Our final European adventure for 2016 wrapped up just a few days ago – the skies were clear, the meadows were green, the hiking was fantastic and the Dolomites proved their status as the most beautiful mountain range in the world.
With 13 past Active Adventures travellers, we explored the Alta Badia valley, the Fanes Sennes Braies Natural Park and the peaks and valleys surrounding Cortina. Its difficult to describe the Dolomites without breaking out the superlatives and grandiose terms, simply because there’s no other way to describe what you see and experience around every corner – “I don’t think Ive ever seen a more perfect setting”, “you’ve got to be kidding me”, “OK, my mind is blown”, “I just need to pinch myself and make sure I’m not dreaming.” These were just some of the comments we all heard ourselves making along the way. And let’s not forget the hiking and biking amidst this perfect back drop! Our days were also complimented with incredible local food and wine and comfortable, elegant accommodation, and even the occasional musical performance from local groups.
I’m slightly jealous that I may not be guiding this trip again for a wee while – that will be left in the very capable hands of Richard, our local guide, and Mike – our long time Active Adventures trip leader who now resides in Austria. If you’re joining this trip in the future, you’ll meet these guys, and no doubt share the same experiences! – Phil
It was around the early 2000’s when we started exploring the notion of running our style of adventure trips in Peru. One of the old hands at Active, Phil Boorman, had already spent years in Costa Rica surfing and teaching, as well as guiding groups overland through South America. So, combining his local knowledge with our team’s experience guiding adventure tours in New Zealand, Active Adventures South America was born.
One of the signature itineraries, which has stood the test of time proving to be popular year in, year out, is the Ultimate Peru Adventure ‘Jaguar’ trip. Over the past 15 or so years thousands of guests have shared this 14-day experience with us, exploring Peru on foot, by bike and in a kayak. Of course, one of the bucket list destinations in Peru is Machu Picchu, and the Classic Inca Trail is the favoured way to reach this ancient citadel. The trail is well worn, which adds to the appeal, as hikers seek to follow in the footsteps of ancient Inca.
If you’re considering hiking the Classic Inca Trail yourself, don’t sit back and put it off! Lock in your spot, as hiking permits are limited and always sell out. Once you’ve got your spot secured, sit back, relax and enjoy our photo journey to Machu Picchu (and do a little hiking training to get in shape, if you’re not already!) All the photos you’ll see here are from our guests, taken during their ‘Jaguar’ trip.
The Journey to Machu Picchu begins in Cuzco
Having spent a couple of nights in Cuzco already and having hiked and biked in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, you’ll be nicely acclimatised and ready to hike! Topped up with any last minute hiking supplies, your group will leave town to make your way back through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to the start of the trail at Piscachuca.
Your hike begins at Piscacucho, or Kilometre 82
Eager and bristling with anticipation, there’s time for a fresh-faced group photo before the hiking begins. You’ll notice all the wooden hiking poles – those are available at the trail head, and widely used due to the ban on modern hiking poles with sharp points (as they degrade the historic track). You’ll hike through a few little villages, dip down into shaded river valleys and take in your first views of the huge peaks that will emerge even more as you hike further.
The trail winds its way up as you head towards Dead Woman’s Pass (4,400 metres or 14,435 feet)
Along the hike you’ll be rewarded with contrasting environments, as you gain altitude towards Dead Woman’s Pass. You’ll leave the shaded canopy of the forest and follow the winding trail up through a beautiful mountain pass with stunning panoramic views. There’s plenty of celebration as you reach the top. You’ll have worked up a thirst and will find yourself adding the layers of clothing back as breeze whips over the pass here! A short hike down the other side to Pacaymayo means a hot cup of coca tea, lunch and a chance to rest up for the remainder of the day and take in the views!
Time for a rest and a chance to take in views of the Rio Cusichaca
Above the tree line at Pacaymayo, you’ll want to have your sunscreen handy and plenty of water at your side. During the main season, from May to September the days are dry and sunny, ideal for hiking!
Along the way, admire the cobbled steps and Inca bridges, built over 500 years ago
After a cup of tea or coffee brought to your tent, you’ll be ready for the hike to Wiñay Wayna – the 3rd and last campsite on the trip. This is where you’ll enter the eastern side of the ranges that descend to the Amazon basin. There are several fascinating Inca fortresses to explore as you descend down into the cloud forest. And even the trail itself offers plenty of incredible glimpses into Inca craftsmanship, such as this bridge. There’s a sense of anticipation at Wiñay Wayna camp, as the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu are only a matter of hours away – it’s an early start the following morning!
Arriving at the Sun Gate…
After a hearty breakfast, you’ll hike in the dawn light towards the Sun Gate. Intipunku is from the Quechua language; ‘inti’ meaning sun and ‘punku’ meaning door, hence ‘Sun Door’ or ‘Sun Gate’ as it’s often called.
… For your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, as the fog lifts
At this spot, as the fog lifts, you’ll get your first view of Machu Picchu – it’s a surreal moment and a fantastic reward for your efforts. When Machu Picchu reveals itself, it’s an incredible sight. Even our long term guides who have hiked the trail dozens of times still get a rush every time they see it.
The day warms by the time you arrive at the ancient citadel
Once you arrive at Machu Picchu, you’ll be joined by a local guide who’ll show you around the ancient city. As you arrived early (before the visitors from Machu Picchu town below), you’ll have plenty of time to explore the many passageways and stone structures.
Huge smiles for a picture perfect postcard!
A trip to Machu Picchu would not be complete without a group photo!
Explore Aguas Calientes (now known as Machu Picchu town) after hiking the Classic Inca Trail
After three nights camping on the trail, it’s a welcome treat to return back to civilisation. Here you’ll have time to pick up any souvenirs and have a look around before we board a scenic train ride back to Cuzco.
You know, it’s going to be great whenever you come to New Zealand, and people will travel here for different reasons. So if you’re coming here to ski, you probably don’t need our advice! Although… for what it’s worth, September is better than July!
That said, this is a question we’re asked A LOT, so we decided to come up with six compelling reasons to travel here at certain times of the year. And the good news is, these periods all fall outside of peak season!
New Zealand is green. There’s no two ways about it. You can’t really go anywhere without being confronted with rolling green hills and vast swathes of native forest. Even the waters of the Marlborough Sounds have a stunning emerald green colour. But we’ll not be accused of being so one dimensional! No. Not even when it comes to the colour of our landscape. In addition to the widespread green we enjoy here, there are a couple of areas you can take in shades of orange during our Fall months – Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes District and the McKenzie Country near Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
Contrary to popular belief, New Zealand has more than one international airport. While Auckland airport takes care of most of our international arrivals and departures, there are six other international gateways. Most of which are no larger than the baggage claim area of LAX, but we only like to be grandiose and go over the top when it comes to things like scenery, our rugby team, and hospitality. Other international airports include: Wellington, Rotorua, Queenstown, Christchurch, Dunedin and uncle Bob’s farm shed on the West Coast.
Spring is a great time to be in New Zealand. Every August to October, the 40 million sheep in New Zealand multiply and become quite a few more (sorry – we can’t find the stats on this one). Our green landscape becomes dotted with tiny white lambs figuring out how to walk and follow their mother around the paddock. They’re also dropped in the deep end, so to speak, figuring out how to avoid ending up on the dining room table come Christmas time (roast lamb is especially popular as Christmas dinner in New Zealand). So if you want to see new born lambs before they’re part of the December menu, you’re best to visit in our Spring time.
The northern hemisphere has the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) and we have the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights). Whilst the best time to get a view of this phenomenon (caused by the collision of gaseous particles in the atmosphere) in New Zealand is during our winter months, you should know that we’re actively lobbying Wikipedia to have the “Australis’ removed from the name. Just like all great New Zealand phenomena, Australia tries to steal the limelight. Not these lights though – they’re all our own!
If you’re keen to learn more, we recently bestowed our South Island wisdom on Expedia for their article, ‘Chasing the Southern Lights in New Zealand’, to help those who have taken up the quest of chasing the Southern Lights.
Rich Marine Life
With over 9,400 miles of coastline, there’re a few fish here. With a small population, strict commercial fishing rules and marine environment protections in place, it’s fair to say there’s an abundance of marine life. No more so than in places like the Bay of Islands, Kaikoura and Milford Sound. During our summer months you’d be hard pressed not to encounter some sort of fish, sea lion or dolphin while exploring our coastline.
Most people only associate penguins with Antarctica, but New Zealand is home to three penguin species – The Yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho), Fiordland crested penguin (tawaki) and the Little penguin (korora). You’ll find penguins in greater numbers in the South Island from August to February. Take note, seeing a penguin in New Zealand still makes you hear Morgan Freeman’s voice in your head. It’s unavoidable but who doesn’t like Morgan Freeman?
With Nancy’s permission, we’d like to share a note she sent to us, after her ‘Tour du Mont Blanc’ trip with Active Adventures Europe in June. It really sums up why we do what we do! Hopefully it helps to motivate you for your next adventure trip. Thanks for sharing Nancy!
“Hi Phil. I’m back home, suitcases unpacked and hiking boots put away for the next trip. Seems like the trip was months ago, until I look at the calendar and see that it was just two weeks ago that we said our goodbyes and set out in the van to Geneva.
Reflections on the trip are still sinking in, but this I know: The trip was everything we hoped for and more. We took a (calculated) leap of faith when we signed up for the Mt. Blanc circuit, new trip, new company (although we had long decided to go with you guys to New Zealand when the opportunity arose.) You’ve put together a really fine team, and seem to know in your bones what people like us look for and need on a trip like this. Good humor, fun, seriousness of purpose when serious things arise. And above all, responding to each traveler’s particular needs and challenges.
I will be ever grateful to you, Andy and Jean-Marc for seeing me through to the end of our incredible journey. The hiking was harder on me than I had expected (maybe altitude, I don‘t know.) But at the end of the eight days of hiking, I felt such a sense of accomplishment in having made it the whole way. And I did it with your support, your patience and your watchful eyes. There was one day when I was tempted to just head to the van, and I just knew I’d regret it. It was a proud moment, indeed, for me to stand with the group in the park on that last night knowing that I had contributed to us all completing the circuit. I saw just this morning that you had awarded me the trip hero. Thank you, thank you, and know that I know I did it with lots of help!
So, cheers. We’ll hope to see you if get up this way next year, and will be looking for our next trip with you guys. Keep in touch. Nancy.”
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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… ?