The Extreme Adventure
Posted on March 14, 2013
Hi Martin and Louise, friends and family
I thought that I would drop you a line and share with you my thoughts and insights from our adventure. Just to give you a bit of background. I have been married to Rob for 23 years. We have three beautiful children, Sophie 20, Harrison 17 and Fergus 10. We live in country NSW in a town called Young. Young has a population of about 12,000 people. We live in a beautiful home we built 15 years ago on 100 Acres outside Young, where we overlook a dam and fatten Angus steers to keep the grass down. We have really busy lives, running a financial planning business in Young and working with an accounting firm in Canberra, where I spend two days a week working.
Two of the kids are in Sydney. Hass is doing his HSC at Riverview and he boards and Sophie is in her third year at Sydney University doing Arts/Commerce.
About 15 months ago I suggested to Rob that we stop giving each other Xmas and anniversary presents and instead we give each other a shared experience. Something that we can do together and will force us to have some time away together each year, rather than leaving that to chance, and finding another year has slipped by and we didn't quite fit it in.
Given the fact that we are both strong personalities and can often have different ideas of what the perfect holiday might look like, I also suggested that we take in turns of organising it. The first year I organised us to go to Saffire in Freycinet Tasmania. Rob initially a reluctant starter, is now an advocate on their website with his testimonial. We absolutely loved that experience and he came away very concerned that he wouldn't be able to match it in 2013.
Rob is a passionate traveller and if I not kept in check, would be doing that many months of the year. He went in search of what he could organise for our next adventure. He read about you guys in a magazine article that covered the Relais and Chateaux lodges in New Zealand, they all appealed but it was the Chalet and the 3 day walk that made Whare Kea the stand out choice. He then emailed Carole for more information and after checking things out a little finally booked through a friend of a friend – Exclusive Travel group . Whilst I was on a week’s getaway with some girls in Port Douglas Rob sent me through the booking. My immediate reaction was one of horror. Not about the accommodation or the place but about the “extreme adventure” walk and particularly the length of the second day and the amount of climbing involved. We don't have any mountains in Young and whilst I think I am reasonably fit and active, having just been to Wanaka I don't think I am much chop at all.
I did really have it in my head that from Xmas I really needed to lift my level of activity to be fit enough. My biggest fear was that of failure and simply not being able to make it. We cycled and I went to the gym and we both did some two to three hour walks, me with a four kilo pack on. I had never done anything for 10 hours in one session and that was my concern.
Sitting in Sydney airport waiting to board the plane I sent a farewell email to friends saying that I was really concerned that, with the business of work, I hadn't done enough training and I was feeling quite undercooked physically. Arriving in Queenstown airport and standing in the immigration queue I marvelled at how there wasn't a high heel in sight. A lot of scruffy types, with sensible shoes and packs on their backs. I felt like I was entering another world, particularly when eyeing off the size of the mountains and wondering what on earth I had agreed to. We don't have mountains in Young but we had trained on hills in 36 degree heat, but no mountains, and I found myself staring at them in disbelief trying to imagine how on earth I was going to climb one.
After a little wander around Arrowtown we made out way to the lodge and arrived to be greeted by your team. My first impression was a fabulous location and a beautiful lodge which maintained a really warm homely feeling. I got to chat with all of your team and was so impressed with their genuine interest in us. We are serious foodies and were so delighted by the quality and the creativeness of the food. Having your own chef and just enjoy the comfort of the lodge was fantastic.
To try and time better weather for the trek, our first day became a rest day at the lodge, which I was seriously relieved about, so we cycled from Whare Kea to Wanaka and spent the day exploring the town, buying me a hiking outfit and learning about what needed to be worn for the adventure.
That afternoon I had a “warts and all” conversation with Carole about how hard this was going to be. She explained that I would be seriously challenged by the experience but she felt I would make it. I was feeling really anxious but was trying to mentally prepare so that I could cope with what lay ahead. The morning of the trek had arrived and I got to meet our guide Andy and his partner Kirsten. I must admit I was checking Kirsten out to see if this would be a woman I could bond with, given we had only just met, and I was about to spend two days with her. She was going to see me in my most vulnerable state and I knew I would be seeking some comfort and reassurance from her. I quickly decided she was a 'gazelle' and it looked like this would be a walk in the park for her. This was not giving me the feeling of connectedness I was longing. To make things worse, having never flown in a helicopter before was adding to my grief. As a bit of a control freak and being completely out of my depth on many levels, I asked my new best friend, Carole, to take care of my children, gave her a big hug, and got on board the helicopter, still unsure and in fear of what was to come.
James was our pilot and the flight was amazing. The sheer beauty of the lake and the mountains was indeed breathtaking. The level of professionalism during the briefing prior to jumping on that helicopter did help relax me about the flight. I figured they knew what they were doing. It was spectacular to see it by air before landing at our starting point. I have to say a low moment was after the helicopter departed and we were all alone in the silence. The walk began and we reached the Albert Burn hut after about an hour. This was interesting to see what people slept in and the signing in book of the people that had been before us. A few more hours passed with relatively easy walking before we hit a gorge and had lunch. Chocolate cake and a cup of black tea never tasted so good. After lunch a harder climb through the forest and across to the other side of the gorge to a beautiful open meadow gave us a bit of a taste of what was ahead for day two.
We arrived at our camping spot about 4.30pm and looked for a spot to set up camp. After some thought, we made our way into some trees and set up our bivvies (swag for the Aussies) for the night. I had never slept out in the open before with all of the elements so here goes!. The food from Whare Kea for the trip was a standout. I had imagined we would be eating freeze dried food so tucking into Jethro’s Lamb Tagine and washing it down with a central Otago Pinot almost made me feel back at home.
I was really nervous about the sleeping deal. What if we had a shocker night’s sleep and then had to front up for the big physical challenge the next day? Rob and I set up camp under a canopy of trees and tried to settle for the night. I have to say that neither of us slept well. At one point he was excited thinking he had had a great sleep and he could see the sun coming up only to discover it was the moon. It was a long night and we certainly were not feeling fresh to start the day. Andy made me eat a big bowl of muesli and fruit and kept saying how important it was to eat or we would never cut it. “This is an exercise in exchanging calories for altitude so get it into you !”.
We left camp just before 8.30 and hit the first big climb soon after. It was a scrubby climb and very steep, with the track washed out by recent flooding . We walked up and out of the forest and then had a short break and whacked on some hats and sunscreen and went for another twenty minutes or so to the end of the marked track, then rested while Andy considered the best route forward. We had been going for about 3 hours now and had made good time but Andy was concerned about the length of our day and said how important it was that we would keep moving to make it. At this point we put on our gators (thick skirt socks) we were heading into Spaniard country which are these low spiky plants that pierce through your skin as you just brush past them. They were everywhere and you really needed to carefully navigate your way through to avoid the wrath of the little buggers. Lots of sideling along the valley and having to really watch your footing. At one point whilst traversing across a creek gulley I placed my foot on a low shrub which gave way and I fell tumbling down the gully. Kirsten tried to stop me falling which meant that I took her out as well. I remember feeling that I was upside down and falling and then being so relieved that when the ground came and nothing was hurting. It could have been so much worse. I think I was a bit shocked that I had fallen, we both lay there like turtles, our pack on our backs and our legs in the air and had a good laugh! I got up reapplied the pink lipstick and got going.
In an hour or so we got to lunch, which was the most beautiful spot at the top of a waterfall, I was thinking that my legs had given all they had and we still had another four to five hours to go. I also knew that after lunch came the biggest challenge, until I had knocked that off, I was not at all confident that I wouldn't need to call for the chopper. I will never forget looking at those ascends before we would start and wondering how on earth I was going to make it. Also realising that the only way was to buckle in and get on with the job. The mountain terrain doesn't do wimps and that moaning was never going to get me up there.
I had felt that my appetite had waned at this point and remember shoving food in knowing that there was no way I would conquer the next one without it. I was feeling fairly flat as we undertook the next ascend and could feel my legs trembling on then climb up. They were screaming at me 'enough'. You needed to pull your way up that ascend often, and carrying 8 kilos whilst doing it. The challenge was a revelation. At the point where you were totally stuffed from a climb if you just hung in there, then there was soon some relief by way of an open valley to walk through. I knew the map by this point and Andy would be encouraging saying if you can make this big climb then there will be an open valley for a few kilometres to give you some relief.
Rob and I shared a beautiful time in that few kilometres ...you certainly share a special bond when you have struggled together. No doubt I was struggling the most and was the weakest of the four of us. That meant that Andy towards the end would make sure that he and I left first as the others would catch us anyway.
After the few kilometres in the valley came the last big ascend. We sat at the bottom like a bunch of school kids and ate and shared the last of our food. Andy again making sure that we had enough fuel on board to do the job.
Here goes Jus 'this is your last big climb'. We climbed and then got on top of the ridge where we stopped for water and then I was feeling somewhat freaked out by the height of the ridge and how thin the edge was. Andy offered to tie me with a rope to him. I declined and said that I would just concentrate on keeping my eyes fixed on his boots and following his every step until we got off the ridge.
We emerged from the ridge. Andy being a fairly serious ex-military character is not blessed with a sense of excitement or abounding enthusiasm.. He was a careful controlled character who learnt to tolerate me and cope with my banter. I really liked him and appreciated how measured he was. If Andy showed excitement you took notice. Coming down off the ridge I had him turn to me with great excitement. He had just spotted the most beautiful Chamois which was close by.
We climbed another steep ascend and then stopped to drink the last of our water before the final 40 minute climb to the chalet. Again Andy and I made off first, whilst Rob and Kirsten lagged behind to take photos, and we got to make some ground up on them. Andy’s second big moment of excitement for the day was about to arrive. With me still feeling a long way from home, Andy starts to whoop and waves his arms in the air, his walking pole pointing to the horizon. I looked across, feeling tired and thought, “what now?”. He said “look again” I took a second look and could see the very top of the roof of the chalet poking out above the hills in front of it. My body felt an immense feeling of relief, a feeling that I will never forget. Andy reckons I instantly picked up pace and nearly rounded him up. He couldn't believe it. I knew that there was some pain to be had but a bottle of Champagne awaited in the chalet and, for those that know me, that will always put a bit of skip in my step.
The sight of Carole on that chalet balcony was such an awesome sight. No one was more pleased to wave and hug her than me. I had made it. I felt like crying but could not. I think I just felt sheer relief that we had 'knocked the bastard off'. Champagne had never tasted so good. The view from the chalet was mind blowing. The architectural feat of the chalet being in such a remote location was so impressive. We had just walked for two days and hadn't seen a soul, let alone the wonderful comforts of home, or even better than home, that this was affording us. What a wonderful gift for people to experience who conquer this trek.
This trek is not for sissies. It has taught me that you don't know what you have got until put to the test. That the human spirit and determination counts for a lot ...probably as important as the physical fitness. I was also so impressed by the Myers and what they have achieved in Whare Kea and the Chalet and think that it allowed us to enter another world...one we would like to come back to.
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