An unusual and exciting or daring experience.
Last weekend, myself and five others from the Touch of Spice team embarked on an adventure of a life time – a River Journey with the amazing team from New Zeal. Usually a team focussed on glitz and glamour, we were more than sold on a new kind of luxury – getting away from it all!
With weeks of planning gone by - all from Paul, our lovely guide from New Zeal (our only worry was packing warm socks!) we were an office of giddy children eagerly awaiting our trip into the wild by late Friday afternoon.
By the time Paul arrived at our Queenstown office we were amped to go. Rolling through the door with what looked like giant Santa sacks, we were given a very quick lesson in packing only the essentials – some struggled with limiting her glamourous wardrobe but Paul clearly knows when to pick his battles! After packing, it was time for our first team briefing and Pauls energy oozed into the room and you could feel the buzz in the air. We had a run through the plan of the weekend – jetboats, rafting, DOC huts and native bush were all on the agenda.
‘Adventure is out there!’ – Charles F Muntz (Up)
We were greeted by our second guide for the weekend Dan who helped up pack up the two Land Cruisers, split the team in two and hit the road heading south. With Queenstown in the rear-view mirror, car snacks at the ready and (sometimes questionable) music lined up, our adventure was underway.
After a three-hour drive and a quick pit-stop in Mossburn for dinner we arrived at Lake Hauroko – in complete and utter darkness! We were met by the amazing Roffy from Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet who was ready to throw us into the deep end (although we’re glad this wasn’t literally) with a jet boat ride across the lake. If you’ve ever been Jet boating before, you know the thrills – but have you ever jet boated in complete darkness, on New Zealand’s deepest lake (1km deep) with only the moon and milk way to guide the way? No? We have! A once-in-a lifetime experience where I think my solid laughter and fit of the giggles kept everyone entertained.
30 minutes later and with a great level of skill Roffy docked the boat and we began to unload all our gear. Base for the night was a quintessential DOC hut – being from Scotland, I was excited to experience my first ever hut! Paul already had the fire roaring and drams of whisky poured as we got to the hut with our bags – it felt like a touch of Scotland in the New Zealand wilderness! We relaxed, chatted and enjoyed some nibbles before bunking down for the night.
‘Rolling down the river’ – Tina Turner
What’s the best thing about arriving in the dark? Waking up in the morning in absolute awe of the mountains around you. I’ve never seen snow capped peaks beside lush tropical forests and just to make it even more mesmerizing, a rainbow stretched across the lake with nature being the pot of gold at the end.
Paul cooked up a feast for breakfast, we prepped lunch, packed the rafts and got ready to rock and roll. We paddled across the lake to the mouth of the Wairaurahiri River learning the tips and tricks of rafting - Paul got a little too excited and before we knew it had managed to tip Pete and himself overboard. Within seconds they were back in the raft and managed to stay in for the rest of the journey – I think Pete was glad about that!
Being one of only a handful of groups to ever raft this river, it was an experience I’m sure none of us will ever forget. The bumpy rapids kept us on our toes but in between we got lost in the tranquillity, silence and depths of the native bush lining the river. It’s not very often in todays world that your head can feel completely empty - turns out my place of Zen is on a raft in the wild.
As we came around a bend in the river Paul decided it was lunch time. We pulled the rafts to the side to the river, to the bottom of a steep cliff face. Bit of a random place to stop I thought but before we knew it we were clambering up the rock face following a rope tied around a tree. When we finally made it to the top, we found a slightly creepy hut – that was out lunch spot! After warming up around the hut fire, a cup of soup and some delicious wraps (good job Stephanie!) we were ready to get back to the boats. As we wandered through the bush to get back to the river I was in awe of our surroundings – silver ferns (which I’d never seen before), glowing moss and everything you could imagine for a tropical forest – luckily no creepy crawly’s (that we spotted anyway).
We continued down the river challenging each other with our most mind-boggling riddles, dodging and diving under tree branches, bird watching and smelling the fresh ocean air coming up the river. By the time we reached our second DOC hut we had been on the river for nearly 5 hours. We unloaded the rafts and just as we finished pulling them onto the side of the bank we were greeted with a glass of mulled wine and a delicious gourmet cheese platter – with Touch of Spice there’s a slice of luxury even in the wild.
‘Adventure is not outside of man, it is within’ George Eliot
After drying off, warming up and unpacking we set off on a walk through the bush. First challenge – an insanely thin, patch worked, swinging wire bridge over a fast-moving river – “just don’t look down” became the moto. Once over the river we discovered all the native plants as we wandered towards the southern coast. Living in Queenstown but being the biggest beach lover, I couldn’t wait to see the ocean and wow was the journey worth it. We walked along the coast, found the perfect spot and took a moment to revel in the adventure gone by and the beauty in front of us. In the sound of the waves and fresh ocean air I think we all felt a feeling of achievement, team spirit and all-round happiness – simple luxuries!
Back at camp we settled in for the night, enjoyed some beautiful Central Otago Wine that Paul and Dan had carried along the way that was paired beautifully with a delicious home cooked dinner. With freshly hunted venison on the menu (caught and prepared before leaving Queenstown), fresh seasonal vegetables and chocolate filled bananas for dessert, it was a feast I think we all deserved! We spent the evening chatting, saying multiple cheers and most importantly, laughing. As the night slipped away we bunked down for our final night in the wild.
We woke up to clear blue skies and I took the chance to enjoy my morning coffee by the river – a moment of calm to really take it all in. After another delicious breakfast, we packed up our bags and took one last walk to the beach. The sun was on our faces and as we stood on the beach in the far south of New Zealand, we could spot Stewart Island off in the distance – wow did we come far!
From the beach front we once again met with our jetboat driver Roffy. He had come down the river just for us as it’s the only way to get out of the area – that’s how remote we really were. After packing up the boat and strapping everything down we set off upstream. It was amazing to see everything we’d seen the day before from a different perspective and speed. We bumped our way up the rapids like we were in a James Bond movie, ducking under a few tree branches and taking it all in for one last time.
As we blasted our way around the last bend in the river to the opening of Lake Hauroko, the snow-capped mountains were back in view and our adventure was nearing an end. The trip across the lake was bumpy to say the least – you know to prepare to get wet when even the driver stops to don his industrial waterproofs! We rolled with the waves on the choppy lake, everyone thankfully staying aboard, and appreciated the mountains around us.
Once at the jetty where our adventure began, we unloaded the boat and had our final team debrief before the drive home. Our adventure had started with excitement, laughter and a want for adventure and I think we can all say we got that and so much more. It was team building, relationship building and character building to an extreme. It was adventurous, empowering and inspiring but most of all, it was a once-in-a lifetime experience that will stay with every single one of us forever – a weekend of true happiness, ultimate smashing of bucket list goals and really, a weekend of the simple true luxury of getting away from it all!
Thank you again to Paul, Dan and New Zeal – I can’t wait for another adventure into the wild!