Paper Trails

By Steve and Joan Ringel of Denver - January 2006

newsphoto-kayaking-milford.jpg

(Paper Trails - where readers send in pictures of their local paper travelling the world!)

Where: Milford Sound

Best meal: Rotherhams, Christchurch, a small, welcoming restaurant run with gourmet continental choices as well as New Zealand specialties. Wonderful desserts. Be hungry; New Zealand menus include appetizers, mains (a small main course), entrees (a regular main course) and dessert. If you ask for salad or vegetables, you will get them; if you don't, they are not likely to be served.

Best deal: Tour with Active Adventures New Zealand. Well planned, no more than 14 in a group, excellent guides, efficiently showcases special places by hiking, biking and sea kayaking that on your own you couldn't organize. Reasonably priced. Spartan but scrupulously clean accommodations. Healthy, family-style meals. Beer and lattes under $3 everywhere.

Best time to go: November and early December - late spring, early summer "down under" - just before Kiwis travel for the holidays and best weather.

Best travel tip: Take rain gear - it is supposed to rain quite a bit, although we had only one day of intermittent drizzle on our last day. Take deet for sand flies, and don't scratch if they bite you. An old Maori myth suggests that when New Zealand was created, it was paradise. The gods sent the sand flies to remind humans how easily paradise can be spoiled.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.77 out of 5 (from 119 reviews)

    IT’S THE GUIDES

    Mt Blanc is a giant rock. And this trip is essentially you walking around it. Doesn’t sound too FIVE star does it? Well, as rocks go it’s pretty spectacular. And you get to go through three countries where they speak a bunch of non-English languages that I’m sure I was supposed to learn in high school and use TWO currencies … (Really Switzerland? With the Franc … Get over yourself). Although there are other trips and other providers that will guide you around this rock, the Active trip is better because the people that work for Active are awesome at what they do. We worked with Lynette in NZ to book the trip and although we never met, we are pretty much best friends now. I can think of no better indication of a good business than return customers. Of the twelve people in our group, ALL of them were return Active customers. Why? The Guides.

    For this trip, we had three French guides from Companie des guides de Chamonix and one Kiwi from Active. The French guides were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and fun. I would recommend all of them without hesitation, especially Jean-Marie our driver (see below). But Kiwi Nick from Active was the Difference Maker. He is so incredibly nice that you know he has a wonderful girlfriend back in New Zealand. And they do all these wonderful couple activities that are super cool. Like paddle boarding. And you can’t wait to hang out with them because they’re awesome. And they booze, of course, because couples that DON’T booze should not be trusted #lifelesson. And you may say, ‘Well Neil that’s not appropriate saying that about a guide’s personal life’ ... but whatever. Lynette is not going to take it out of this review because we are best friends. Nick handles all his guide responsibilities extremely well but it feels like he is a part of the group. He’s experiencing and sharing this trip along with you rather than just showing you Mt Blanc. Rarely will a guided trip like this go EXACTLY to plan. Weather, injuries, construction, conflicting personalities among the group, etc. are just some of the problems the guides need to be prepared to deal with quickly. Thankfully we had few of these issues, but Nick was always attentive to our enjoyment. I’m still not sure how he put up with me. I know how horrible I am. I live me every day.

    Beyond the guides, the trip is strong.
    ACTIVITIES: Although you are hiking in a relatively compact area the hikes are varied and challenging enough to make that post-hike beer taste awful nice. The kayaking day was beautiful but marred by our decision to use a double kayak. Or as they should be known, “Murder Boats”, because after about 5 minutes in a double kayak you want to bludgeon each other to death. Get the single. The last day we did the rafting option because the rope course was rained out. Not only did we not die, we ended up having a lot of fun cruising on glacial water through downtown Chamonix. On the free day in Courmayeur, I did the via ferrates up Mont Chetif, which was fun. The hike to the top was the toughest hiking of the trip. I would recommend planning your off day before the trip rather than on the fly. The via ferrates does sell out.

    MEALS: There was cheese LITERALLY everywhere. If you don’t like cheese like me, just keep quiet about it. Those French obsess over cheese like there is alcohol in it. The lunch spots were transcendent. That’s when you could feel truly present in the Alps. Whatever crap you had waiting back home, like say … Ellen in HR who is pretty much just the worst (don’t worry, she’ll never read this. I bet she drowns kittens on vacation. She. Is. The. Worst.), all that stuff melts away. The dinners were local and delightful.

    HOTELS: The accommodations are essentially ski lodges. We had hot showers, warm beds and beers. A few places had pools & hot tubs. They were all close to our hikes which cut down on van time, which I’m sure disappointed my trip mates because they probably enjoyed my daily dissertations on the importance of hair metal in American culture #Cinderella.

    Overall, these Active folks know what they are doing and you will have fun on this trip. Maybe I’ll get to meet you on one of their other trips I’m sure we’ll be signing up for in the future … Patagonia hmmm? I’ll be the one talking about David Lee Roth.

    Best,
    Neil C
    ~~~
    Jean-Marie (Driver): I think they based the “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign on this guy. If he is a part of your group, sit next to him during meals and buy him wine. Get him to talk, his life is amazing. We had a guy on our trip that did 28 marathons, 33 triathlons, was a licensed pilot, spoke French, played hockey … ON ICE and that dude wanted to hear more from Jean-Marie. I shouldn’t even be allowed to read his biography (and there was a rumor he was going to write one)! He’s THAT interesting. One of the day off options should be, “Go drinking with Jean Marie”. I’d do the trip all over again if they added that. It was an injustice that he carried my bags. At least my bag was light #manpacking
    Neil Crossan Review Image
    – California, United States
    Tour du Mont Blanc, October 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5051 reviews)

    Rimu - NZ South Island

    Our Rimu trip with Ken and Elder was truly a trip of a lifetime. The two of them were the perfect pair to lead our adventure -kind, warm, funny, and incredibly encouraging (for those of us who weren't quite sure we'd make it up the mountain!) My husband and I were fortunate to have both of our adult boys join us which made for a very memorable experience. New Zealand's South Island offered some of the most breathtaking landscapes we had ever seen. The hiking, kayaking, and biking was challenging and exhilarating. It was hard to say goodbye to the group who became like family. We have stayed in touch with some, and look forward to our next trip with Active.
    Gigi Altaras Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, November 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5051 reviews)

    Awesome New Zealand experience

    Wow, what a great trip! New Zealand was at the top of my bucket list & this trip was everything I expected and more. Mt. Cook on a beautiful evening with no clouds and the lake in front was one of my favorites. Milford Sound kayaking was another. Just getting to Milford Sound is spectacular! I'd go back in a heartbeat if it weren't so far away.
    John Lippitt Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Rimu, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5051 reviews)

    2017 Oct/Nov Rimu

    My 2017 Rimu trip was fantastic! Somehow our fabulous guides Ben and Emma arranged for clear sunny skies, a great mix of travelers, and an all around fun time. Seriously though, our group of 10/11 (we had a late addition) got along well from day 1 - we learned about each other's backgrounds, played cards and dice games, and shared bottles of wine. Ben and Emma worked tirelessly to make sure our travels were smooth - often 16+ hour days for them. Emma cooked wonderful meals for us and made sure everyone's dietary requests were met. Ben drove Whina (our bus) so well for so many hours to get us to our destinations - we'll never forget the tunnel! And they both were great guides on the hikes. Thanks for all the wonderful memories!
    Jeanne Stallings Review Image
    – North Carolina, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1936 reviews)

    Amazing Trip

    This trip was amazing - the hikes took us to beautiful vistas, the guides were knowledgeable and fun, and the food was never in short supply ("Food is Fuel!" as one of our guides kept restating).

    Koru and Kim were great guides throughout and everyone had so much fun! I was traveling solo but 2 of the other 4 on my trip were as well, so nobody was ever left out! Having such a small group made the activities much easier to enjoy.

    The hikes, like I mentioned, were truly unbelievable, though somewhat more difficult than I expected. Everything was talked as 'full-on' or by time, but know that NZ hikes are up mountains then back down, so work on hills more than distance before you go! Even some of the small walks we did (Blue Pools, only 5 minutes from the road & the Chasm, 10 minutes from the road) were breathtaking. Kayaking the Milford Sound was another once in a lifetime experience we got to have on this trip.

    The only thing I would have liked (and got jokingly by the end of the trip) were straight communication prior to the hikes about how long they were updates mid-hike about how much longer/further. There was one day with miscommunications leading me to think the hike would be another 3+ hours uphill (nearly inducing panic) but was really only 30 more minutes.

    Overall, I really loved this trip!
    Taylor Ceithaml Review Image
    – California, United States
    Tui, November 2016

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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.

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