Attitude is everything. It could not have been clearer after seven years of marriage. Her body language said it all. "Just what on Earth am I doing at 6,000 feet with a 30-pound pack on my back, boulder-hopping on this ridge?" Her trekking pole slapped some of the small rocks out of the way. She stopped to pick one up. Must be a souvenir, as if the blisters on her feet weren't enough. I watched all this from a distance and did what all good husbands should do. Nothing.
I knew Jeannette well enough to know that she would eventually adjust her attitude. Sure enough, after falling on her backside in the grass, she did. With more-focused determination, she was one of the first from our group of 12 down the mountain that day. We had just concluded a three-day hike into Nelson Lakes National Park on the South Island, part of our two-week Active Adventures New Zealand tour. New Zealand is made up of North and South Islands. Our tour time was spent on the South Island.
Active would be a good word to describe this vacation. We biked along miles of unspoiled scenic mountain roads. We hiked through a rain forest to a summit overlooking Franz Josef Glacier. We climbed mountains along the Southern Alps as high as 6,000 feet. We sea-kayaked on a beautiful lagoon in Okarito and a fiord in Milford Sound. We visited a winery, we tried local restaurants. And on top of all that, the sun didn't set until 9:30 p.m., which meant we were able to pack in a lot of adventures. This was February, New Zealand's summer.
To get to the many remote areas of the South Island, the 12 of us rode together on a small but comfortable bus we fondly nicknamed the silver mini-Winnie, driven by our guide Ken, along with Jacqui, our cook, and Brendan, a cook in training. They were professional, personable and, above all, knew how to have a good time. Our group bonded pretty quickly. We met each other after flying into Christchurch, and then on our first excursion in Kaikoura we swam with seals. For more than two hours, our guide valiantly led us in our wet suits to waters suited only for marine wildlife. The seals seemed to be laughing at us from their perches in the safety of the rocks. We didn't belong there. Later at dinner we would share our experiences and laugh until our sides hurt.
As I edge closer to age 40, there were many physical challenges. The next day, we went on a three-day Nelson Lakes hike, a series of treks through beautiful beech forests and steep, rugged mountains. We walked from hut to hut and drank from crystalclear streams as we ascended steep rocky slopes. Maybe because I stopped to snap off a photo or two, or I wasn't in as good shape as I thought, I always ended up being alone. This was OK, as I urged myself up to the top.
"One step at a time", Ken, our guide would say to me in his Kiwi accent. He was right. During that 2,000-foot vertical ascent up Mount Angelus, I figured if I could make it to the top, I could do anything on this trip. Two hours later, I was standing with my wife on top of the world. I felt a great sense of achievement as we walked to the hut. That night I ventured outside while everyone else slept, to find a large, white full moon rising above the craggy mountainous landscape. I thought I was on a different planet. The stars littered the black sky from horizon to horizon. I thought, "now this is a vacation."
Music was a large part of our driving pleasure, and Ken supplied us with a fun mix of new and old. He was a great DJ by always matching the music to our moods. The Doors' Riders on the Storm provided the perfect soundtrack to the passing landscape in the rain-drenched Fiordland National Park. Waterfalls cascaded down from black cliffs that disappeared into the clouds.
This was all after a trip to Punakaiki, where we spent a day relaxing. Another short hike, then a four-hour kayak trip into the Okarito Lagoon. Then another half-day hike into a rain forest, and a look at the Franz Josef Glacier. All this, then the van trip to Fiordland National Park.
It's Queenstown next, with two days to relax."OK, when the light in front of you turns green, we are good to go. Keep your head back, lean into me, relax and have a great time," said my tandem sky-diving instructor. It was my turn next. Three of us jumped, each with an instructor and video guy. The light flashed green. I sat on the edge of the plane and looked down. The view was incredible. I was more excited than scared. Just before leaping out of the plane, I heard my wife scream some words of encouragement. She had done this before.
Falling at 120 mph is pure adrenaline rush. Your entire body is weightless. I tried to scream, but the air filled my lungs too quickly and wouldn't allow it. After freefalling for about 45 seconds, we floated down in silence. This is the craziest thing I have ever done, but I was glad I did it. Back on the ground, we were all shouting and dancing. Eight of us from our group jumped that day - another great bonding experience.
This was Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand. Surrounded by mountains aptly named The Remarkables, they formed a stunning backdrop to Lake Wakatipu. We could not sit still. My wife, along with two others, tried the highest bungee jump in New Zealand, the Nevis, a 400-foot jump from a cable car suspended by wires over the Nevis River gorge. They all remained high from that experience for days after. There were lots of other activities to try in those two days: mountain biking, canyoning, jet-boating, whitewater rafting and riding in an acrobatic plane. Then in the evenings we all had dinner together and raised a ruckus in the restaurants and clubs.
The next morning we departed from Queenstown to Milford Sound, so some of us took the opportunity to mountain bike the road alongside beautiful Lake Wakatipu. I hadn't done very much biking, but surprisingly I found this to be a blast. After a short afternoon hike in Fiordland National Park, we stopped again. Outfitted in rain gear, several of us biked an aggressive 17- kilometer downhill portion of the road to the Milford Lodge, where we stayed.
Next on the agenda was a four-hour extreme kayak on Milford Sound. The rain came at us in sheets while the wind and waves tossed our bright, bouncy kayaks around like toys. We were having a rough time of it in our two-person craft. (Those colorful brochures had made it look so tranquil!) Even through all the choppy waters, Jeannette's sore wrist and my aching and tired arms, we hung in there for the challenge, remembering to marvel at the majestic beauty of Mitre Peak plunging into the sea, its tip shrouded in clouds. In the distance, a waterfall that seemed three times higher than Niagara Falls was spilling into the fiord.
In the middle of nowhere
The most peaceful place we stayed during this tour was in Braemar Station, at a sheep shearer's house on a farm alongside Lake Pukaki at the base of Mount Cook. We were in the middle of nowhere with stunning views of the Southern Alps. The golden, grassy landscape was vast, open and quiet. Some of us slept out on the covered porch. Later that evening, I was so transfixed by the bright night sky, sleep seemed impossible. The next morning we were up early and ready for our seven-hour strenuous hike up a ridge alongside Mount Cook. This would be our final hike of the tour - 6,000 feet up to Mueller Hut.
The weather was perfect. After almost two weeks of hiking, my legs and stamina greatly improved and I found this hike to be the most challenging, yet the most exhilarating. The last 1,500 feet or so, we were climbing almost vertically over loose rock and large boulders. After three hours, we were there. We ate lunch, played in the snow, took some group photos and hoisted our makeshift flag. The camaraderie of our group ensured plenty of good times. We played Crazy 8's by candlelight in Lakehead Hut. We showered beneath a breathtaking waterfall on a beach in Punakaiki. We danced like fools at a Latin club in Queenstown.
We sang songs together as we hiked up steep mountains. We enjoyed sharing great New Zealand beers and wines at local pubs and vineyards. Conversation was always witty and full of goodnatured teasing. We encouraged and supported each other in our personal goals. We shared a unique New Zealand experience and made friends we know we will see again.
- May 2022
"I had a great time on the Jaguar trip - our guides were friendly, knowledgeable,… read more
"I had a great time on the Jaguar trip - our guides were friendly, knowledgeable, organized, and always helpful. Our porters and camp staff also were friendly and highly competent. The sites chosen by the guides for us to visit were always interesting, and the guides were able to provide great information about them. The information provided to us by Active Adventures was helpful and comprehensive - my only comments regarding the pre-trip information would be to update the materials to clarify that guests need a small day pack for biking and day hikes AND a 30L plus hiking bag for the Inca trail, and the pre-trip information could have included information about tipping for the porters and guides. While it is sensible that the company would not want to pressure guests into tipping a certain amount, everyone in my group had a wonderful time and genuinely wanted to show appreciation to our porters and guides. It would have been helpful to know how much cash we should have with us when departing on the trail to be able to tip each individual adequately, as well as information about when in the trip we would have an opportunity to tip both porters and guides. read less
Amy, United States
- May 2022
"After having had my retirement bucket list trip snatched from under me in 2020, I… read more
"After having had my retirement bucket list trip snatched from under me in 2020, I was delighted to finally take it this April. Active Adventures deserves huge kudos for honouring its commitment to the trip. I travelled with two friends, and we were in a group of 15 on the trip - from the US and Canada. What a fantastic group of people! Best of all though, were our two tour guides from the Galapagos, Pepo and Paulo. They were the best ambassadors for the islands and Ecuador - very knowledgeable, professional, kind hearted - and just plain fun. They made us feel safe and relaxed throughout the trip. The islands are gorgeous - and the wildlife does not disappoint. I found deep ocean snorkelling a bit out of my comfort zone, and wished I had practiced a bit in a pool before I left. However, it is an essential part of the trip, and cannot be skipped. Learning about tectonic plates, volcanoes and the conservation efforts for the giant tortoises was food for thought. As for helpful tips, bring lots of sun screen, sun protective clothing, and bug spray. These items are not readily available on the islands, but they are absolutely essential. Also bring a reusable water bottle as recommended by AA, because although bottled water is available for purchase everywhere, it makes more sense to fill up from the large reusable containers provided and not create plastic waste. I would definitely recommend this beautiful active adventure - my first with this company, but not my last. read less
- May 2022
"We loved our trip to Galapagos! Our guides, Pepo and Paulo were so knowledgeable… read more
"We loved our trip to Galapagos! Our guides, Pepo and Paulo were so knowledgeable about the islands and loved sharing it all with us. The warm weather was so welcome after a winter in New England. All of the logistics were handled smoothly so that all we had to do was enjoy the varied land and marine wildlife. An amazing trip that I highly recommend! read less
Claudia, United States
- May 2022
"To be honest, I was a little leery traveling with a new company, with new… read more
"To be honest, I was a little leery traveling with a new company, with new people and well, Covid. But this was abso-fricking-lutely the BEST ADVENTURE TRIP! From our guide, Pepo (who completely hit it out of the park), to the places we saw, to the organization behind the scenes and those wonderful meals, this was amazing! If you want the best way to SEE the Galapagos Islands, this is it. I can't say enough great things about Galakiwi (Active's partner) and our guides. They made this trip unforgettable. Pepo and Paolo answered our flora/fauna questions (we had lots!) and happily shared us what makes this place so special. And man, Pepo can dance - and surf! We're already talking about our next Active Adventure - we can't wait! :) read less
Lori, United States
Ultimate Patagonia & Chile Adventure - April 2022
"Although initially disappointed that the border with Argentina remained closed, the Torres del Paine hiking… read more
"Although initially disappointed that the border with Argentina remained closed, the Torres del Paine hiking with Alvaro and Christian was compensation aplenty. read less
Nick, United Kingdom
Ultimate Patagonia & Chile Adventure - April 2022
"I finally made it to Patagonia! And I couldn't have done it with a better… read more
"I finally made it to Patagonia! And I couldn't have done it with a better company! This was my 5th tour with Active!
The landscape was even more breathtaking than I had imagined. And every guide was so much fun to hang out with and incredibly knowledgeable about the culture and the land. If you are planning a trip to Patagonia and you love being in the outdoors, this is the tour company for you! read less
- April 2022
"This is our second Active Adventures trip and we weren't disappointed. The itinerary was excellent… read more
"This is our second Active Adventures trip and we weren't disappointed. The itinerary was excellent and food and accommodation of a high standard. We loved the West Coast scenery. The walks were amazing, particularly around Lake Matheson and Punakaiki. Kayaking on Okarito Lagoon, heli-hiking on Franz Joseph Glacier and the scenic flight over Mt Aspiring National Park out to Milford Sound were fantastic experiences. Our guide Clare was first class. Everything was organised to perfection and nothing was too much trouble. read less
Robert, New Zealand
- April 2022
"First “big” trip in 2 years due to the pandemic. Honestly, more anxiety than excitement… read more
"First “big” trip in 2 years due to the pandemic. Honestly, more anxiety than excitement prior to the trip but once I arrived in the Galapagos, the excitement hit and so glad my friend and I decided to go on the adventure together. AA tour made the trip really easy. I really like the balance of being “active” and some downtime of my own. The tour guides were friendly and very knowledgeable. The meals were all very good except for the first night dinner on San Cristobal Island…to me, it wasn’t good. I thought the fish weren’t well prepared and tasted too fishy. Another person ordered the same meal and I noticed she hardly touched hers. Later I found out hers was too salty. Another low light for me was the accommodations on Floreana Island. Apparently, very limited hotel selections on the island. Hotel Wittmer was ran down and we all had cold showers that night. I also found a smashed dead mosquito with blood on the wall! Isabela Island was fun and where we stayed was wonderful. I wish we had more time on Santa Cruz Island. All in all, I had a fantastic trip and would recommend this trip to my friends who enjoy the outdoor and animals! read less
Hui-Chien, United States
- April 2022
"The Tortuga trip was full of once in a lifetime experiences. Pablo, our guide was… read more
"The Tortuga trip was full of once in a lifetime experiences. Pablo, our guide was so passionate about the islands and knowledgeable about the wildlife and all aspects of our trip. We swam with sea turtles, rays, sea lions, and sharks!. The land tortoises were great to see in their natural habitat and in the breeding centers. I learned so much about the history of the islands, the environment, Darwin's studies and plans for the furture on the island. The snorkeling in Los Tunels was the highlight as well as the hike to the volcano lava fields. The Galapagos is truely a unique and fascinating place. read less
Barb, United States
- April 2022
"Well organised trip read more
"Well organised trip read less
Adrian, New Zealand
Ultimate Patagonia & Chile Adventure - April 2022
"The Condor trip and the W Trek were wonderful. I was there in early February… read more
"The Condor trip and the W Trek were wonderful. I was there in early February and the weather was good; clouds mixed with sun, and surprisingly warm…but windy. The guides, as always, were special and took care of everything. The scenery is amazing, and constant for the entire 4+ days. The Argentina border was closed so the trip was modified to include the Chile Lake District, and I opted out of that portion of the trip because it was similar to the Active Adventures Puma trip which I did a couple years ago (also a great trip!). Even doing only the W Trek was great…and I hope to return for the whole trip! read less
Mark, United States
- April 2022
"I could write pages about our Tortuga trip in April . Instead I will just… read more
"I could write pages about our Tortuga trip in April . Instead I will just say that we were so surprised how much we enjoyed traveling with Active Adventures. We are typically not "group travel" people but in the Galapagos it seems necessary...so many things to line up and local people and facilities to communicate with. AAdventures did this with amazing competency. Things flowed seamlessly. Our guide Pepo and his assistant Paolo were amazing. They seemed to do all this and yet still ENJOY being with us, answering questions and getting everyone excited for the next adventure. I will advise that this is an active trip, not intense but lots of exercise, sweating and moving every day. It is important to know that and be prepared or know that you might skip some of the longer things. I also want to add that the guides' English was beautiful and Pepo's knowledge about the area, the geography and the animals was impressive. To anyone who is worried about the "group" aspect but needs the logistics AAdventures can provide, be assured. They still respect your privacy, your right to skip something if its not for you and the small size makes it not feel chaotic. Food was also very good, fresh and simple but abundant and well prepared. I had dreamed of this trip since I was a little girl and read about the tortoises in National Geographic. I never thought the experience would live up to the dream, but it truly did and I think Active Adventures had a big part in that. read less
Lynn, United States
Ecuador Volcano and Jungle Adventure - April 2022
"This was an excellent way to see more of mainland Ecuador. The scenery was… read more
"This was an excellent way to see more of mainland Ecuador. The scenery was breathtaking with waterfalls, rushing river and majestic mountains. Got to sample local cuisine with I enjoyed very much. read less
Sandy, United States
- April 2022
"This was a trip down memory lane for me revisiting old haunts & visiting new… read more
"This was a trip down memory lane for me revisiting old haunts & visiting new ones. I was thrilled with how it all went & with the experience of our guides & their enthusiasm. The weather was perfect & I achieved everything on my bucket list! read less
Colleen, New Zealand
- April 2022
"Another great guide. Beautiful diving, biking and hiking adventures. Great local food and accommodations. We… read more
"Another great guide. Beautiful diving, biking and hiking adventures. Great local food and accommodations. We have loved every single Active Adventure. As always though, the Active guides are what make the trip special. This time Pepo and Paulo were absolutely awesome with their knowledge and communication. The people in the group always seem to come together as great friends and we have the guides to thank for that! Can't wait for the next one! read less
Paul, United States
You’ll be inspired and exhilarated, enjoying mind-blowing scenery on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike - all at your own pace. Get ready for the trip of a lifetime.
We're proud of our Kiwi roots and you’ll love our professional, warm and relaxed style of hosting. Plus, we’re always here to help with planning, travel, bookings... even hiking boot recommendations!
As soon as your trip starts, we've got everything covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport, superb accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.
With our small groups of typically no more than 14 (up to 18 max), 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 going at your own pace.
All our carefully selected guides are highly experienced and have deep personal connections to nature and culture. You’ll enjoy a special experience, authentic local knowledge and an adventure like no other.
We could hang around all day telling you how wonderful our trips are... but the best people to hear it from are our guests themselves.