Our Team

A bunch of legends, basically

Zach Johnston

Director
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.

Brian Daly

Business Manager
Brian hails from Colorado and has been immersed in the outdoors from a young age. After completing his degree, he decided that travel was his next step towards achieving his goals.

Brian started traveling in 2016 and settled in Australia to pursue his post-graduate degree. After living the city life for 2 years in Melbourne and traveling to a few different countries along the way, Brian decided to jump across the Tasman to Queenstown with a goal of getting back into the outdoors and beginning a career in the outdoor industry.

Queenstown quickly became his home and he’s never looked back. In his free time, Brian enjoys rock climbing, skiing, hiking, camping and biking. His love for outdoors has lead him to a role with Pure Exploration and where he can continue sharing his love for the outdoors with his colleagues and our program participants.

Kat Menz

Program Advisor
Kat comes to Pure Exploration from Northern California. She started traveling in 2014 when she participated in a study abroad program in Italy for 5 months and hasn't stopped moving since. After trekking around western Europe, she moved to Hawaii before making her way to New Zealand in 2018. Since then, she's maintained the ultimate "Endless Summer" living between California, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

Working American summers as a backpacking guide for high school students, Kat has trekked and traveled to some pretty epic spots, for some lengthy amounts of time. Recently, she worked as a wildland firefighter in California and is now a part of the local fire brigade here in Queenstown. When not working, you'll find her on the mountain, trying not to crash into a tree on her bike, hiking to remote camp spots, or eating ice cream.

Kat loves to be active in the outdoors with friends. She remembers her first backpacking trip fondly and is so grateful she was pushed to try it. Now, she is returning the favor by advising students on the different programs we offer, encouraging folks to step outside their comfort zones and invest in themselves.

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
Exploration.

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.

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!

Amelia Sease

Program Instructor
Amelia grew up in Colorado, climbing lots of trees and fueling her fire for outdoor adventures. During college at the University of CU Boulder, she studied biochemistry and environmental design. That’s also where she discovered her love for climbing and began spending all of her free time climbing locally around Colorado and Utah, as well as adventuring abroad for climbing trips in Morocco, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru.

She took a gap year with Pacific Discovery in 2016 and was enamored with the adventure tourism industry. She spent the next few years traveling, climbing, and mountaineering as much as possible to prepare for a career in guiding and adventure travel. She began working for Pacific Discovery as a gap year instructor in 2020 and continued on to work several seasons in the Western US, Central America, South America, and Thailand. In 2022 she began working as a hiking instructor with NOLS, guiding several trips in Alaska and Wyoming. She is so excited to begin her adventures leading with Pure Ex!