Asian Correspondent » Active New Zealand Asian Correspondent Thu, 28 May 2015 01:43:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Active anthropology – in the backcountry you are what you bring Thu, 05 Aug 2010 00:18:50 +0000 Flick through any geographic magazine and you’ll usually find a story about some poor tribesman who met an unfortunate end a few thousand years ago and has now been found in a glacier, peat bog etc. 

A big part of these stories usually focuses on what was found on the unfortunate person’s person: what they wore, what decorations they adorned themselves with and what tools were they carrying. The reason is pretty simple: the gear we carry and the clothes we wear say a lot about us – especially in a travel context when we’re forced to pare things back to the essentials.

With that in mind, I asked some of Active New Zealand’s guides what the most interesting piece of gear you bring into the hills to see what I could learn about the Active NZ tribe (without having to push anyone into a peat bog). The results are an interesting insight into the Active New Zealand ‘tribe’. I’ll let you draw your own anthropological conclusions.

Stripy “pollies”
You can tell a real Kiwi outdoors person by their stripy polypropylene “pollies” long johns. They’re not that posh; but they are warm, dry quickly and virtually indestructible (and cheap if you do manage to shred them). Expect to see these everywhere in NZ, from the summit of Mt Cook to the darkest forests of Fiordland – with colours like pink and purple stripes available, you certainly won’t miss them.

Okay, these are a little unusual on the packing – particularly for a guy – but the humble tampon is one of the more useful things to bring into the hills. Besides their obvious use, they’re also good for stopping bleeding cuts, lighting fires, padding blisters, washing out mud from cuts and supporting broken toe of finger. Plus, if you’re faced with a snoring hut companion they can be used as emergency ear plugs!

Duct tape
The old saying that duct tape has “a light side a dark side and holds the universe together” is definitely true in the New Zealand backcountry. There are literally hundreds of uses for the stuff, from fixing torn tents to strapping twisted ankles. But don’t bury it in the bottom of your pack, wrap a few feet of it around the top of a hiking pole so it’s ready to go when it’s needed.

Dark chocolate
Never go into the backcountry without a good block of dark chocolate. Given chocolate’s ingredients, it’s amazing the stuff is legal; theobromine (a bit like caffeine), anandamide (a cannabinoid also naturally produced in the human brain), tryptophan (a mood regulator), phenylethylamine (a neurotransmitter from which amphetamine is derived, sometimes described as a ‘love chemical’) as well as a big hit of sugar. When everyone’s tired and there’s one last hill to get over before the hut, there’s nothing like breaking out the chocolate to keep people in an adventurous frame of mind.

You can’t be an Energiser Bunny during the day if you don’t recharge at night. So it pays to come equipped for a good nights sleep. Everyone has a favourite approach, ranging from the trusty rolled up down jacket to a wheat bag pillow – to a giant teddy bear!

Thanks to Active New Zealand guides, Ange West, Christian “Lofty” Filius, Ken Dixon, Lauren Moyes and Mike Searchfield sharing their trade secrets with us.

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DIY environmental engineering Tue, 20 Jul 2010 23:15:07 +0000 It’s amazing how personal PCs are these days. On booting up they can greet you with a personalised message (“Hello Dave, would you like to hear a song?”) they can play your favourite music while you work, and they can show you inspirational images between jobs.

But the sad thing is in most cases…they don’t. Look around the average office, and you’ll see most computers are just set to “default”. Most people work in stony silence, with an anonymous medium-grey screen as their desktop.

Now, humans are creatures of our environment – if you make our surroundings drab, then soon enough we’ll reflect that dullness in our demeanour. And we’re social creatures too, so when we’re surrounded by dull people we tend to take on a morose mood ourselves. In the end you have a downward spiral of ever crankier co-workers – I’m sure that’s how wars start!

So, in the interests of making the world a better place, I think we should – nay, we have a duty – to make our environment as beautiful as possible. Outside that means being a good eco-citizen and treading lightly on the earth, inside it means getting rid of default computer desktops.

Put a photo of your mum on there, scan one of your kids’ drawings, do a Google images search (while obeying all applicable intellectual property laws of course) or if you that doesn’t work for you, use one of the Active NZ ones here. The world will thank you for it!


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A few videos from the Active NZ backyard Thu, 15 Jul 2010 00:36:04 +0000 Isn’t it amazing the hidden talents people have tucked away. Some people play the piano, people paint – as it turns out Amanda Dawes, one of our guides over here at Active New Zealand, is quite the cinematographer! Last season she offered to grab a bit of video footage for us while on the road and subsequently, while guiding clients over mountains high and fjords deep, put together a series of short clips, a few of which I’ve embedded below.

Siberia, Mount Aspiring National Park
This spot, like most of the Southern Alps was carved out by glaciers during the last ice age – and in places like the ice-filled Crucible Lake there’s still a fair bit of it about – even in the heat of summer. Over the years taking a dip in the lake has become a bit of a test of hard-core-ness (or some would say sanity).


Tongariro Crossing
According to Maori legend the mountains of the Tongariro were formed when a priest caught out in a winter storm called on his ancestors to help. In a classic piece of overkill they came good with a collection of volcanoes and hot springs to keep him toasty – it’s nice when the folks help out, eh!


Fiordland National Park
Way back in the 1930’s to create work for droves of depression era unemployed, the government commissioned a tunnel to connect the Eglinton Valley with Milford Sound. At the time it was almost literally a road to nowhere, but it did have one rather significant unexpected benefit; the road paved the way for tourism to what would later be described by Rudyard Kipling as “the eighth natural wonder of the world”. These days Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park, like the Great Pyramid of Giza and Machu Picchu it’s something you’ve just got to see before you die.


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Tim Taylor – one seriously active New Zealander Wed, 14 Jul 2010 00:08:49 +0000 This November, just as the hiking, biking and kayaking season is kicking off, Kayaker Tim Taylor will be setting off on a more substantial adventure than most. He’ll be shoving off for a solo paddle around all three of New Zealand’s Islands – an epic 5,500km four-to-six-month journey.

To give you an idea of how significant that is, only one other person has successfully paddled all three islands in three separate trips – that was Paul Caffyn, who is regarded as one of the greatest small boat explorers alive.

Tim will be following the coastline clockwise, and using the expedition to raise funds for the New Zealand Coast Guard and to profile New Zealand’s unique coastline and share it with as many people as possible around the world.

Active New Zealand we’ve always been passionate about getting people off the couch and out of their comfort zone and we love to show off our beautiful country, so as you can imagine, we were stoked to hear about Tim’s trip – and we’ll be helping out as much as we can. Good luck mate!


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Huka and hikers: The best of winter in New Zealand – part two Thu, 08 Jul 2010 23:47:18 +0000 Last week we took a brief glance at what keeps bringing people like myself back to the Southern Alps year after year. Sure there’s the obvious – the ski slopes, postcard vistas and nightlife – but talk to the locals and you’ll find the eccentric antipodeans have a few unexpected ways to keep warm through the winter.

Get high
Nicknaming New Zealanders after the flightless Kiwi bird is really a bit misleading, when unlike the eponymous ground-dwelling bird, the Kiwi population is arguably the most airborne, ahem, on earth. 

With a mountainous country and a spread out population, it really makes a lot of sense that planes and helicopters are a part of day-to-day working life for many New Zealanders. However, what’s more interesting for the visitor is that when it comes to recreation, you just can’t keep a good Kiwi down.

Look at the skies over Aotearoa and you’ll see an airspace packed with sailplanes, ultra light aircraft, hangliders and paragliders even the occasional hot air balloon. It could be said that the Kiwis have taken to the skies like a duck to water.

Now this is definitely a case of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ – many parts of New Zealand, particularly the Southern Alps and Fiordland are impressive from ground-level, but awesome from the air. Flying into airports like Milford Sound and airstrips like Siberia is an experience not to be missed.

Don’t forget there’s a beautiful synergy to be had by simply adding ‘heli-’ to your favourite ground based pursuit to create utterly sublime sports like heli-hiking, heli-biking and of course heli-skiing.

It’s utterly hedonistic, but there is simply nothing that beats leaping onto one of the ubiquitous Eurocopter Squirrels and getting as close to teleportation as humanly possible – one minute there’s tarmac under your feet, the next untracked snow or uncharted wilderness. Truly awesome!

Be part of the national obsession
Winter in NZ is traditionally the rugby season, which means visitors have a unique opportunity to peer into the core of the nations psyche at what I often – only half jokingly – describe as the national religion.

If you ask any Kiwi kid what they want to be when they grow up and the answer will be unequivocally “an All Black”, the country grinds to a halt for a test match, and the South African team’s tour in 1981 caused rioting that almost overthrew the government!  Rugby is the cultural thread that binds New Zealanders together… and sometimes pulls them apart – it all depends who’s winning.

You don’t need to see the biggest test match of the year, in fact in some ways its better if you don’t, just drop in on the a provincial game one Saturday morning and observe New Zealand sporting culture at its finest!

If all else fails…
As a small rock in the middle of the ocean, half-way to the South Pole, we do get some ‘variable’ weather conditions from time to time. However if you’re clever you can work around it. Given the topography of the country certain places get more than their fair share of sunshine. Central Otago, for instance is one, and the Marlborough region is another.

By happy coincidence these happen to also be two of New Zealand’s best wine producing regions – so if the weather closes in, it’s common to see the locals making a dash for either of these two spots – where the weather will improve first… and if it doesn’t there is always the consolation of whiling away the afternoon with a glass of Pinot Noir in front of the fire.

 – Mark
Active New Zealand

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Huka and hikers – the best of winter in New Zealand – part one Wed, 30 Jun 2010 23:21:32 +0000 When the first Polynesians pulled their boats onto the shores of New Zealand a couple of thousand years ago, it must have must have been one history’s great, jaw-dropping, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more Toto,” moments. Coming from small, flat, tropical Polynesian islands, the sight of New Zealand’s huge snow capped mountains must have been truly mind-blowing.

Having never known snow before and literally lost for words they called this newfound white stuff ‘huka’ the same word as for foam or surf. The landmass that brought it became known, thanks to its snowy white skyline, as Aotearoa – land of the long white cloud.

These days the winter landscape in New Zealand still has that jaw-dropping impact (it’s one of the things that lured me across the Tasman from my home of Sydney) and just like it was for the ancient Maoris, it’s a world of possibilities if only you know where to look. Here are a few suggestions:

Take a hike
One of the great things about New Zealand is, being surrounded by sea; it has what the weather forecasters call a ‘maritime climate’. In layman’s terms, that means winter is cold enough to warrant breaking out the woolly mittens but never so cold to stop you getting out into the great outdoors for an adventure or two.

This is a fact the guys at Active New Zealand (for whom I do a bit of guiding) have been exploiting for years on their winter hiking trips. The crew from Active have been guiding the trails of the Southern Alps in what’s conventionally seen as the ‘off season’ since the mid-90s and by all accounts it’s been a great success.

And why not, the Kiwi backcountry is dotted with cosy huts, so there’s no need to worry about pitching tents in the cold; places like the West Coast, which are decidedly ‘damp’ through summer, experience bluebird days through winter months; and the trails that are crowded as conga-lines in January are all but deserted in June.

And of course, you’ll be doing your bit for world peace while you’re out there.

Go jump
Most of the world sees gravity as just the force that holds the universe together and a good reason not to stand under coconut palms – but for Kiwi’s gravity is a toy. Over the years these eccentric antipodeans have come up with all manner of ways to convert gravity into adrenalin and – with a few thankful exceptions – they’re available for the general public to have a go. It’s just a matter of deciding how bold you are feeling.

If you’re new to the plummeting game, you might want to start with something easy like Zorbing in Rotorua. This involves the slightly improbable act of climbing inside a giant, transparent, inflatable ball and rolling down grassy slopes at breakneck speed. It sounds odd, but it’s not to be missed. Remember though even if you’re not participating, the expression “keep your eye on the ball” definitely applies to zorbing –

If you like your adrenalin mixed a little stronger, the precipitous Pièce de résistance would have to be A.J. Hackett’s 134m Nevis Highwire Bungy – a jump so high that you have time to stop screaming and start wondering if it was really a such good idea before the bungy cord comes tight.

Hit the slopes
Skiing in New Zealand is has a distinctly different flavour to what you’d experience schussing in Switzerland or paralleling in the Pyrenees. Sure there are places with high-speed lifts and high-class clientele like Coronet Peak and Treble Cone, but the authentic kiwi alpine experience, is really found at the club ski fields. These smaller non-profit ski fields dotted around the Southern Alps are like a trip back in time.

At the club fields, you won’t see stock brokers making cell phone calls on the lift, you won’t see blonde ski bunnies in Mink-lined one-piece ski suits and the après ski nightlife will likely be pints of ale and a local reggae band on the stereo rather than cosmopolitans and Euro-pop in a trendy nightclub. It’s one of the last great unpretentious skiing experiences.

What’s less down-to-earth however is the skiing. These little alpine hideaways contain an astonishing array of terrain, from mellow beginners slopes at places like Round Hill to the wide open bowls at Ohau, to the heart-stoppingly tight chutes and crags at Craigiburn. You could spend your entire trip exploring the club fields – many people do.

And that’s just the beginning! ‘Tune in’ again next week for with the answers to those questions you’ve been dying to know like: What happens when you combine a squirrel and a kiwi? And what is (really) the national religion?

Till next time,

 – Mark

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New Zealand tops world peace index‚Ķ again Tue, 22 Jun 2010 23:08:03 +0000 It was great to read in the Sydney Morning Herald and Jo Lane’s blog here a while ago, that New Zealand has been named the “world’s safest country” in this year’s Global Peace Index – for the second year running (and it’s even better to hear about it from two Australians ;-).

So what’s it like to live in the world’s most peaceful country? Don’t be fooled, it’s not the land of milk and honey. Kiwis work too hard, eat too much junk food, and get inexplicably obsessed with the latest iTrinkets – just like everyone else. So why is it that we get the uber-peacenik tag?

According to the economists at Vision of Humanity, who put the list together, there are a host of reasons; we’re politically stable, we don’t participate in foreign conflicts, we have a low perceived criminality, we don’t have many violent demonstrations etcetera. Basically as far as the statistics are concerned we’re a pretty chilled out bunch.

But why… what’s behind the numbers? Well, one of the first things you spot when you arrive in New Zealand is the locals’ connection with the landscape. I don’t mean that in any sort of new-age sense, agriculture and tourism employ a large slice of the nation’s workforce (including myself) and that means day-to-day people are out walking around in a more-or-less natural setting. And it seems to me that simple fact keeps everyone’s feet on the ground.

As a hiking guide, the anecdotal evidence for this is pretty easy to spot. Take any bunch of type-A doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs from any country into the mountains for more than a day or so and you can just about see the tension unwinding. I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess at the psychology behind it, but it just seems that the more time you spend outside the more chilled out you are.

So, if you want to make a contribution towards world peace today… take a hike.

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Good morning blog land! Tue, 22 Jun 2010 22:44:58 +0000 Good morning blog land!

Yesterday marked the winter solstice here in Aoteoroa (a.k.a New Zealand). Unlike the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice which is marked by a cacophony of festivals, the turning point of winter passes pretty much without fanfare. The closest thing to a festival here was a group of skiers, including yours truly, quietly climbing up Coronet Peak; our local piste for a pre-dawn ski run to celebrate.
Coincidentally the first day post-solstice marks the start of an eight-week stint of guest blogging on Asia Correspondent for me so I’ll be taking the opportunity to chart the countdown to the summer – and the hiking, biking and kayaking adventures it entails… as well as posting a few random thoughts.

Hope you’re looking forward to both… despite the lack of fireworks.

 – Mark

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