Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adventure Walks

When a company called Adventure Walks invited me on one of their trips I could hardly contain my excitement. Their slogan ‘see paradise, not people’, evoked images of stunning scenery, lush forest, crystal clear lakes and fairies dancing on lilies. So when my housemate who, unlike me, is an experienced walker mentioned ‘gators’ I became slightly concerned.

“But I thought they only lived in Australia? Do you think they’ll bite me?”

When she told me she was referring to protective gear that you strap onto the bottom of your legs, and not the scaly creatures with big teeth that live in rivers, I have to say I was quite relieved. With this in mind, I made a wise decision to head to the experts, Outside Sports (Queenstown), who kitted me out with all the essential gear to survive a night in the wilderness.

I was picked up early the next morning by our guide, Andy, and we headed off to Te Anau where we would begin our trip to Lake McIvor and meet up with our group of 10. By the time we arrived, huge dark clouds floated menacingly above us and a storm was forming over our destination.

With that in mind, Andy had several alternatives up his sleeve. A quick decision was made to do the Back Valley track and head out to Hope Arm Hut where we would camp next to the beautiful Lake Manapouri. Once we’d decided what to do, the weather miraculously cleared up and we were able to do a fifteen minute flight in a small floater plane over Fiordland National Park and were dropped off on a remote beach.

After a good fat lunch of cheese and ham sandwiches, we began our trek. It was an easy walk but bearing in mind you have to carry a big rucksack with tents, sleeping bags and food, you do need to be reasonably fit. We walked for around 3 or 4 hours through lush shaded forest, whilst looking out for deer and wild pigs.

The rain set in just as we reached our destination so we quickly popped up our tents. By the time the heavy rain came we were snuggled into the cosy Hope Arm hut cooking steaks and drinking wine.

In the morning we were greeted by clear blue skies so we spent some time on the tranquil shores of the lake then tucked into a big breakfast of sausages and beans washed down with tons of coffee. After this we headed off into the forest for the next part of the trip. As we walked, steam rose from thick green moss as beams of sunlight shone through the trees, creating a mystical setting and I half expected Frodo to appear before me.

After clambering over steel wire bridges and relaxing in the sun at Back Valley hut, we then set off for a walk around the swamps – although it did feel as though we were walking right through them! The mud was very mushy and nearly everyone left behind a boot at one point! It was quite an adventure jumping across streams, balancing on logs and struggling through off road jungle in an attempt to avoid the muddy path, but it was great. We walked for around five hours that day and ended with a boat ride back to Manapouri.

Having felt that my waterproofs hadn’t worked hard enough, I decided to give them a real test. At the Pop In cafĂ© at Te Anau, desperate for a hot drink, I ordered a large hot chocolate. Not able to wait, I popped on a lid and started gulping down my lovely, well deserved drink. When I still couldn’t taste it after a few seconds, I looked down to find brown liquid streaming down my jacket and down the insides of both my legs. In my rush to get the hot drink into my cold body, I hadn’t put the lid on properly and therefore unknowingly became the test dummy for Outside Sports waterproof jacket and pants. They worked!

This trip is perfect for adventurous types who prefer to be away from big crowds. We only saw two other people on our trek. There is a list of essential items on the Adventure Walks website. Backpacks and gaiters (things that strap around your calves to protect them from scratches and not the things that swim in rivers and bite you) can be rented from Andy. The rest of your gear can be rented from Outside Sports and is excellent quality, as I proved!

Trips can be booked through both the Queenstown YHA’s. For more information, check out the website: