“For me, this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”

Share this page on: Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest A group cheering and waving near Mt Cook.The crew from Andrea’s ‘Kiwi’ trip celebrating at Braemar Station.

Over the last twenty years or so we’ve been honing our skills in adventure travel. We started with a group of three guests on a trip around New Zealand’s South Island in 1996, and have progressed to taking groups to nine different countries on four different continents. As kiwis we are famous for our hospitality, we love welcoming people, taking care of people, and sharing in experiences with people. When our guests finally arrive in New Zealand, they’ll often pop into our office in Queenstown mid-trip, because like us, friendships are so important to them. We love being able to put a face to the voice we hear on the phone before the trip!

A group poses for a photo at Active Adventures HQ.A group of Active adventurers meet Lynette and Fiona at Active HQ in Queenstown.

That hospitality, and the sharing of experiences with new visitors to any of the countries we travel in, are the reasons we love doing what we do. And it’s guests like Andrea Rudolph (recently returned from New Zealand adventures) who help us to remember that: ‘Not only was the scenery breathtaking and the tour well run but our fun loving adventurous group made it even more special. Even the experienced travelers in our group felt it was the best tour they had ever been on. It’s been difficult to settle back into my ’normal’ life after such a life-changing experience.’

We find that guests on our adventures, because they always share common interests (adventure being just one!) really buy in to this idea that sharing the experience makes it so much more powerful. The willingness to be honest and open with one another about your life, and your achievements, and even your regrets, adds another dimension to the experience in a way that we find difficult to put in to words.

Andrea wrote some lovely comments about her South Island Explorer trip the ‘Kiwi’. On top of that she also took the time to write an awesome poetic review about the trip, here’s some of our favourite bits:

Active Adventures had everything planned

For a ‘better than average’ trip to Kiwi land

Our fearless leaders, Rachel and Koru

In every instance knew what to do

prepped us on schedules and weather every day

And tried hard to make us listen to what they’d say.

Koru told myths of Maoris and war

His tales were creative and never a bore

He showed us plants like the silver fern

This land is so varied there’s a lot to learn.

The Hector’s dolphins near the beach were rare

They amazed us by doing flips in the air

At the wildlife center we saw kiwis being fed

And heard how they’re kept safe till they’re bred.

 Braemar gave us bright stars at night

Sharing toilets and co-ed showers was also a delight

We ran through the hills, and drank lots of wine

Singing old songs and jingles, it was divine.

New Zealand is perfect except for the sandflies

Which bite all our legs as they drop from the skies

They even dare follow us into the van

Where we smash them on windows as fast as we can.

I tried really hard to write something clever

To celebrate our group and the best trip ever

Though our journey is over and we’re all back home

We can laugh and remember when we read this poem.

So when our guests return home, from adventures in New Zealand, South America, Nepal, or Europe, they return home with a warm fuzzy feeling that never wears off. And it’s that warm fuzzy feeling, and those unforgettable moments that so often lead to our guests travelling with us again: ‘I’ve spent lots of time researching my next trips. I will definitely go on the Iguana trip. and I will definitely keep checking your website for new trips I can take in the next several years.’ And when those guests take the time to write such amazing comments as the ones Andrea sent us, that warm fuzzy feeling is transferred to everyone involved with Active Adventures, and reminds us all why we love this job.

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Why you shouldn’t visit Starbucks when you come to Queenstown

It’s a real shame that Starbucks was allowed to set up shop in Queenstown. If that isn’t a hint as to the bias of this article, I’ll make it even clearer… If you actually do love Starbucks you should probably stop reading now. Or maybe step outside your comfort zone and keep reading, it might change your life, or at the very least it will hopefully encourage you to think twice before visiting the big green monster.

It actually amazes me that there are people in Starbucks when I walk past – I just went outside the Active office, down around the corner to the ‘local’ Starbucks to check, just to make sure they are actually real people inside. The only semi-plausible reason I can imagine for them being in there is the free WiFi (come on Queenstown, let’s get free WiFi in the CBD, then no one will go to Starbucks!)

OK, so let me set the scene a little…

Every year Phil and I travel to America to visit Active alumni, it’s a blast. It really is a fantastic adventure, where we’re able to explore a small part of our guest’s backyards and make sure we have our ‘finger on the pulse’, so to speak. We go out with our alumni on local hikes, we hold evening presentations and sometimes we opt for a good old fashioned dinner and catch up. We cherish these experiences and we believe that a bit of face to face time can really help to forge long lasting friendships.

We both have a knack for spotting the local establishments and we’ll often go out of our way to try and experience a place the way the locals would. We’ll opt for trains and busses over taxis, and local restaurants over chains. One thing we both struggle with though, is leaving behind our beloved flat white coffees. This is where it gets embarrassing. On our recent Roadshow we got sucked into the Starbucks vortex. The vortex that destroys small business and stands for everything we stand against. We needed free WiFi and we needed our double espresso, and once we found out how to order something that was marginally acceptable (a ‘double shot, short latte’) we were sucked in and spat out with bladders full of milk, on a daily basis.

Yes, it’s true, we’re coffee snobs here in New Zealand, I mean over-the-top, delusional coffee snobs. Hell, we’re even sceptical about coffee when we’re in Italy. That’s to say it’s truly a sorry state to find ourselves satisfying our coffee craving at Starbucks. At the risk of generalising, you could sum up American coffee culture as ‘big is better’. What Starbucks did was facilitate the transition from bottomless filter coffee to ‘tastes like milk’, ‘I’ll take a grande please’. To be fair, bottomless filter coffee wasn’t a great option in the first place, but at least it came hand in hand with a quirky, locally owned diner. It’s hard to find those diners these days… Capitalism and the ‘Walmart Effect’ eh.

The good news is, in New Zealand YOU STILL HAVE OPTIONS. We made a terrible mistake when we allowed Starbucks to come to Queenstown, but I’m determined to do my part here and encourage you to get your daily caffeine fix anywhere but Starbucks.

The benefits to you are numerous:

  • You’ll get a better coffee
  • Your coffee won’t be full of whipped cream or fake syrup
  • You’re more likely to be surrounded by locals, not tourists
  • You’ll be supporting a local business

Here are our Queenstown cafe recommendations:

Vudu Cafe & Larder

Vudu Larder Queenstown

Joes Garage

Joes Garage Queenstown

HALO Forbidden Bite Restaurant

Halo Queenstown

Bespoke Kitchen

Bespoke Kitchen Queenstown

Bob’s Weigh

Bob's Weigh Queenstown

That’s just a small selection. Next year on our Roadshow I vow to not visit a single Starbucks. Take on my challenge and don’t visit Starbucks when you come to Queenstown.

Make sure you read our tips on how to order a coffee when you’re here (or ask our guides to help you out!)