The destination is only half the adventure.

Hot off the European trails, Phil Boorman (owner, director and guide for Active Adventures) has returned home to New Zealand after leading the inaugural Tour du Mont Blanc. Having guided for over 20 years across several continents, the creation of Active Adventures Europe was somewhat of a milestone in Phil’s life. Along the way he took a few moments to collect his thoughts, and reflect on what it is that drives our sense of adventure, and inspires us to keep hiking. Enjoy!

Optimized-hiking Mont de la Saxe
Hiking Mont de la Saxe

“It’s an interesting business, this adventure travel thing. When you create a new trip, you go through a series of emotions and thoughts, ranging from optimism (we CAN do this!), doubt (CAN we do this???), and certainty (yip, we can DEFINITELY do this). Once you’ve put in all the hard work, research and energy, I’m thankful to say that (in our experience) optimism and then certainty wins out at the end of the day. And that’s been the case with our very first Active Adventures Europe trip – the 12 day Tour du Mont Blanc which only just finished a couple of days ago. As we always do, we changed the way this trip is ordinarily done by other adventure travel providers, deciding not to just hike around the incredible Mont Blanc range, but to hike, sea kayak, bike and explore a few extra places along the way. I guess that’s what we do – we take a regular trip idea and flip it on its head – not just to see how it turns out, but because we know it’ll always be more interesting.

And we discovered something else on this latest trip. Something that has been obvious to us since we started in 1996, but never really articulated properly; the destination and scenery, as spectacular and eye opening as they are, are merely the canvas with which we paint our experience on, because ultimately it comes down to how we share it. Over these last 12 days we all experienced unreal mountain scenery, village life, and European culture but it was enhanced 10-fold by what we as a group brought to the table. And that’s exactly what our trips have been about for the last 20 years.

We’ve built a first class guiding and leadership team in Europe. It’s fair to say that our adventure hiking around the Mont Blanc Massif was enhanced every step of the way with our lead Mont Blanc guide – Jean Marc Valliant. Jean brought along stories of the region’s natural and cultural history, along with his personal stories of life growing up in the Alps, his time as a high mountain guide and a professional ski racer. But by equal measure, we all found ourselves drawn to each other’s stories.

Hiking the Chamonix Valley, we heard about life growing up in New York City from 77-year-old Louis D’Agostino, before looking across to the Boossons Glacier. It seemed like it was the exact thing that I was meant to be doing at that moment in time.

Hearing about Steve Jochman’s experience flying Boeing 747s across the Atlantic and his many adventures in different parts of the globe (including 10 trips with us!) over a bottle of wine in the Aosta Valley, it was a perfect way to end the day of hiking over the Col de la Seigne, having seen the huge granite peaks up close and personal.

Ally Gaylor – a pharmacist originally from Texas recounted her many stories of past trips with us, along with her love of marathons and road cycling.

Jim Curren – an Active Adventures veteran since 2008 captivated us all with his stories of working in the Peace Corps in Liberia a couple of years ago, not to mention reminiscing about the great times he had on our very first Active Adventures Himalayas trip in 2011.

col du bonhomme hike
Hiking the Col du Bonhomme mountain pass

Then there are the themes that develop on a trip. Amusing anecdotes that a group somehow identifies with make their way back into individual conversations and group exchanges. Throughout this particular trip, Donald Trump impersonations and 80’s German love songs had us all in stitches. Common in-jokes and themes such as these add so much colour to a trip. When the weather doesn’t play ball and you’re hiking through a bit of rain, these amusing themes and anecdotes make their way into the hiking conversation and turn a grey sky day to blue.

And then there’s the heroes. For me, the heroes of a trip are those who overcome their obstacles. 99% of the time, the obstacle is self-doubt. When “Can I DO it??” melts into “I can DEFINITLY do it!” a hero emerges and we walk away knowing we’ve played our part in opening a door for someone.

The hero of our Tour du Mont Blanc was Nancy Metzloff from Durham in North Carolina. Nancy and her husband Tom had done a few adventure trips before their trip with us (although this was their first experience with Active Adventures) but Nancy was a little nervous about some of the uphill parts of the trip, and whether she’d keep up with the group. To Nancy’s surprise (but not to ours) she kept a steady pace the whole way and gave us all a renewed lesson in perseverance & optimism.

Hike above Mer de Glace
Hiking above Mer de Glace

So, we’ve launched a new trip in an incredible destination, where we’ve added our unique Active DNA. It’s an amazing part of the world, but it’s the shared experience that makes this trip, and indeed all our trips so enormously memorable.

I can’t wait to get out and go on the next one!”

Phil Boorman.

Owner/Director/Guide
Active Adventures

Top 10 Guest Photos 2015

Photo competitions. They’re not necessarily a good thing for an organisation like us to run, because there can only ever be one winner, and we leave hundreds of other people disappointed. But we can’t help ourselves, can we? That’s because it’s just too damn hard to take bad photos on our trips and we’re naturally compelled to share them with everyone. And what’s life without friendly competition amongst family and peers?!

But rather than showcase just the one winner, here’s the top 10, in no particular order, all taken by you guys on our trips in 2015. What a year it was!

We’ll tell you who the winner is also – don’t worry.

1. Aoraki Mt Cook & Lake Pukaki, ‘Rimu’ – Allen Cameron

Aoraki Mt Cook

This is a scene our guides never tire of seeing, no matter how many times they visit the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. There’s always the butterflies that flutter in your stomach as this landscape greets you. As you get closer, the waters of Lake Pukaki become more radiant and the slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounding hills become more dramatic. After passing Lake Pukaki you’ll delve deeper into the National Park and get the chance to hike onto Mueller Ridge, where you’ll experience the most mind blowing mountain views in New Zealand.

2. Hiking Siberia Valley, ‘Tui’ – Bob Secor

Hiking Siberia Valley

You step out of the aircraft that has just dropped you into arguably New Zealand’s most isolated and dramatic wilderness area, and there’s just one way out from there; on foot. The plane takes off again and you realise it’s just you, your fellow hikers and the native birds accompanying you through this area of untouched beauty. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days. Well… technically you’ll get to take a jet boat ride down the Wilkin River as well, so it’s not just hiking!

3. Sand Boarding Te Pouahi Reserve, ‘Kauri’ – Bonnie Mullin

Sand Boarding

Sometimes it’s important to just be a kid again. And what better way than taking an old body board (not intended for anything other than use on the water, but hey – it’s fun!) and sliding down a huge sand dune and getting completely covered in sand? It can’t all be too civilised can it?

4. Swimming with a Turtle, ‘Tortuga’ – Charlotte Sherman

Swimming with a Turtle

If you don’t swim or at least see a turtle when you join us on our ‘Tortuga’ trip in the Galapagos Islands, then there will certainly be something wrong with the space/time continuum and we’ll have to look into getting into another business. Here’s the reason why we called the trip the ‘Tortuga’ – they’re everywhere and you never get sick of seeing them, especially in crystal clear water!

5. House on the Svelte, Patagonia, ‘Condor’ – Dennis Wilson

House on the Svelte

Patagonia has many faces, yes there’s the enormous granite peaks and glaciers of Torres Del Paine and Glaciares National Park, fiords and picture perfect lakes. There’s also the windswept plains dotted with grazing cattle and traditional “Gaucho” farm houses (now with solar power!). You find yourself wondering if you’ve stepped into a time machine.

6. Immaculate Forest Walk, Nelson Lakes National Park, ‘Rimu’ – Donal Rafferty

Immaculate Forest Walk

Can you see the hobbit in the trees in this shot? Well, there is no hobbit but you’ll be forgiven for expecting some sort of ancient creature to walk across the trail as you’re hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park. So no hobbits here, but you’ll probably be greeted by a South Island Robin – one of our most inquisitive native birds. They often peck at the ground you’ve walked on as they know your hiking boots may have opened up some soil for worms!

Skip straight to New Zealand Hiking Tours

7. Machu Picchu Selfie, ‘Jaguar’ – Jen Risser

Machu Picchu Selfie

Check out how happy Jen Risser is, after hiking for 3 days on the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. We arrive at Machu Picchu super early in the morning before the sun comes up and get ahead of the numerous people who visit the site every day, but when the sun does come out, it shines directly down on the site all day – it’s an incredibly refreshing place to be. The other thing we’ve noticed about this photo is that it’s a reminder of how much of a big job it’d be to mow those lawns, just look at em!

8. Milford Sound Kayaking, ‘Rimu’ – Jim Lane

Milford Sound Kayaking

Believe it or not, photos like this are EXTREMELY rare. Not because it has captured a truly perfect moment in time for Jim and his son Ben Lane, in the world’s most spectacular fiord, but because it’s captured a person in a double sea kayak who isn’t engaged in an argument with their fellow paddler… For that reason, this photo is our winner! Who needs flat horizons anyway…

9. Blue Duck in Repose, ‘Manuka’ – Joyce Barbour

Blue Duck in Repose

Our native Whio (Blue Duck) are known here in New Zealand as the “whitewater duck”, as when they’re spotted, they are often seen riding the rapids in our streams and rivers. They are also extremely rare. Contrary to how it appears in this photo, they do actually have heads, and two legs.

10. Hiking Amongst Giants, ‘AST’ – Marjorie Pilli

Hiking Amongst Giants

Almost there! In this shot, you’re only about 30 minutes from arriving at the Annapurna Sanctuary – a spectacular alpine amphitheatre that has to be seen to be believed. That’s our guide DK in the picture, pointing out the surrounding peaks but clearly not holding the attention of the other guy in the photo. It’s OK – we’re working on his presentation skills… ?

Success in the Himalayas

Active Himalayas was proud and excited to see the season’s first ‘Mustang’ trip head out on August 24. The trek could only be described as challenging, rewarding and inspiring. We caught up with trip leader Dan Thomas, and he gave us a run-down of how everything went!

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“The trail itself was fine, there were no visible earthquake related issues at all. The only difference was the lack of people out on the trail… it felt like we were the only ones out there at times – which was great! Kathmandu and the surrounding villages were also fine. As we expected, the Nepali people got stuck in over the summer months and cleaned the city up at light speed! Their hard work was especially apparent in the Thamel tourist area, where you’d hardly know there was an earthquake at all. Local store owners were ready for business, but the biggest difference here was again, the lack of crowds. In saying that, we did notice the town got busier when we returned from hiking the Mustang trek, so hopefully things are picking up again.

Optimized-Mustang
Having spent some time around the Kathmandu region myself, I did see the difference… but I felt the whole area was really clean. Noticeably cleaner than any of my previous trips.
Thamel also seemed really quiet. It felt like the locals and store owners were ready for tourists to return, but still it felt a lot quieter than the Kathmandu I have experienced in the past. In saying that, after the trek it did seem like there were a quite a few more tourists in town, so hopefully things are picking up again.

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As for the rest of Kathmandu, some of the main tourist sites and temples had visible earthquake damage, but repairs to most of them were already well under way and we felt really safe the whole time.

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As far as I can say, Nepal is open for business and eagerly awaiting more visitors in the coming trekking season.”
So with our next trip heading into Annapurna Sanctuary on November 23, we can’t wait to see what’s in store! Be sure to check out our hashtag #HikeNepalAgain on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with the latest updates from Nepal!