Sep 18, 2015

Five things I learned about Hiking New Zealand a week after my first day in the office - Angela Janes


Reservations about fitness unfounded

So here I am, one week into a new job and about to be initiated into life with Hiking New Zealand!  An opportunity arose to join Dan (co-owner and occasional guide) and a group of avid trampers on the Coast and Canyons, the first five days of the West Coast Wilderness.

At 5 ft nothing and with a backpack bigger than myself crammed with assorted mis-matched hiking gear accumulated over the last 30 years (and old boots a size too small – a big mistake as my poor blistered feet and torn calf muscle later reminded me of), I was off.

My initial concerns that I wouldn’t be able to keep up were unfounded as I decided early on that someone always had to be ‘tail-end Charlie’ just to make sure no-one got left behind. I very wisely decided to sacrifice any hopes of leading the bunch and so adopted this position.  My only concern was - would there be any chocolate left by the time I chased up the stragglers and we caught the leading bunch?!

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Customers, share common love of the outdoors

Great camaraderie developed amongst all those on the Coast and Canyons which it seems is typical of Hiking New Zealand adventures.  All participants shared a passion for active outdoor adventures (though the proliferation of electronic devices was a little concerning, particularly as some of us were initiated into the outdoors in the era of phones with cords, map and compass, cameras with film which required a three week wait before seeing how well (or not!) your photos turned out, and the good old kiwi ‘mountain mule’ backpack. The time when a good days hiking was measured by how great it felt to remove a weighty backpack at the end of the day, and not by the number of ‘likes’!).

The evolution of hiking accroutrements may have accelerated, but one thing remains the same, the thing which bridges cultures and countries – a true appreciation and love of the outdoors and the sense of achievement and peace that immersion into the natural environment brings.

Collecting firewood

When they say everyone gets involved on Kiwi-style Hiking Trips - everyone gets involved

Everyone on the trip was fully involved in all aspects of the tour, from the very kind male designated as the Hygiene co-ordinator who carried the toilet paper (though all us girls on the trip soon learned that a male’s comprehension of what constituted sufficient toilet paper bears no resemblance to reality), to the roster which allocated daily tasks such as cooking and dishes. 

Everyone had the chance to wield a dish brush and stir the pot, and soon there was much competition amongst the representatives from various nations as to who could create the best scrambled eggs for breakfast. Unfortunately I can’t divulge the overall winning country for fear of generating debate to rival that of the G5. Suffice to say all made a sterling effort (or should that be ‘sterling ansträngning’ or ’sterling aufwand’ or perhaps even ’Funt wysiłku’?).

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Everyone felt connected to the company

Another thing of note, is that all on the trip had developed a great connection to Hiking New Zealand; a connection that had been built up over time during the booking process and beyond. This rapport is indicative of the value of great customer experience and the pride the company places on going that much further to enhance this experience. Tour participants are not just a ‘source of income’, they are ‘family’.

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The trips are cool products to believe in and sell

I have to agree with the words of Edward Abbey (The Journey Home: Some Words in Defence of the American West): “My most memorable hikes can be classified as 'Shortcuts that Backfired'.” 

When hiking with the family the word ‘shortcut’ invariably rears its ugly head. When I hear that word I know to check my backpack for a head torch, three days worth of food (even though we’ve only gone out for a pleasant afternoon stroll), GPS, locator beacon, and a cellphone on quick dial for the rescue team (plus a large roll of toilet paper).

But the Coast and Canyons became a series of memorable hikes, from alpine terrain in the Kahurangi National Park to rainforest (and yes, it did rain) on the West Coast, and the word ‘shortcut’ was not heard once.

I got to experience hikes in some parts of the South Island I was less familiar with, and now want to return to with my family (particularly the Croesus Track which is accessed from Blackball, and has some historical mining remnants).

So, to quote the British historian and scholar Arnold Toynbee: “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play”. A very wise man indeed.

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And for anyone who may be curious about what became of the too-small boots, two rolls of blister tape, one pair of holey socks and a few sessions of physio later, they were relegated to the bin and replaced with a shiny new pair! Bliss…..

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