High on the Routeburn Track

Luxury Adventures are conducting a series of interviews with some of our key suppliers looking at the different aspects of their lives and how these influence the experiences they offer. Guided Walks New Zealand are located in Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand.

Typically our guests spend 3-5 days in the Central Otago region, what do you recommend as a must do walking/hiking experience when visiting the greater Southern Lakes area? ‘The Routeburn Track‘ is a highly marketed walk, which means that it becomes a very busy track in the summer season, where every walking/hiking company has to stay on the formed track. Except for us that is, as we’re the oldest guiding business in New Zealand 145 yrs old this summer, we still hold our original DoC concession which permits us as the only company to walk off track in the National Park.  This means that on our return journey we step onto the old long forgotten Maori greenstone trails and walk deep in the forest, undisturbed by other walkers. My personal favorite is the ‘Ultimate Nature Experience (UNE)’. As we’re the only company permitted to operate in this area, you will see no one else. On this trip clients are transported by jet boat, deep into the National Park where they are met by one of our guides on the side of the Dart River. From here we walk through an ancient Beech forest to a Sylvan Lake with reflections of the surrounding mountains. After lunch we continue on our walk where your guide will take you to a secret cave that we found last summer, but we’re not telling.

You have a couple of the best walks in New Zealand (and the world) on your doorstep – when visiting other parts of New Zealand what are a few of your favourite walks? ‘The Hump Ridge Track‘ is a fantastic walk, this walk is done in two nights and three days. You do need to be really fit for this one as the first day has a climb from sea level up to 980 meters. But once you’re on the top you get to walk in a Beech forest that is thousands of years old just like the rest of NZ, only these trees are not reaching for the sky, they are stunted by the extreme weather conditions of the area and stand a little over eight feet high. My other favorite would have to be the Rob Roy Glacier walk, this is the closest glacier experience to Queenstown and we are quite often honored by a visit from the Kea at our lunch spot, the only Alpine Parrot in the world.

Which 80’s pop group were you and the two ex SAS soldiers a bodyguard for in the UK and how did this influence the ‘You vs Wild’ product? Ha ha, this is quite often asked. Our past always catches up with us some where down the line. During the 80’s I was fortunate enough to be part of a three-man personal security team for Duran Duran. This had a great influence on my life and how I viewed the world and my environment. I was taught many skills by the guys that I worked with, as they thought it highly hilarious to use me as a Guinea Pig. We would take time off away from the group and play survival games in the hills, mountains, parks & even the back yards of peoples homes. If we had no parks or rural areas to play in, we would lift the storm drain covers of the city we were in and go caving underneath the city. So I guess along with a childhood of baiting the Gypsies and running off with their prized racing whippets (dogs), they would call it a dag but it was still just a dog to us kids, to see how far we could run from them with a muzzled dog snapping at your head just for fun, has influenced my life in some way.  I decided to add a theme to a walk and what better than Survival, it’s on every ones mind and all over the TV with shows such as Ray Mears extreme survival and of course the famous Bear Grylls Man vs. Wild.

On the ‘You vs Wild’ subject it sounds fascinating and quite different tell me what our guests can we expect from this experience and have you amassed any amusing stories? This an experience like no other, it is an Interactive Survival Experience, this not about the walk but about what you get in information, skills and tricks of the trade on how to survive in pretty much any environment. I focus on wilderness survival, but as you can imagine, I get asked questions on survival for most scenarios, so I will include a lot of every day items that you may have with you or may be lying around your home. This means that clients get the chance to practice the knowledge gained, and show friends a few party tricks, when they return to civilisation. As for amusing stories, a friend suggested that I take a photograph of clients’ faces as they chew down on a Huhu grub or similar bug (this is optional). As they would be photos to remember. One young lady said “we should throw wood on her boy friend, as he’s getting warmer than the sticks he’s rubbing together”. It just goes to show, it all takes time and practice.

What level of fitness will our guests need when embarking on a full day walk into the mountains? All of our walks are tailored to the clients on the day, so we only walk as fast as the slowest person in the group, which is usually the guide with the big bag. The oldest person to walk with me was a lady of 84 years, and she went Snowshoeing. Literally 10 meters from the top she did get that look in her eyes that says to me, “I can’t go on, leave me, save the others” our whole trip took an extra hour to reach our destination, but she was so pleased with herself when she reached the frozen lake, and we couldn’t stop her from entering he snow cave. If everyone else was going inside so was she.  I remember her saying “This is one for the bucket list, but I’ll have to add it on as I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be doing this”.

Are our customers going to be eating leaves, berries and lembas like on the ‘You vs Wild’ experience or is it good kiwi tucker on your walks? And more importantly who’s carrying it!? No wild food on our regular walks, it’s a good Kiwi picnic lunch. All our food is prepared at a local café by the name of Bobs’ Weigh, Bob is young keen and passionate about his food, so he suits us right down to the ground. We call the day before and he has all the food prepared ready for the guides to pack into their bags, which is carried by the guide. All the client needs to carry is a snack bar, bottle of water their camera and a smile. We even have a selection of rain coats for our clients to use free of charge while on the walk.

Are you seeing renewed interest in the Lord of the Rings scenery and locations with the premiere of The Hobbit movie only months away? Yes we are being asked where the locations are and what can we offer as a guided walk in these areas. I think that the Hobbit movies will put New Zealand firmly on the travellers mind once again, just as the “Lord of the Rings” did.

Snowshoeing near Queenstown New Zealand

Personally I think the Routeburn Track is a stunning walk and easily accessed from central Queenstown. Its already world renowned but for those that haven’t trod the Routeburn tell me what makes it so special from your perspective? The Routeburn holds a special place in the heart for anyone working or walking with Guided Walks New Zealand. This is where it all began for us, leading the gold miners across the mountains to Fiordland and bringing back supplies was how this company started, over 145 years a go. Having this history gives us an edge on the other companies, as we’re permitted to guide your clients off the beaten track and introduce them to the real New Zealand, just them and a guide, no one else, no one at all.

Heli-hiking is a popular choice enabling remote access in a short time frame which would other wise take many days to reach on foot. Tell me about 2 of your best experiences on offer. Our big one has to be ‘Mountains to Sea and Sand’. On this trip we take off from Queenstown by helicopter and fly deep into the Southern Alps where our seasoned heli pilot drops us in the mountains. From here we walk in an area that would normally take us 8 to 9 days to reach, we’ll walk in pristine valleys and drink from fresh mountain streams as we walk to our lunch spot in the middle of nowhere. Then at a designated spot or with a call on the mountain radio our pilot will fly us over the mountains to Fiordland where we land on a remote wild West Coast beach, this beach is only accessible by helicopter. This is my favorite part of the trip, as we take off our shoes and socks, leave then in the helicopter and walk bare foot through the soft sand, as our ancestors did so many years ago. Oh yes and you get to collect greenstone from the sand of this untouched little piece of paradise as we walk to the other end of the bay. With another call on trusty mountain radio, our pilot will lift off and land at our feet ready to carry us home. For something a bit closer to Queenstown we have either the Remarkables or our ‘Deep Valley Heli hike’.

Seasonally speaking, can our customers still walk with you during the winter months and how does the experience differ during this time?  All of our walks operate year round except for one, the Rob Roy Glacier and this is just because the trip down from the glacier lookout is quite often icy, and we don’t want to put clients in a situation where they feel uncomfortable. However if you’re walking somewhere like the Routeburn or one of our other walks in autumn or winter, we have hoar frost rising from the ground that quite often reaches a height of 8 to 10 centimeters and frozen waterfalls that sound like glass breaking as they fall from the sky. It’s spectacular.

Any new products in the pipeline that we should know about? New products, well! We didn’t want to jump on the Hobbit bandwagon and rename all of our walks just to get clients on our trips. Karyn and I are very particular about what we offer, it has to be a genuine product, as we’re very proud of our business.  With that said we have been granted a brand new DoC concession, which allows us to walk into the Misty Mountains from The Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings. This will be the only walk we offer for people wishing to visit this special area, but we feel we’d rather be a master of one than a jack of all trades. We’ll keep you up to date with descriptions and photos. We should have this amazing walk out to you by the middle of October 2012.

Snow shoeing is one of your newer offerings and unique to NZ Walks – for those that have never experienced it what can they expect? Sell it to me! What can I say about Snowshoeing? To start with any one can do it, this year we have taken our oldest and our youngest clients out 84 and 3 years of age, so what I’m trying to say is just about anyone can do it.  We take you into the most amazing environment with mountain peaks touching the clouds a frozen lake, and snow caves to explore. This is where the locals come to play. I have been sitting in a snow cave sheltering from a storm, drinking tea from a glass cup at high altitude with two wonderful ladies in there late sixties, only to be disturbed by a couple of mountaineers asking “how did we get here?” “Is that a real cup you’re drinking from?” but most importantly, “can we join you for a cuppa?” If all you want is to walk down hill while Snowshoeing, then our other NEW product for this winter Heli Snowshoeing is just for you. This is another product that clients have taken to like a duck to water.

Share with me a couple of useful tips (survival, safety or otherwise) for folks heading into the back country here?
No3. This is your favorite number in a survival situation, as it is roughly the amount of time you have left, to live, without the list below.
– 3 minutes without oxygen
– 3 hours without adequate shelter
– 3 days without water
– 3 Weeks without food
– If you don’t have a guide rent a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and tell some one your intended route, which includes any contingency plans.
– Take food and water for extra days out in the wilderness. You may need it.
– If you find that you’re lost, don’t panic, if you’re in a safe area, stay exactly where you are. You are easier to find.
– You could even join one of my YOU vs. WILD trips, this information has saved peoples lives in the past. Don’t become a statistic.

Peter & Karyn Hitchman are the owners of Guided Nature Walks New Zealand in Queenstown.

Tony Townley is a luxury lifestyle specialist and owner of Luxury Adventures. Talk to us about planning your next visit to New Zealand, Australia or the South Pacific Islands.

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