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Misadventures Magazine - Interview with Active guide Vanessa Wards

Interview: Vanessa Wards, Active Adventures Trip Leader


I was quick enough to nab an interview with Vanessa Wards, a guide at Active Adventures, between her travels for work and for fun — though I have to say it’s hard to tell which is which. Active Adventures is New Zealand’s premier outdoors expedition company. They take small groups on week to two-week long biking, snorkeling, backpacking, kayaking, and caving trips all around New Zealand primarily, but also in Nepal, Peru, Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, and Ecuador. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig Vanessa’s got. 

Normally, I shy away from group trips because, duh, I know everything there is to know about the outdoors (not), but these trips are tailor-made for outdoorsy travelers who want the most out of their time and who want to share the experience with like-minded people. The ‘active’ in Active Adventures is not just clever alliteration; it’s real. If you are the type of person who would rather be an explorer than a tourist, these trips might be for you.

So, without further ado,

When did you start working for Active Adventures?

I only started in October of last year, but I’m not stopping anytime soon.

Before this I was doing outdoor adventure work on the west coast of Ireland. I got a one year work visa there and worked at an outdoor adventure camp. But I’ve done lots of things: community health promotion, working the mines of Western Australia…

Since I left high school I haven’t stayed in one town or city for more than two years.

Is that exhausting?

I think it’s just me. I love seeing new places, so this is the perfect thing for me.

What attracted you to Active Adventures?

The job description. It was my dream job, and here it was written out to me like, ‘this is my destiny.’ I hadn’t planned on leaving Ireland, but there it was. Originally I’m from north of Auckland, so it was sort of like a homecoming.

What is your favorite trip to lead?

I’ve only led the New Zealand trips so far, and because of the language barriers and the extreme amount of expertise needed, I don’t think there’s a chance of me leading in South America. Active Adventures is serious about having experts in their fields lead these trips.

I’ve mostly been leading a two week trip called the Rimu. It’s the best of the best. It’s such an amazing trip around New Zealand, and because you’re with local guides, you see these incredible places that you wouldn’t normally just stumble upon.

But my favorite is an eight-dayer, called the Tui. It adds in this place called Siberia Valley. We fly in on a small plan, do a hike up to glacial lake, stay overnight in a hut, and boat out. It’s amazing.

What’s next for Active Adventures?

Our plan has always been to grow, and come this summer we’re going to have the busiest season yet. It’s exciting to see.

What’s a place you’ve never been but you want to see?

Oh, everywhere. The more I see the more that list increases. Alaska sounds beautiful. Canada — all the hiking there looks amazing — or kayaking or just a cruise up some of those fjords. I’d like to do all of that.

Mountains or the beach?

I grew up at the beach, so beach by heart, but something about the mountainous, alpine landscape has got me. That’s why I love the South Island. We’ve got it all.

Honestly, before Lord of the Rings you could ask a lot of people and they wouldn’t know where New Zealand was.


I bet so.

Sadly, I think you’re probably right.

Favorite food? And what do you eat on trips?

A Kiwi classic: roast lamb. We have amazing food on Active Adventures trips. People think they’re going to lose weight because of all the activity but I think they might put it on because the food’s so good. And it’s all local to wherever we are that day, whether it’s fresh salmon, venison, local produce — really good stuff.

What are the best things to see in New Zealand?

Go on a trip with us. Seriously, they’re the best. I love working for Active Adventures because I can say things like that and I really, truly believe it. The trips are incredible.

You’ve also just got to go to Queenstown. It’s the adventure capital of the world. Anything you want to do you can do there, plus the best wining and dining ever. It’s such a cool town, from alpine ski season to summer. You know the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand? It’s the hub. All the trails lead you straight there. What’s better than that?

To see the original print and for more articles like this, visit the Misadventures Magazine website.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Trip of a Lifetime!

    I am still basking in the glow from this remarkable trip! I admit that I was a bit nervous at first as I was the oldest person in our group and not as fit (for hiking) as some in the group, so I worried about 'keeping up' on the hikes - especially the steeper climbs. Ben and Lauren were very reassuring and encouraging and I felt that I was able to 'hold my own'. In fact, while the hiking was probably the most challenging I've done in at least 7 years, it was the most rewarding/exhilarating part for me. I loved our group - a very positive, health-conscious and fun group of people from all walks of life. It was also wonderful that we were only 12 people - it helped to create a much more intimate and personal atmosphere. I felt we bonded together well - again, thanks to Ben and Lauren's great skills with ice-breaking, fun games, and ability to set and maintain a positive atmosphere from the beginning.
    From the moment we set off from the airport to the emotional farewells back at the airport at the end of the trip, this was a top notch adventure. Our transportation was comfortable, our accommodations were always different and unique and very comfortable - I loved that they weren't all in your standard hotel and that some of them were really off the beaten track. The food was amazing - from the snack basket in the van, loaded fresh every day with fruit and other snacks, to the amazing meals that Lauren and Ben created and the breakfasts and dinners that we had at various restaurants - there was a lot of variety, special dietary considerations were accounted for and there was lots of it!
    I did the kayak option and it was outstanding. The B&B and our hosts were wonderful (the hot tub at the end of the day was most appealing!) and our kayak guide, Nick was terrific - very accommodating, skilled and he made it all very interesting and fun!
    I cannot say enough about our incredible guides - Ben and Lauren - they truly moved the bar for me from a great trip to one that will go down in history for me as the trip of a lifetime. They were so knowledgeable about the island - I loved listening to the legends/folklore and learning more about the vegetation, birds, etc. Ben was a terrific driver - I always felt safe. Lauren was terrific with her cooking and meal presentations - meals looked fantastic and tasted even better! Both Ben and Lauren added those special touches from decorating the bus for the Christmas season, organizing our Secret Santa, making a fantastic Christmas morning breakfast, complete with Christmas crackers and special hats, managing extra logistics like re-booking the paragliding for us, setting up the helicopter tour, taking the time and effort to help reconnect people with items they had left behind either in our accommodations or on a hike/kayak. They even had the perfect music for when we went through the Homer Tunnel and down into Milford Sound - the combination of the music and the scenery was so moving it had several of us in tears! They really ensured that they got to know each person and took a genuine interest in each person. Their positive energy and enthusiasm was infectious. They took kindness and customer service to a new level! The scenery was breathtaking everywhere we went. It would be hard for me to say what the favourite part was or favourite view as the South Island is simply spectacular. I felt that the trip was organized in such a way that I really got a good feel and appreciation for the South Island. Truly New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places (both 'inside and out') that I have ever visited (and I've visited over 20 other countries around the world). I really loved the more laid-back way of life and the local people we met were so welcoming and kind. I would love to come back again and see the North Island but also re-visit the South Island!
    I highly recommend this trip and have already suggested it to a number of my friends. It really was transformational for me on so many levels! My heartfelt thanks to Ben and Lauren and everyone at Active Adventures!
    Sue Hazell Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Rimu, January 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Condor - incredible Patagonia with great guides

    Patagonia, both Chile and Argentina are absolutely breathtaking. The itinierary of the trip ensured that we saw all the major sights, and experienced the hiking, food and culture of both countries. Our main guide Jait, was very knowledgeable and worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone on the trip were included, whilst keeping the mood light, and everyone's spirits high. This is the way to see and experience Patagonia with Active Adventures it is an excellent trip.
    Varina Nissen Review Image
    – Queensland, Australia
    Condor, January 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Glaciers, Cheese and Cows!

    Great time hiking in the mountains. Couldn't ask for a better time then to sit at the base of glaciers for lunch and relax (even have a nap) while listening to the cow bells.
    Donna Weimer Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Tour du Mont Blanc, September 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Magnificent views

    This was clearly one of the more spectacular trips we've taken because of the mountains, glaciers and beautiful weather. But it was a tough one. The W segment was a bit crowded so be ready to share a lot of the trail with a lot of people, especially at the refugios.
    Colleen Santori Review Image
    – Minnesota, United States
    Condor, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Amazing adventure

    I had an amazing time. From snorkeling, hiking an active volcano to kayaking and biking along the beach. Loved the locations we stayed at!
    Jennifer Kelleher Review Image
    – Illinois, United States
    Tortuga, December 2016



Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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