|Ken Dixon, lead guide since time began|
Ken, tell us about one of your many hidden talents.
I play table tennis once a week at my old club and get some pretty keen competition against one of Canterbury’s (the province that Christchurch is located in) past top players, and wherever else I can get a game, the odd tournament, easy pickings in Queenstown etc. [Every now and then Ken visits us at our Queenstown base and kicks our butts at table tennis. BUT we’ve recently found out that our South America operations manager, Pablo is also a semi-pro table tennis player – the ultimate competition is on!]
|Ken (dressed in formalwear – a one-piece ski “suit”!) challenging Marketing manager Brett
during our end of season festivities at Ohau Ski Lodge.
All of us here in Queenstown were slightly jealous of the incredible snow you had in Canterbury this past winter season… Let’s hear it, how was the skiing?
I have had as much dry snow as I can handle, except for Utah, but it came at a cost. We had quite a bit of bad weather to get that snow, so you really did have to pick and choose your days. I think I have become a fair weather skier, but I have plenty of choice over here, and lots of other activities to keep me occupied.
If you had a sunny Spring afternoon in Christchurch up your sleeve, what would you most likely be doing?
Four good options: an afternoon ski, a mountain bike ride, a surf or sea kayak, or a lovely game of tennis.
In all the years guiding for Active New Zealand, what’s been your most memorable on-the-trip moment?
Well, I wouldn’t want to give any surprises away for others! But I can tell you that helping a Danish lady with an injured ankle out of Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes National Park in the midst of a random snow storm stays with me as my most memorable moment, for better or worse.
You’re based in Christchurch – how’s the city getting on now, two years after the first earthquake?
On the ground, it is often hard to tell. Most roads have deteriorated a bit and driving at night, especially in the Eastern Bays area, can be a bit dicey – a few potholes around there, and some are as big as your tyre! A lot of the houses damaged in the second earthquake still remain as a constant reminder. The rebirth of Christchurch as a thriving city is going to take some time, but there are a lot of people working really hard to make this city a special and beautiful place again.
|Ken may be a vegan, but he still knows how to handle a bbq!|
Now, I know you’re a vegan and a pretty healthy eater. What would be your ideal breakfast before a day hiking in the New Zealand backcountry?
My breakfast is pretty much always the same and provides me with enourmous energy, no matter what the task. It begins with fresh-squeezed organic oranges and into that goes a whole mango, pawpaw, pineapple, organic blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. Once I have this basic mixture – I do a whole lot at a time – I freeze it and take out enough each day for a glass or so and add to that organic bananas and kiwifruit. I am fortunate that I have an organic farm and vege shop down the road. With that glass of brimming goodness, I have an Annies fruit strip or dates, and 10 to 20 spirulina pills and flax seed capsules. With this concoction in my stomach, there is no building too high…
|Dan S and Ken with Active Adventurers near the Tasman Glacier on a Winter Rimu tr|
What’s your favourite hike on our New Zealand trips?
It’s a tough call, but my pick really has to go with the Copland Track because I am such a sucker for lush green rainforests. The massive abundance of native plant species on that walk can’t be beaten, and that’s even before we talk about the natural hot pools and amazing backcountry hut. I’m a bit of a pushover for the blue-green rivers too.
I had the pleasure of joining you on a Winter Rimu trip last year, which was so much fun! How many times have you been into the Copland Valley this year?
Dan and I did two Winter Rimu trips this year. Dan took the clients into the Copland on the first trip as I had four abstainers, bless their hearts, but I did manage to get into the Copland on the second trip, which was, as always in any weather, glorious.
Vegemite or Marmite (two popular spreads in NZ) on toast?
Funnily enough, I can barely tell the difference and the brands mean nothing to me. Both work well on wheel bearings 😉
Finally, can you confirm that you like to promote extra activities on your trips that aren’t in the official itinerary?
Well, quite a few of my clients have been known to “fall” into the chilly Blue Pools near Haast Pass but I’m not saying any more than that!
We would normally just give you an excerpt of a post-trip review, but this one from one of Ken’s recent clients deserves to be read in its entirety:
“Ken is a godless bastard. Why? Because for the rest of my life, all of my future vacations will be measured against this trip and they all will fail abysmally. The pinnacle of vacationing used to be any place with a swim-up bar. After kayaking Milford Sound, I have lost any sort of perspective on what a vacation is supposed to be. How am I supposed to hike Angelus and think Yosemite is worth a 4-hour drive? It’s almost as if you crazy Kiwis set out to intentionally ruin America’s National Parks. But don’t worry … America will have it’s final revenge when we get a combination KFC/Taco Bell at the top of Angelus, right next to the gondola that will be installed with extra wide seat for plus-size Americans. I’m sure that’ll drive Ian the Hut Warden crazy, but he’ll probably be in jail by then because clearly that guy looks like a serial killer. But back to Ken .. here’s some reasons why he’s awesome … really beyond awesome;
• He loves New Zealand, especially the South Island. I know when I meet a bull shitter and Ken never … NEVER bull shitted us, (going off on a tangent #1: with the exception of water temperature. Frankly I’m not sure if Ken can feel temperature. He would jump in bodies of water I would use if I wanted to chill my beers in 5 minutes. The lunatic would then say, “Oh it’s warm .. this is fantastic.” Then I’d jump in and my poor balls would freeze solid in three seconds. Ken knew about the history of the Norfolk Island Pines, the history of the Labour Party in New Zealand, and the quickest way to bed a female (human) Kiwi: take her on a 5-day trek. And let me just say this, because I don’t want Ken to get in any trouble, all of these were responses to my questions and I questioned Ken A LOT. I asked him about sheep shearers social standing in NZ society, I asked him energy production (tangent #2: he scared the shit out of me about the 7 giant suction turbines by the hydro scheme in some river), tractor truck drivers and he had an answer for it all! It was clear that Ken has an affection for what he was guiding us through. He may have hiked some of these trails 30 times prior, but it was never old to him. His enthusiasm for New Zealand was infectious.
• Everyone Loves this Guy: As we traveled the island, merchants, other Kiwis and travelers responded positively to Ken. His attitude is so powerfully upbeat it’s impossible not to be happy around the guy. During our 14 days there always was a smile and positive outlook. You build such a bond with Ken that, sitting in my apartment a week after the trip’s conclusion I miss hanging out with Ken as much as I miss doing the activities. So I’m turning to binge drinking grain alcohol to cope with that loss. No, no just kidding.
• Made Van fun: Personally, I didn’t mind the time in the van because the scenery was always amazing, but Ken made the “down” time of the trips as fun as the highlights. He built a relationship with the 6 different people in our group and was the center that the 6 of us built with each other.
• Adaptability: Obviously weather can impact all the activities, and when the weather was less than ideal, there was Ken with better active options to fit the weather. I also appreciated doing a few hikes that weren’t on the itinerary. We hiked Mt John, part of Kepler and the Truman Track. And because we were a small group of similar fitness levels, Ken made sure there was not a lot of waiting around.
• Professionalism: This trip was a big deal for us. And Ken understood that. When you go on a trip like this you want to have good guides and good travel mates. I can’t imagine anyone going on a Ken-lead trip acting like a jerk. Ken is so awesome you don’t want to let him down. Lastly, Ken was an awesome cook. I really could go on about Ken, but I’m guessing you already know how good he is. Frankly, I think you should change the logo of Active to Ken’s face and rename the business: Active New Zealand: Adventures with Ken. PS: I got to play tennis as well! “
– Neil Crossan (San Francisco, California) Rimu 2012