liam Merkle

Program Instructor

Liam has been an explorer since the beginning of life. At 5 weeks old he moved from the United States to Germany. His childhood was spent traveling; by the time he graduated high school, Liam had visited more countries than he had fingers to count.

Traveling taught Liam to build connections quickly. He found himself drawn to performance. This led Liam to study musical theatre at the University of Miami and spend his summers teaching English in Italy through theatre and play. It was during these travels that Liam discovered his love of circus arts and began training aerial silks.

Post university, Liam moved to Los Angeles where he worked at a trapeze school. He enjoyed connecting with others by means of expanding comfort zones. Liam loved flying through the air and felt called to cultivate more self awareness. He traveled to north India where he studied yoga intensely for 6 weeks, and then continued to practice in Thailand. When it was time to return to the US, Liam went to New Mexico where he taught yoga and circus arts.

New Mexico offered Liam a whole new set of skills. He learned how to rock climb, snowboard, and whitewater raft, and became an instructor in each of these disciplines. These skills, combined with Liam’s innate desire to help others, led Liam to work in adventure therapy. In 2021 Liam started working with The Mountain Center, a non-profit that encourages healing trauma through nature therapy and challenge by choice modalities. Liam has the opportunity to work with a variety of at-risk adult and adolescent groups. He finds meaning in learning with others and deepening his empathy for all.

Being a proponent of experiential education, Liam continues to travel for growth. He recently spent 6 months in Colombia where he developed his Spanish skills and learned how to make the tastiest arepas! When Liam isn’t traveling, he cherishes time with his parents and siblings and continues to facilitate adventure therapy with The Mountain Center.

Liam lives each day knowing that it is a gift. He embraces change and diversity with curiosity and love.

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Rachel Lightner

Program Instructor

Constantly curious and most often on the move, Rachel Lightner is happiest when exploring new places. Growing up in the mountains of southern Oregon, Rachel discovered her love for nature by climbing trees around her home and snowboarding on the slopes of Mt. Ashland. For her senior project in high school, Rachel volunteered as a snowboard coach for the Special Olympics and discovered her passion for education, particularly in the outdoors. She followed this love for outdoor and experiential education by pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies of Outdoor Adventure Leadership and Journalism at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. Rachel spent a semester of college abroad in Alicante, Spain where she took her favorite course load: Spanish, salsa, and sailing. Her time abroad also brought her to Germany, England, Morocco and Italy, where she caught the travel bug and fell in love with the sense of childlike curiosity that visiting new places brought to her. She pursued this feeling post college by traveling to Israel for her birthright trip, Greece to explore its magical islands, China to teach outdoor education, the Phillippines to learn how to scuba dive, and Japan to ski the epic powder.

Upon graduating college, Rachel dove into a career in outdoor education, working as an English Instructor for Adventure Risk Challenge, a non-profit leadership and literacy program for underserved youth in California. She continued working in this field, from the Sierra Nevada mountains for Outdoor Adventures by Boojum to the karst mountains of China for Indier Outdoor Education. Rachel became a backcountry snowcat guide for Pacific Crest Snowcats in Truckee, CA and worked as a residential advisor and teacher for Alzar School. Most recently, she fell in love with the rivers of Idaho and became a raft guide on the Salmon River.

Drawn to both wild and well-known locations, Rachel has ventured to parts of the world in search of places, people, and cultures different from her own. Through these experiences, she continues to gain a deeper sense of self and appreciation for the vastness of the world. She is excited to share this passion for exploration with students at Pacific Discovery.

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Andrew Loveridge

Program Instructor

Kia ora y’all. I feel grateful to introduce myself and tell you a bit about my story. I’m Andy, and I come from the West Coast of New Zealand/Aotearoa. I was brought up on a farm in Taranaki and have been getting into adventures since as long as I can remember. I feel fortunate to have been raised in a setting that allowed me to roam free in the forests and up the creeks ever since I was a little kiwi ‘ankle biter’!

After finishing high school I headed north for the ‘Metropolis’ of Hamilton to study at the University of Waikato. Through various experiences and influences in the sporting and tourism worlds, I decided that working in the Outdoor Education and Adventure industry was the career for me. I’ve been lucky enough now to have banked a few years (15+) in the ‘Outdoor’ world as both a professional and enthusiast in any bit of spare time I have.

For the first half of these years I focused largely on adventure guiding both in NZ and overseas -- sea kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds (NZ) and Turkey and whitewater rafting and kayaking in the Central North Island of NZ, Japan, Nepal and Northern Thailand. This time as a guide introduced me to working with a diversity of people in many different environments, learning the importance of staying calm in times of stress and uplifting people when they need it the most. Most of all, I learned the value of stepping outside of my comfort zone, as traveling abroad so often encourages (or demands!) us to do.

For the last few years, I have had the joy of working with groups in experiential education settings. I love the challenge of bringing people together and all the unexpected goodness that comes when we are open to humility and committed to whatever the cause is - in beautiful yet challenging environments. After a few years at Outward Bound NZ, and more recently NOLS, I am excited to return to Pacific Discovery with whom I’ve had the opportunity to lead programs in NZ, Australia, Fiji and Thailand.

I’m frothing to start my next PD experience leading the Polynesian Journey. Soaking up all the amazing cultural and natural diversity in these communities drives me to stay connected to place and self - keeping me present so I can hopefully deliver an unforgettable experience to all the amazing students that I can also learn from.

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Richard Walker

Program Instructor

Richard was born and raised on an industrial apple farm in the Hudson Valley region of New York, and has been fascinated with the natural world from a young age. Combined with a family history of frequent moves and wide-ranging travel, this blossomed into an academic interest in global ecology and sociology. In the course of finishing his Biology degree at the University of Central Florida, he discovered the transformative power of the outdoors and fell in love with outdoor recreation as an industry. Now he looks forward to sharing his knowledge and experience with students, facilitating more outdoor experiences, expanding his horizons, and ALWAYS learning something new!

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Sophia Hutchison

Program Instructor

Sophia grew up sailing and swimming in the Great Lakes of Michigan. She’s been traveling the globe since an early age. Over the past decade she has spent time backpacking, living, working, and volunteering in places like France, Haiti, Tahiti, Kiribati, Aotearoa, Australia, Belgium, and Palestine. Throughout her travels and personal experiences she developed a passion for social justice and equity. This lead her to pursue a degree in Intercultural Peacebuilding and Anthropology as well as a Master’s in Conflict Transformation.

In numerous countries she has worked as a mediator and peace educator. During her time in Haiti, she spent several years working with survivors of human trafficking as well as a number of years on O'ahu working with survivors of sex trafficking.

Sophia has been dancing since the age of 5. After moving to O'ahu ten years ago, she joined a halau (Hawaiian hula group) and has performed in festivals and luaus in Aotearoa, Tahiti, and Kiribati. She has also danced Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, Fijian, Maori, and Tongan style dances professionally at places like the Polynesian Cultural Center and Chief’s Luau. Throughout her dancing career, she also taught dance classes to underserved youth in Haiti and Kiribati.

When Sophia is not traveling or working, she is an avid surfer, hiker, and diver. Anything that allows her to spend time in the great outdoors, especially the ocean!

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Sabrina Lemar

Program Instructor

Sabrina grew up in the USA in a small farm town in Massachusetts before heading down to Florida to obtain a degree in Sociology and Psychology. While in college, she studied abroad in Europe and fell in love with travel and learning about other cultures. When visiting home for the holidays, she taught various grades as a substitute teacher and as an after school care counselor, where she developed a passion for working with youth.

After graduation she spent two years as a Team Leader in Americorps NCCC, leading groups of young adults ages 18-24 across the United States to assist in various national and community service projects, ranging from construction to environmental conservation. During this time she developed a passion for service, the great outdoors, and working with youth in a more hands-on environment.

Since then she has spent five summers as a camp counselor at an outdoor wilderness camp teaching canoeing, archery, and co-leading camping and backpacking trips. She had the opportunity to spend a year as a youth counselor on cruise ships, working with youth from around the world. She has also has taught English in China and was an Au Pair in Italy. Most recently Sabrina has lead two separate teen summer programs in national parks in the USA. So far she has traveled to over thirty-three countries, and aims to continue working with youth and exploring all the world has to offer.

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Simon Lochner

Program Instructor

Hey there! I'm Simon, a passionate social worker and nature lover. I love adventures! I find peace and inspiration in the great outdoors. I recently cycled from my tiny hometown in Germany, through western Europe and down the colourful coastline of West Africa to Ghana. I believe travel is a privilege and these experiences have shaped my perspective and deepened my commitment to creating positive change in the world. I’m currently living on beautiful Yuin Country in Australia where I get to be immersed in nature on a daily basis. In my free time, you’ll find me by the ocean or hiking, climbing or snowboarding.

I’ve backpacked through enchanting landscapes in East Africa, South America, and Asia, immersing myself in diverse cultures along the way. Trekking in Nepal, studying yoga and meditation in India and working to restore an old tomb in Egypt are experiences that stand out to me as highlights in my journey so far. I've lived in Thailand, embracing the simplicity of life in a pottery factory, and in Jordan, where I specialized in social work to support refugees and displaced persons. These activities fuel my adventurous spirit and remind me of the beauty and interconnectedness of our global community. I believe in the power of deep listening, presence and the power of an experience like going travelling, to connect us to ourselves and one and other.

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Sarah Loring

Program Instructor

Sarah has lived in Washington State her whole life. When she was younger, she had the privilege of trying every sport and activity possible. She finally fell in love with dance in high school. Sarah loves that dance is a way to express yourself and a form of art. One of her favorite things to do is to go out dancing to live music. While she was growing up, her parents always had an adventure planned. This ranged from building a zipline and treehouse in the backyard to driving across the states. This is where her sense of adventure was sparked. She enjoys being outside her comfort zone in new environments. She has always been fascinated with the natural world as well. She remembers being little and being intrigued by insects, plants, and underwater life.

Sarah has a Secondary Teaching Certificate with a geology and astronomy endorsement. While in school she became very passionate about accessibility, diversity, privilege and representation in the outdoors and outdoor industries. Since graduating, Sarah has done a lot of personal travel, wilderness expeditions with youth, and ski instructing. She has taught skiing in Taos, NM, and in Saas-fee, Switzerland. She loves ski instruction because she can work on her own ski and snowboarding skills while sharing her knowledge and passion for the mountain and how to care for it. She also loves a good powder day with friends! For the past couple of summers she has led backpacking trips and service trips for middle and high school students. She loves leading these trips because of the community, friendships, and leadership that is formed.

Sarah enjoys learning new languages, skills, and working on personal growth. Some of her most recent accomplishments include backpacking 160 kilometers on the Pacific Crest Trail for 10 days, gaining her scuba certification in Bali, learning Spanish, and ski-mountaineering 3 Volcanoes in Washington state. When she's not working her interests are any outdoor sport. She loves off-trail backpacking and navigating, backcountry skiing, surfing, snowboarding, yoga, meditation and breathwork, being a dog-aunt, doing cold plunges, spending time with family, and scuba diving.

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Kayleigh DeBruyne

Program Instructor

I have been working in the outdoor, experiential education industry for over 10 years and find I am happiest when exploring and making connections. My passion for the outdoors began as a child growing up in the midwest United States, chasing fireflies in my backyard and swimming in lakes any chance I had. I attended an experiential education focused semester school in northern Wisconsin during high school that changed my life and truly opened my eyes to the power of hands-on learning. After high school, I chose to have my own gap year experience of traveling in South America. This experience solidified my love of solo travel and challenging myself through novel experiences. I have since traveled all over the world, solo or with others, to fuel this passion.

I studied Anthropology and Environmental Biology in the Pacific Northwest and have dedicated my career to connecting people, place and environment with a focus in youth leadership development. I have worked as an environmental educator, instructor in wilderness therapy, leadership facilitator, wilderness guide and outdoor program director. Most significantly, I have led two 6-week expeditions in the Alaskan wilderness north of the Arctic Circle. There are few things more magnificent than being surrounded by mountains under the midnight sun!

Travel and adventure are key aspects of my life whether that is dogsledding in frigid weather or canoeing in the backcountry. I am always itching to plan the next adventure. I find deep joy in being near water and love any moment I am paddling, swimming or diving. I also love an evening in, drinking tea, surrounded by good company with stirring conversation and laughter. My go-tos when traveling are always any botanical garden or swimming hole nearby and heading out in pursuit of the best bagel, ice cream or local pastry I can find.

I love facilitating experiences in the wild for people to challenge themselves, learn leadership skills and connect authentically with themselves and the world around them. Two values I hold dearly are curiosity and joy and I look forward to sharing those with you all as we embark on this adventure together.

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Jake Wiebrecht

Program Instructor

From a young age, my mum got me into travel. She took my brother and I around the world to places like Fiji, Bali, Thailand, and Vietnam. I didn’t realise then how truly blessed I was to have the opportunity to go to these places at such a young age. Having caught the travel and adventure bug, I knew I wanted to travel the rest of the world but also knew it wouldn’t be cheap.

Fresh out of school, not knowing what I wanted to do, I became a carpenter. I liked being outdoors and being physical with my body. Working hard and stepping back to look what I had built was satisfying, but it wasn’t my passion. I’d spend my days and nights dreaming about taking off and seeing the world. A holiday wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to live and breathe adventure, so I went out to make a career out of it.

I came across the Pure Exploration adventure guide program in Queenstown, New Zealand giving me an introduction into the guiding industry and it was the best decision I ever made. From there, I spent the rest of 2023 working in the guiding industry for Nomad safaris who do 4-wheel drive, quad bike, and hiking tours. A full mixture of nature and adventure. During winter, I threw myself into my first ever snow season and in 3 months became a snowboard instructor. I plan to get many more qualifications and go to many more places.

I now find enjoyment in my clients, teaching skills, and inspiring people to see the world. Pacific Discovery has given me the chance to do that.

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Taylor Picard

Program Instructor

Growing up in Wisconsin, my love of the outdoors began while camping in quiet woodlands and swimming through clear lakes, but I dreamed of grander adventures and landscapes. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I was able to embark out on my own to discover what the world had to offer. I’ve worked in National Parks, taught English in Thailand, lived nomadically in a travel trailer for 4 years, and ultimately have found myself in the Desert SW.

In my adult life, I have sought to find balance between travel and forming community. This has meant that I try to spend months or years experiencing a place to truly get to know it and form a lasting, meaningful connection with people.

I’ve been living out my dream as a guide, naturalist, and photographer since 2019, taking groups of people of varied ages and abilities on hiking, backpacking, and photography tours across the Western United States. During that time I developed many leadership skills, which emphasize empathy, community, and trust. The most fulfilling part of my job has always been helping people find connection with their surroundings, sparking curiosity, and witnessing the transformative powers that an outdoor experience can have on people. I love facilitating the journey of self-discovery and know that the path is never ending. If I can be the person who listens and really tries to understand you, who encourages and pushes you to learn more about yourself and grow, who you can relate to or seek advice from...there’s nothing more rewarding.

When I’m not hiking or taking pictures I enjoy rock climbing, being in/on/or near water, reading, volunteer-work, embroidery, and hosting dinner parties.

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