The latest update from Kaylee Pickett, one of our adventure guide interns based in Queenstown:
October brought loads of training and hands-on learning.
We started with what remains one of the most fun days of the course, river crossing! Dressed in full-body wetsuits with waterproofed packs strapped to our backs, we learned how to cross fast moving water as pairs and as a full team, as well as how to swim on our stomachs and backs using our packs for floatation. The skills we gained helped us several times later in the course each time a river blocked our path, although there was one cheeky incident with a pack thrown directly into the water (whoops).
To continue practicing the navigation techniques we learned in the classroom in the first weeks, we popped over to Arrowtown to do some on and off track trekking on Big Hill. This marked the start of our first Trekking Module. Starting with shorter navigation legs on track focused on timing and pacing, we honed our map reading skills and pushed off track along formidable ridgelines to the summit high above the Wakatipu Basin. Thighs and glutes burning with each step up steep spur lines, we gained excellent awareness of contour line reading, safety with groups along difficult terrain, and further developed our abilities to identify features around us.
The next two days included much of the same, with a hike in Skippers Canyon that developed into injury management with groups in off-track settings due to a sore ankle and a day spent in the rainy but stunning Mount Aspiring National Park up to the Rob Roy Glacier.
After a day’s rest and lots of packing, the crew set off for an epic roadie around the South Island for some serious climbing, a bit of trekking, lots of stunning views, and unforgettable times as a team.
Avoiding some nasty weather up North, we started in Dunedin at Long Beach, the perfect beach bum climbing area. Barefoot belays in the sand assisted some awesome climbs with views of crashing waves and hippies meandering to a cave party happening later that evening. It was the perfect start to what would be our favorite two weeks of the program.
Our main destination was the sunny and beautiful Golden Bay, near Nelson on the north part of the South Island, but we took our time getting up there. We stopped along the way at the Moeraki Boulders for a bit of a geek out on bizarre geology and for some climbing at Elephant Rocks. 413 km north to Hamner Springs after lots of singing and sleeping in our beloved van, Buppy, we stopped for a delicious dinner of our lead instructor’s favorite meal, Dal Bhat, a quick half day hike, and the best chill out at the local hot springs.
Finally arriving in Nelson after seeing some of the greatest parts of the East coast, we spent an incredible day waka paddling on the coast of the Abel Tasman. Guided by the power couple of the century and their two young daughters, we got to experience true waka paddling and Maori culture in the most beautiful environment. This special day remains as many of the crew’s favorite.
We spent the majority of our time up north in Golden Bay, a climber’s absolute paradise. Perfect sunny weather, some of the best climbs in New Zealand, and a chilled out hippie vibe…what more can you ask for?
We trained and climbed almost every day, building upon the skills we developed in Wanaka and gaining new ones, from single pitch top rope rescue to commercial abseil set ups and lots and lots of lead climbing. After long days on the rock, the crew ran down to the beach for a quick swim in the chilly water before relaxing at an amazing beach bach. It was over this week together at the beach that the team really came together, learning to balance lots of fun with some studying and a touch of group management and cooking.
We had one day off in the middle of the week, and after a planning session at a Department of Conservation office checking out the mountains in the area, we headed to the famous Mussel Inn for a couple of pints and then to Wharariki Beach. Covered in thousands of tiny blue jellyfish and pumping with wind, the beach felt like another planet.
Remembering the course includes trekking, we packed up our backpacks and headed up to the Cobb Valley for a big overnight. 30 km and nearly 2000 m of elevation over two days brought us from jungle to sub-alpine and to our first night in a hut. We got quite lucky and saw a kaka on the first day, one of New Zealand’s native endangered parrots. The second day brought winds over 100 kph on an exposed ridgeline (it’s more fun than it sounds) and lots of cheesy jokes on the final push to the finish.
Stops along the way to the pancake rocks in Punakaiki, the Fox Glacier, and the Haast Pass brought us nearly 900 km back down to Queenstown, hearts happy, feet sore, and fingers callused.
- - - - -