*Guest Post by Mia G*
This February (2015) , two Kiwi’s – aka my daughter and I went on a Tui trip with Active Adventures. For readers who aren’t familiar with the Tui, this trip takes guests for a one week experience-packed jaunt around the lower half of the South Island of New Zealand for as follows:
Tui: Essence of the South Island Hiking, Biking, Kayaking, Scenic Flight and Jet Boating
We were part of a group of 11 – turns out this is the perfect number of guests (we learned that Active groups are usually limited to around this number of guests or less for a special reason). Our new friends had arrived from two different corners of the world, 8 from the United States, 1 from Brisbane Australia, and us ‘quirky fun’ Kiwi’s as we were affectionately titled on day one! This “nickname” came about after us and our guides Nick and D.K. gave an impromptu “keywee” (or Kiwi english) lesson while traveling on Burt the Active bus (named after Burt Munroe of “The Fastest Indian” fame of course).
Apart from the standard Maori greetings such as Kiaora, Haere Mai and a few other common Maori phrases, the “rist” (rest) of the non Australasian occupants on the bus followed us into a giggling chorus of “fush and chips” (fish and chips), “ka pai” (awesome and all good), jandals (flip-flops), togs (swimming apparel) and sweet as – which pretty much means the same as no worries!
Having traveled extensively around the United States, (as well as the rest of the world), I had forgotten just how entertaining our uniquely Kiwi traits – and accent – are to the rest of the world. They say we as a culture are naturally welcoming, I guess you could say still quite innocent in many ways, perhaps because we live in such a vastly unpopulated country. This only becomes apparent to us when we interact with other cultures. I think some of the guests wanted to take the guides home with them, and no, it’s not just because of the delicious kiwi “kai” (food) they produced – mmmmm nothing better than a roast lamb dinner after a days immersion in the New Zealand wilderness!
The other aspect I found more than a little humbling was the stunning landscapes we were taken to. I had traveled around New Zealand extensively as a teenager. My parents were outdoor enthusiasts, so we got to see some pretty (pardon the pun) beautiful parts of this country. I thought I had, perhaps arrogantly, seen the best of my country, but where Active took us – was absolutely the cream of New Zealand. You won’t see big buses with a stream of busy tourists piling out of the doors where we went (there were a few good natured sardine tin jokes by our fellow travelers about those “other buses” from the seats of our comfy little Burt)! I was absolutely blown away and in awe of the beautiful places we were treated to – hidden away around the South Island.
These hand picked spots are a tonic for a busy mind. By this I mean that you can’t help but stop and absorb the landscapes, and the quiet. No pollution anywhere with crystal clear skies, a sharp contrast to the snow capped mountain peaks breaking the skyline drawing in your focus. Everything is so crisp and the colors so vivid. I felt slightly sheepish at my assumption that I already knew this region, and lucky at the same time. This wasn’t the biggest sensory lesson I experienced though – it was the sound of quiet, broken intermittently by bird song. I once heard someone say that the biggest pollution in our planet is noise. This comment came to mind as I sat in the Siberia Valley, my busy mind trying to filter and judge the experience, but the surroundings quickly overwhelming my mental chatter with a feeling of stillness. Thoughts about my busy work schedule back home disappeared – and all I felt was calm.
It made me feel so lucky to live here, and what made it even better was listening to the “wow’s” and sarcastic jokes by my fellow travellers about when we were going to see some decent scenery around here. I know the places they come from, and I have to say they live in some very pretty spots by American standards, but everything in New Zealand is just so much more green and dramatic. I knew what they mean’t and felt when I kept hearing “wow it’s another postcard picture” with the odd mention about mother nature having photoshopped the place before we got there. I couldn’t help but smile hearing these kinds of comments!
We hiked through a wide range of lush forest and alpine shrubbery. There were no shortage of dramatic mountain scenes, but there was also a lot of interesting foliage like beech trees stunted by the high altitude, 100 year old moss and pretty mini lakes dotted around the place too. The highlight of my trip (if I can pick one), and my daughters favorite part was the jet boat ride down the Wilkin river to Makarora.
It was a combination of exciting and beautiful as we raced around river corners between steep valley walls flanked by meadows and native bush. The Siberia Valley flight the day before was also stunning. It involved a flight into the Wilkin Valley, past glacial lakes with remnants of glaciers dispensing misty mini waterfalls down into dusky blue water below. We landed in the Siberia Valley, a golden meadow with an open shallow rocky stream making its way past the Siberia Valley hut where we stayed. This was a cute (and optional) contrast to the cozy 3, 4 & 5 star accommodation we stayed in for the rest of the trip. Overall we had a nice spread of of places to stay, all with something uniquely different to offer.
From the Siberia Valley hut, we took the option to walk up to Lake Crucible. We were lucky to experience both fine and drizzly weather, so we had a clear view arriving at the top of Lake Crucible (a glacial lake often filled with icebergs), and one on the way down a Lord Of The Rings themed misty view of the valley below. It was a more challenging hike, but so so very worth the effort (which you quickly forgot about when you are sitting on what felt like the top of the world).
The guides were amazing – explaining all the cultural and geographic things to know about New Zealand. They are also always three steps ahead of the game when it comes to organisation. The 20 years experience Active has in their industry shows in their guides, and their pick of places to take guests, and accommodation. They aren’t like any other tour operator I’ve encountered – they are clearly committed to sending you home with an unforgettable wow of an experience! Nothing is too much trouble (even making sure one lady who had sprained her ankle before arriving on the trip got to see everything everyone else did). It’s obvious they know from experience how to choose awesome guides – and then train them to be expertly and uniquely “Active”!
All in all I came back feeling amazing, feeling spoiled rotten with a much clearer mind and a renewed sense of self. I’m now keen to see what Peru and Himalayas have to offer – or maybe book another New Zealand trip – I’m now wondering what other stunning parts of New Zealand I haven’t seen yet – hmmm there’s always the 14 day Rimu Trip!
Here is a video of our trip (yes we are in it – blush)