Our Team

A bunch of legends, basically

Zach Johnston

I’m passionate about travel, exploration and adventure. It’s the most exhilarating feeling available, brings us alive and inspires us to connect with ourselves, others, work, family and friends. Travel and Adventure open and strengthen the mind, expanding our perspective to make informed decisions that positively affect opportunities that come our way. I love turning fear of the unknown into curiosity and wonderment.

Zach is a former military officer, Senior Instructor Leadership Development, General Manager in the Tourism Industry; Field Based Outdoor Educator, International Expedition Leader and Operational Ambulance Officer with extensive travel experience in 3rd world, developing and developed countries.

Graham Kinlan

General Manager
Graham grew up amongst the cathedrals and pubs of lively Dublin. The Guinness didn’t get in his way of getting a master’s degree at the Dublin Institute of Technology though. He still loves going back to Ireland for a visit but has been calling New Zealand his home since 2011.

Of course, it’s hard to leave a place like Queenstown, which has so many outdoor activities to get involved with. You can often find him exploring new mountain bike trails, playing a game of ice hockey with his mates or shredding the slopes on skis or a board.

Travel has been a big part of Graham’s life as he has explored most of Europe and took an unforgettable six-month trip around Southeast Asia. Knowing all these countries has been a huge advantage managing travel companies. He has previously been a General Manager for a small group tour company and a Business Manager for a well-known extreme activity company, before taking on Pacific Discovery and Pure Exploration.

Steph Ose

Program Advisor
Steph grew up near the Cotswolds in England so has always loved the countryside and the outdoors. After studying Linguistics in York which introduced her to the famous Dales, there began her love of tramping and camping.

After ending up in the corporate world and realising it was lacking in any joy or fulfillment, she decided a change was needed. Her love of languages and studying different cultures spurred the urge to travel; she booked a one-way flight to Australia and went solo traveling for a year, back-packing across Oceania. The Adventure Guide Program brought her to New Zealand as a student, and she has decided to call this home.

Steph can often be found climbing local crags or bouldering on days off, or away on multi-day hikes bagging backcountry DOC huts. Steph is passionate about getting people out of their comfort zones to experience new things. Her role as Program Advisor at Pure Exploration is the perfect place for her to engage with new aspiring adventurers, and connect with like-minded folk.

Danielle Lomas

Program Advisor
Dani grew up in the southern parts of Australia with a froth for the ocean, being in the sun, and exploring her own backyard. After school, Dani spent the next 8 years traveling around the globe, from 1-month trips to year-long ventures, she spent her time hiking, biking, diving, and volunteering to see all the amazing places other people call home and connecting with like-minded people who also got stoked about being outside.

With a background in environmental policy and management and international development, she decided she wanted to venture into the world of guiding, where she eventually found herself running quad bike, buggy, fat bike, and kayak tours on a small island near her hometown. This transition is eventually what led her to us here at Pure Exploration, as she wanted to build on her skills in the outdoors. Dani was actually a participant on one of our adventure guide programs here in Queenstown and now has an even bigger love for climbing and hiking than before. After finishing up she decided to call Queenstown her home for a while and has joined us in the office here at Pure Exploration, where her backyard now is full of endless adventures and she gets to spend her days talking to future students about all the amazing opportunities our programs have to offer.

Orla O Muiri

Digital Marketing Manager
From a small town in rural Ireland, Orla has spent her life jumping around the world in pursuit of adventures. With a background in journalism and videography, she has managed to make her two passions into a job, as Digital Marketing Manager of Pacific Discovery and Pure Exploration.

Her path in the industry began with a journalism degree in Edinburgh, Scotland and a semester studying abroad in Missouri, USA. From there, she spent a year teaching English in Vietnam. Going on to work in marketing for adventure magazines, travel companies and video production companies in Ireland, France, and the UK. Eventually arriving in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. A skier, a wild swimmer and a terrible yogi, she is happiest when out in nature.

Fiona Davies

Operations Manager
A born and bred Kiwi, Fiona (or 'Fe' as her friends call her) grew up around the sunny beaches of Auckland, always within a 2 minute walk to the beach, so her childhood was filled with beaches, fishing and boating.

This inevitably led to a love of the natural world so after getting a degree in Zoology, she worked in aquariums around the world with penguins, sharks and turtles! After a while the lure of New Zealand drew her back, though this time to the mountains of Queenstown where she has worked in adventure travel ever since. She spent 5 years as a hiking guide on the famous Milford and Routeburn tracks, thus bringing a wealth of outdoor expertise to our team.

A self-confessed 'bird nerd', Fe loves the New Zealand wilderness, and on the weekends you'll find her with her husband and daughter hiking up a mountain to a backcountry hut, drinking wine at the top or skiing back down it!

Sahnya Shiels

Program Planning Manager
Sahnya grew up in the rural town of Bantry on the south west coast of Ireland. With the Atlantic on her doorstep she spent most of her time exploring the rugged coastline hiking, sailing and horse riding. Her first passion was the little known sport of Eventing where she was part of the Irish Junior Eventing team, representing Ireland at junior international level.

Having traveled to some competitions abroad, Sahnya realized that she wanted to explore the world. She spent time living and working in Canada, before setting her sights on the French Alps where she spent two seasons as a Chalet Manager. Journeying on to Australia, Sahnya fell in love with rock climbing, being thrown in at the deep end learning to trad climb in Arapiles, she has never looked back!

During Covid, Sahnya found herself back in the UK and ended up setting up and running her own watersports business alongside her partner, qualifying as a watersports instructor along the way. After establishing the business, they decided to hand over the reins and come to New Zealand in search of new adventures. Sahnya fell in love with Queenstown immediately (who wouldn’t!) and has joined the Pure Exploration crew as part of the operations team.

An avid skier, biker, hiker and climber in her free time, during work hours Sahnya enjoys the logistical challenge of making our programs run smoothly!

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.

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 participants of Pure Exploration.

Ivor Levin

Program Instructor
Ivor hails from Scotland where he received a bachelor's degree in Economics and a post-graduate Masters' degree in Outdoor Education from the University of Edinburgh. His life changed in 1995 when he first visited New Zealand, spending six months tramping and traveling before moving here permanently in 2000. These days, he’s Kiwi as.

Ivor draws from nearly endless experience operating in the outdoors. He holds British Mountaineering Council qualifications and has a log book stretching for miles. He’s all about ski mountaineering, technical alpine rock climbing, and multi-method travel missions in the mountains.

After owning and operating a successful rock climbing gym and guiding company, he spent several years teaching at the Poly Technic in Nelson. There he trained countless outdoor professionals, greatly enjoying the snow safety and avalanche training, mountain biking, and rock climbing training modules. Several times a year, he takes groups to the developing world, bringing him to Nepal, Mongolia, Ecuador, Tanzania, Peru, South East Asia, and India.

When he’s not busy on course training the next crew of outdoor badasses, he’s swinging around on geo-technical industrial rope access jobs, trad climbing in the Remarkables, and linking up mighty missions around the South Island.

Amrit Ale

In-Country Instructor
Amrit grew up in the foothills of the Nepali Himalayas to the west of Pokhara and spent every available moment exploring the region by foot, or playing in the rapids on the Aadhi Khola River. His passion for the outdoor life continued after he graduated when he went to work for the family adventure sports business, offering him the opportunity to raft many of Nepal’s pristine rivers and trek and climb the country’s majestic peaks.

Amrit’s desire to learn more and expand his horizons took him to the USA on a scholarship, where he qualified as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), leading trips within the Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas since 2005. Continuing his international links, Amrit has been working hand in hand with leading experiential learning education companies Pacific Discovery and Pure

As part of his ethos of giving back, since 2009 each January he has worked as a volunteer ice climbing instructor for the Khumbu Climbing Centre (KCC) in Phortse in the Everest region, teaching technical skills to high altitude mountaineers and workers ahead of the expedition season. In 2016, he was selected from the KCC instructors to work as a volunteer for the National Parks Service in both Denali and Yosemite National Parks, working alongside the Denali National Park Service Mountain Rescue Team and Yosemite Climbing Rangers. During this time, he summited Denali, North America’s highest mountain peak.

In 2009 Amrit started his own sustainable trekking, tours and outdoor education company,
Himalayan Quests. In 2013 he started running rural health camps and in 2015, set up a sister Not for Profit, Himalayan Quests Foundation which focuses on rural health and education projects.

In acknowledgement of his hard work at the KCC, technical and business skills, in 2019 he
was made Executive Director of the climbing centre as the international management team stepped back and handed over the running of the school to an all-Nepali team. At much the same time, he was also invited to be a member of the 2019 National Geographic Perpetual Planet Expedition up Mount Everest, designed to measure the impact of climate change on the Himalaya.

In 2021, Amrit was personally invited to join the Full Circle Everest Expedition by expedition leader Phil Henderson, while accompanying the team on a training climb on Mount Rainer. As Executive Director of KCC, the organisation that provided the majority of the Nepali climbing and support team, Amrit’s role was that of both liaison between the local and international teams as well as expedition photographer. Amrit, along with 7 members of the Full Circle team and the local Nepali climbers, made history when they reached the summit, doubling the number of international people of colour who had reached the top.

With over 20 years of experience leading adventure trips, Amrit is passionate about his country and culture and loves to explore his home and to share the joys of Nepal with others. He is an avid climber, trekker, photographer and outdoor educator and is Wilderness Emergency Medicine Technician (WEMT) and Wilderness First Aid Instructor qualified for wilderness medicine school, SOLO, New Hampshire, USA.

Manuel Quiroga

In-Country Instructor
Manuel was born in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina. The humid pampas by the Parana River. His family owned a little house in Cordoba, the Sierras, where they use to go on vacation. That’s where his mountain spirit began to grow.

On the pampas, there were no mountains to climb, so Manuel learned how to climb on a brick wall in the middle of the city and escaped to the mountains every once a while. To get to the nearest mountains involved 7 hours of driving and 2 hours of hiking!

After learning how to clip bolts, he started trad climb. He became a summer backpacking guide in 1997 with the Argentinean Association of Mountain Guides. In 1998, he moved to Canada where he worked as a Canoe Guide and Program Director at YMCA Camp Kanawana. After 2 year, he decided to return to Argentina. He went to Aconcagua, Ushuaia, Torres del Paine, Bolivia, etc. and in El Chaltén, he found a guide job right away for the following season.

In 2001, he got his winter and summer backpacking qualifications and worked in both El Chaltén and the Canadian Rockies. In 2005, he got his (IFMGA) International Federation Mountain Guides Association certificate. This allow him to guide worldwide. Since then he has guided in Canada, Peru, Bolivia, Switzerland, Chamonix and Chile.

He became the first guide to complete the Argentinean Mountain Guides Association training platform. He has lived in El Chaltén since 2000 and is the first Argentinean Guide to guide Fitz Roy by the supercolouir route. He is also part of El Chaltén SAR (Search and Rescue). His passions are alpine rock climbing, ice climbing, ski mountaineering and paragliding.

Jamie Marr

Program Instructor
Jamie moved South from Auckland 9 years ago, settling into Aoraki Polytech which grew his interest in the outdoors. Since leaving school he has worked as a glacier guide and climbed in America, France, England, Australia, and of course New Zealand.

His early years in Queenstown started with a lot of local rock guiding and managing Climbing Queenstown. Now qualified with Rock 2, Alpine 1, and ARML5, he has his sights set on the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association (NZMGA). He is also a member of the Wakatipu Alpine Cliff Rescue Team.

Jamie is passionate about delivering high-quality instruction that challenges and encourages people to get the most out of their outdoor experience, whether it be mentally, physically, or spiritually.

Maddy Moore

Program Instructor
Maddy was born in Singapore and grew up in Wellington, New Zealand. Her multi-national family (American mum and English dad) then moved to the United States where Maddy did most of her education. She got her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Natural Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania before coming back to her first home of New Zealand in 2021. Keen to do something that genuinely made her happy, Maddy joined the Queenstown Adventure Guide Program, where she got her guiding qualifications.

Maddy has always loved adventure and travel, with over 20 countries under her belt, and took the leap into the travel industry after her Pure Exploration graduation. Since 2021, Maddy has worked/trained in four countries with diverse groups of people from all corners of the world. When not traveling for work, Maddy loves running, solo-adventuring, illustrating, and working as a graphic designer on the side. She is so excited to be working with participants at Pure Exploration and is eager to share her journey post-graduation with them.

Adam Cotterell

Program Instructor
Originally from the Sunshine Coast in Australia, Adam spent his youth surfing, ocean swimming, and scrambling the volcanic plugs known as the Glasshouse Mountains.

Post high school, he moved to Brisbane to undertake a Bachelor of Biotechnology at UQ which eventually saw him working in the lab as a molecular pharmacologist. Adam used his time in science to fund his many travels across the globe with a focus on big adventures like completing a 37,000 km loop of South America on a 125 motorcycle and a solo cycling trip through the United States.

After spending five ski seasons in North America, Adam decided it was time to give the science gig away and live full-time in the mountains. Adam relocated to the stunning mountain town of Wanaka, New Zealand where he would embark on a new career in guiding.

During his first summer in Wanaka, Adam landed a job as a Trekking Guide and never looked back. He eventually became the Lead Trekking Guide while also working as a rock climbing instructor and Via Ferrata guide. He’s now an NZMGA Ski Guide, NZMGA Alpine Trekking Guide, NZOIA Rock Instructor, and an active member of Wanaka Search & Rescue.

Adam has run both the Queenstown and Patagonia Adventure Guide programs for Pure Exploration and looks forward to running a bunch more after spending an incredible summer crack climbing in British Columbia!

Cualann Richley

Program Instructor
I started my outdoor career at a young age undertaking my first caving trip at three years old with my Dad, I have been hooked ever since. Having grown up amongst outdoor instructors I realized early on there was little else that gave me such drive and passion as the outdoors. In work, I took an interest in outdoor education and working with young people to empower them to achieve their goals and push themselves.

In my personal time, I developed a healthy obsession with caving, climbing, and walking. If I wasn’t on a rock I was underground, always looking for the next adventure. After two years of multi-day canoe expeditions and hiking expeditions through the Australian bush and alpine regions, I decided it was time for a change and opened a paddle boarding and kayaking centre in Wales with my partner. Now craving a new challenge and adventure I’m coming to New Zealand, as I’ve always dreamed of doing, to see what’s in store.

Joel Buckley

Program Instructor
Joel grew up in South Auckland before leaving to study for a Diploma in Outdoor Education and leadership in the central north island, graduating in 2016. During this time, he worked in a rock-climbing gym and as a cave guide to help pay for his tuition and gain experience along the way. After graduating he moved to Te Anau and worked as a sea kayak guide for 2 years, exploring Fiordland and discovering a greater love for sea kayaking, paddling much of the coast and rivers. Four years as an instructor and senior instructor for teaching both groups outdoors and upskilling and managing groups of instructors has given him a great insight into how many facets of the outdoor
industry works. He has kayaked, climbed and bike toured in America, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. With a few surfing trips to Indonesia and spearfishing trips in the Pacific Islands as well just for good measure and pleasure of the sea. His own personal favorite trip was a solo and unsupported continuous circumnavigation of the North Island of Aotearoa. The approach he takes to teaching other instructors, guides or students is to share the love of adventure (stoke), encourage their growth and explore their potential as individuals and as a team, philosophy and adventure can never be too far apart!

Yasmin Smith

Program Instructor
I grew up in Wanaka and got introduced to rock climbing at high school. I moved away from Wanaka living between Australia and New Zealand working in the automotive industry.

In 2018 I decided it was now or never to pursue my passion as an outdoor instructor and completed the Otago Polytechnic Outdoor Education course in 2019. Since then I have been working as a Via Ferrata guide and rock climbing instructor, spending any free time climbing throughout New Zealand, Australia and Europe. When it's too hot to climb I can be found canyoning and swimming in beautiful Lake Wanaka.

I want to provide amazing experiences through practical learning and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to challenge themselves.