West Wanaka Station view

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. Ridgeline Adventures are located in Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand.

Whats your background Mark – how and why did you start Ridgeline Adventures in Wanaka? Well my family history is quite interesting actually, the Orbell family was one of the first families arrive in Dunedin in 1849, they befriended an early whaling station owner (Johnny Jones) and set up shop in a small sea-side town called Waikouaiti, just north of Dunedin.  When gold was discovered in the 1860’s they tried (and failed!) their luck in Gabriels Gully in Central Otago then returned farming sheep and cattle back it Waikouaiti.  I grew up on the family farm and it was their that my interest in tourism was sparked, my parents began hosting farm stays, meeting people from all over the world must have struck a chord with me because I went on to study Tourism. Following my studies I began working for Ultimate Hikes in Queenstown leading tours over the famous Routeburn Track, I think I’ve walked that track over 100 times, never tiring of its beauty, it’s still my favorite hike in the South Island.  Wanaka was always a natural calling for me as most  of my childhood was spent holidaying in Luggate (about 10km’s from Wanaka) so the area is “in my blood” as they say.  I’ve been living here now permanently for 11 years now with my wife Ceri, we have 2 boys, Archie (7) and Harris (5) – Harris is actually named after my favorite place on the Routeburn Track – Lake Harris. Recognizing a gap in the market for an authentic New Zealand 4WD/farm tour I set up Ridgeline Adventures in 2006 with a friend,  I took over sole ownership in 2008 and we’ve been growing steadily ever since.  It’s a privilege to share raw natural beauty of Wanaka, I’ll never tire of that!!

What makes the farm/high country station you take our guests to special? We are fortunate enough to have exclusive access to West Wanaka Station, it’s 30,000 acres of some of New Zealand’s finest scenery that the general public never gets to see.   The farm has also been in the same family for over 100 years so from a historical point of view that’s quite an achievement, in fact during our farm tours we visit the ruins of the original farm house to explain the human history of the farm – giving people a real sense of place. We show black and white photos dating back to 1865 taken at these ruins and compare the view today, this blow people away because the view they see today when compared to the photos hasn’t changed a bit, that’s nearly 150 years worth of history in front of your eyes!! Combining the stunning scenery, fascinating history with modern-day farming life – today there are 4,500 Red Deer, 12,000 sheep and 1,000 cows grazing the property, making this a very special place to visit.

For our non english speaking guests do you offer multilingual guides and if so which languages do you cover? We are seeing a massive increase in non english speaking guests, particularly from asia, we find most have a reasonable command of english. We do however have information sheets in all our vehicles printed in Mandarin highlighting all the main points of interest.  We do find that the scenery actually does most of the talking, it’s that powerful….  We can arrange for German and French speaking guides to accompany us if arranged in advance.

I see you operate a Land Rover Defender 110 for your farm tours which is a very capable farm vehicle with an established pedigree . Will the guests always be in this vehicle? Well, we actually we try and have people out of the vehicle as much as possible! Our emphasis is on nature and getting into it so we  stop often during our safaris, switch off the engine and get outside to take in the silence. Silence is what many people from big cities long for, couple this with the incredible scenery and you have a recipe for happiness, relaxation and very big smiles!! But to answer your question, yes when we are driving we are either in our Landrover Defender or our Landrover Discovery.

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 there is a noticeable interest in The Hobbit especially, we are fortunate enough to have a couple of LOTR locations near Wanaka and within view of us during our safaris, we wait with baited breath to see if Treble Cone (which we also see very clearly on our safaris) makes it into the Hobbit – they filmed a scene on Treble Cone but we don’t know if it made the cut, fingers crossed!!

One for the birders… we have a lot of very unique native New Zealand birdlife. Which native birds can people see on your tours? West Wanaka Station lies on the boundary of Mt Aspiring National Park so we do from time to time see many native birds that tend to hide in the mountains away from the general public. Most common for us to see is the Pippit, an incredible bird really it’s the only bird in NZ (as far as I know) that is happy to live in sand dunes by the sea and also way up high in the alpine regions where we  operate, it has a really funny bobbing tail and we usually encounter it flitting along in front of the Landrover. There are a couple of pairs of NZ Native falcon on the property too, beautiful birds to watch in the air.   We always encounter fantails on our forest walks as we disturb the insects in the trees making for an easy meal for them!! We usually always see Paradise Ducks, sometimes Kea way up high too.

Can you explain to me what out guests can expect on a typical privately guided farm tour with you in the Wanaka Region? A privately guided farm tour is a wonderful way to be at one with nature, no one else but you, your guide and the opportunity to explore an authentic New Zealand farm set to the dramatic backdrop of snow-capped peaks, remote valleys and picturesque Lake Wanaka.  You really get a sense of isolation while in complete safety on a private farm tour.

Mou Waho Island, Lake Wanaka - photo taken 1865!

Often people want to tweak the tour to suit their own tastes, perhaps a little more adventure and 4 wheel driving or exploring and photography opportunities or simply a taste of the South Island high country farm life with a good lunch and glass of wine. Can your farm tours be tailored to suit the individual? Absolutely, in fact it’s one of the great benefits of being an owner-operator that we can tweak our tours to suit individual tastes.  Photography opportunities are endless and being a landscape photographer myself I like nothing more than getting like minded people into the hills to capture the perfect shot  – often we find the “money shot”  but we have to wait for the right light or clouds to move etc. The majesty of the alpine areas we visit seem to go hand in hand with great food and local wine, we actually have an experience called “Romance in the Mountains” purely tailored to honeymooners and special romantic occasions  whereby we take people high into the mountains set them up with canapés and champagne and leave them to savour this incredible experience. So yes, more than happy to work with clients to make any experience with us one that guests will always remember.

Do you still operate during the winter – can our customers experience a farm tour in Central Otago (Wanaka, Queenstown region) during the months of June, July and August? Winter is a magical time to come to with us, we cannot get as high into the mountains as we do in summer because of snow covering our tracks but that is made up for by crystal clear, blue-sky days flat calm lakes reflecting the snow-capped peaks and secret icicle gardens we find hidden in remote valleys on the farm. So yes we are  operating through the winter – subject to weather.

On the flip side what is the best privately guided farm tour option for the summer? The best of the best is our ‘Private Wild Hills Safari’, without a doubt it is simply the best, showcasing incredible scenery (we climb 1000m above sea level) unavailable to the general public, fascinating history with the old farm ruins and also Maori historical sites combined with a genuine insight into a real working New Zealand farm. It simply does not get any better than this!

We have a fair amount of families that travel with us – with them in mind which farm tours would you recommend? Families love our Wild Hills Safari for its variety in scenery, remote beaches where we skip stones and collect drift wood, they can roam in alpine meadows high above Lake Wanaka – perfect family time away from the crowds.

What other options do you offer and are there any new products coming up that we should know about? We have a fantastic combo product called ‘Wanaka Nature Encounter’ which combines our Wild Hills Safari with Eco Wanaka’s Lake Cruise & Island Walk, it’s a full day discovering the best of Wanaka’s raw natural beauty, history & heritage.  You begin with a cruise on Lake Wanaka to Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve where native birds live happily in their natural habitat.  A 45 minute guided walk follows to the summit where a secret is revealed! a lake on top of the island!! Yes stunning 360 degree views and more often than not you’ll enjoy “high tea” with the local Weka population (a rare native flightless bird – previously extinct on mainland NZ until it was re introduced to Mou Waho Island from the Chatam Islands – off the coast of Christchurch) it’s cheeky and nosy so don’t leave anything lying around because it will be gone in flash.  Every trip to this Island plants a native tree to so you can give something back which is nice.   Then it’s time for lunch which can either be enjoyed in a cafe in Wanaka or we can arrange a picnic lunch to take with you and have on the island.  After lunch we take over and you’ll experience our Wild Hills Safari – giving you a totally different perspective on Mou Waho Island, you’ll see it from high in the mountains. Two new options that are hot of the press are;

Photography Tours: I’ve already touched on these but in summary a perfect option for anyone with an interest in photography or those needing advice and tips on taking great landscape photos.   We take you to the locations at the right time of day to get the best available light, no time pressures, this is all about photography!!

Helicopter Scenic Flight Add-On: During our Wild Hills Safari we can arrange a helicopter to collect you and take you for a 35minute scenic flight over towering snow-capped peaks, down rugged river valleys even a snow landing then you’ll be returned to meet our safari. A wonderful option if you’ve always wanted to get up close and persona with our incredible mountains.

For those interested in or wanting to see New Zealand farm animals which ones are they going to see? West Wanaka Station is home two 4,500 Red Deer, 1,000 Hereford and Angus Cattle,  12,000 sheep and 2 horses!   So be assured you will see more farm animals than you could possibly wish for in a farm tour like this.

Which other areas in New Zealand would you recommend for farm tours if our customers couldn’t get down to Wanaka? Queenstown has a great opportunity to visit Walter Peak Station, you get there by a wonderful old ship called the Earnslaw, this farm tour is very much put on for the tourist so expect big crowds but if you don’t have time to come see us and you want to see a farm then this is a good option.   Arrowtown (near  Queenstown) is home to Southern Explorer they can also take you to a farm nearby which is a more personal intimate tour  than Walter Peak.

Mark Orbell is the owner of Ridgeline Adventures in Wanaka.

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.

Land Rover Defender 110 on West Wanaka Station

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