Trekking in the Himalayas

After the Quake

Reconstruction and trekking in the Himalayas

The Gosainkund trek is one of the most popular routes in the Himalayas, but what is it really like for trekkers and local businesses after the devastating 2015 earthquakes?

Trekking in Nepal can be a flourishing industry, but it is dependent on tourists who come to the Himalaya to spend their money.

Since the earthquakes in April and May of 2015 and the fuel blockade on the Indian border later in the year, the world has been receiving mixed messages. Nepal’s official stance is optimistic, launching a social media campaign, #iaminnepalnow, encouraging apprehensive tourists to return to the trails, maintaining the routes destroyed in April have been reopened and the ever-growing Himalayas are stable once again.

Even the popular Langtang trek, where over 250 people were reported missing after the April 25th earthquake, has been cleared by the army and is reportedly open for business. Yet, this optimism is not reflected in the experience of those who earn their livelihood on the trails.

A view from Cherko Ri of Kyanjin Gompa and the Langtang Valley before the quake

Tremors still reverberate in Kathmandu and the mountains to the north.

The price of gas has skyrocketed because supplies from India cannot make it across the border. As a result, locals report that their incomes are down by at least 75%. For those involved in the trekking industry there is little to do but persist. Before the earthquake, running a guesthouse or working as a guide or porter was good business.

A Nepali host makes tea

Before the earthquakes, in Langtang National Park, about 10,000 tourists bought park permits and TIMS Cards (Trekkers Information Management System) at approximately $50 USD per head. Then, they would embark on one of three treks, the Langtang Trek, accounting for 60% of footfall according to lodge owners, the Gosainkund Trek (40%), and the Tamang Heritage Trail, more of a detour appealing to those who could afford to spend a little extra time and money after they had finished one of the two more popular routes. Money from foreign economies was constantly being injected into the local economy.

Trekkers need beds to sleep in, food to eat, clean water to drink, guides to show them the right trails to walk on and porters to carry their bags.

A trekker carrying his own bag on the Langtang trail

The residual fear of a natural disaster and wariness over political tension has seen a marked decline in foot traffic. Nima Sherpa owns a lodge in Kutumsang, which although it is outside the borders of Langtang National Park is the first stop on the Gosainkund Trek from south to north. The initial earthquake leveled every building in Kutumsang. There were injuries but no loss of life.

Since then, Nima has built a temporary wooden structure to house trekkers who pass through, next to the makeshift home where he, his wife and son now live. He estimates business is down 85%. The government has promised 200,000 Nepali rupees, about $2,000 USD for homes that were destroyed, but have promised nothing for broken businesses like Nima Sherpa’s guesthouse. Regardless, they were supposed to pay the lump sum by Dasain festival, which had passed at the time of this interview, and had only delivered 22,000 NRS, equivalent to $220 USD. Rumours circulate.

1. Nima Sherpa and his wife outside their destroyed guesthouse. 2 & 3. The village of Kutumsang, very few houses have been repaired.

Government engineers are supposed to approve any building project before it goes ahead, but there has simply been no sign of them yet. If they don’t give the go ahead, or if local people build before the government gives them the promised sum, they will be ineligible for compensation. It’s a Catch 22 situation. If the government holds off until the people are forced to rebuild out of their own pocket they are off the hook. Nima is well aware of this, but will run a temporary home and business for a few years just to see what happens stating,

“We cannot depend on the government. Even if we have to borrow money, we need to rebuild our home and run our business.”

The situation is harder for those who operate guesthouses within Langtang National Park. Jimbu Sherpa and his wife, Kanchi Helmu Sherpa, operate a lodge at Thadepati Pass. Unlike Kutumsang, which is a village, Thadepati Pass is only a stop for trekkers. Before the quake, there were three lodges here but all were completely destroyed.

Jimbu Sherpa and his wife, Kanchi Helmu Sherpa standing outside their lodge at Thadepati Pass.

Jimbu and Kanchi are the only ones to rebuild though their new guesthouse is less than half the size of their previous property. Like a recycled phoenix, their guesthouse has risen out of the rubble using found materials as it is illegal to cut down green wood within the park. The stones, though fallen, are undamaged and anything new has to be carried up the mountain at extremely inflated prices. Only the windowpanes, shattered, must be replaced entirely.

As their business is within park jurisdiction, and they don’t own the land outright, they have to pay a royalty fee for the land they occupy — in their case 90,000 NRS ($900 USD.) Across the park the royalty fee goes up by 10% annually. Despite the destruction of their property in the earthquake and the subsequent nosedive in tourist traffic (Jimbu estimates a 90% decline) the National Park still demands payment. To make matters worse, his home in Melamchigaon, a village further down was also destroyed. Jimbu is desperate.

“If we still have to pay the royalty, our only option will be to leave this place and open a lodge on our private property…”

Jimbu Sherpa and his wife, Kanchi Helmu Sherpa, inside their lodge at Thadepati Pass.

Between Thadepati Pass and Phedi, the last stop before the steep climb to Gosainkund Lake, the route is difficult. The trail snakes along the south face of a steep range now marred by at least fifteen landslides, a few of them very challenging. The route, which normally takes one day even for slow hikers, now takes two. Jimbu Sherpa told us a foreign trekker was killed near Ghopte when the quake brought parts of the mountain down. Between landslide areas, boulders, conspicuous because of their lack of moss and position in the middle of the trail make it hard not to feel apprehensive. This is no place to linger.

The difficult route between Thadepati Pass and Phedi.

There is only one operational guesthouse between Thadepati and Phedi, in Ghopte, but its precarious position straddling a ridge between landslides caught beneath a sagging face of granite make it an unappealing place to spend the night.

Phedi comes as a welcome sight, located slightly higher and away from under the looming rocks of the previous day and a half.

There are two guesthouses here, both damaged and repaired after the quake in anticipation of the autumn tourist season. Dawa and Lakpa Sherpa run Hotel Blue Sky. They too must pay a royalty fee of 90,000 NRS despite the damage and the downturn in tourism. They say they are losing even more business because the route is bad now.

Dawa and Lakpa Sherpa with their daughter outside Hotel Blue Sky

The national park has done nothing to repair the trail. Instead, herders and hotel owners have had to pick their way through the landslides creating the difficult traverse from Thadepati Pass to Phedi. Langtang National Park has stated they will do nothing to make the way safer until hoteliers pay their royalty fees, some of which have been outstanding for years. Effectively, the park is holding guesthouse owners to ransom.

Dawa and Lakpa also tell us that three and half years ago, the National Park Authority informed the guesthouse owners that in five years, the land their lodges reside on will be put up for tender, effectively sold to the highest bidder without any concessions towards the families that have held leases here for decades.

Dawa and Lakpa have the right to rent land here, because their families held herding rights in this area before the park was designated in the 1970s.

The high paths that lead to Gosainkund are an old route used by both pilgrims, herders and mule trains.

Gosainkund is an important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site and when more tourists started visiting the area, enterprising herders set up stalls to sell tea and then lodges for weary travellers. According to them, the national park was founded and a royalty fee structure implemented only when the government realized how lucrative trekking could be. If the Nepali government follows this policy through, Dawa, Lakpa, and all the other guesthouse operators leasing their land from Langtang National Park have a year and half until the land on which their businesses reside is put up for tender. Unfortunately, the earthquakes and the fuel blockade mean they will have even less money to bid on the plots than they would have had otherwise.

Ram Sherpa and his son in the ruins of Hotel Mountain View, Laurebina Pass

A few hundred metres beneath Laurebina Pass, Ram Sherpa and his son are picking through the rubble of their guesthouse. The lofty position of Ram’s lodge, approximately 4,100 metres above sea level, meant Ram was often coming to the aid of trekkers with altitude sickness and injuries suffered in accidents.

Once, Ram Sherpa delivered a 106-kilogram man with a badly broken leg to safety, carrying him all the way down the mountain on his back.

Ram is a small man, and can’t weigh more that 55 kilos himself. In the hours after the initial quake, Ram rescued five visitors who were in trouble on the mountain. Now, there is nobody coming to Ram’s aid. He doesn’t have enough money to rebuild his lodge, yet he is still expected to pay the park royalty fee for the plot of land his pile of rubble occupies. According to the lodge owners in Phedi, failure to pay will result in an additional fine.

Ram Sherpa and his son in the ruins of Hotel Mountain View, Laurebina Pass

High in lakeside Gosainkund, guesthouse owners were luckier than their neighbours. All the lodges survived the earthquake, but they were damaged and business is down by the same percentage as places below. Tempa Sonam Tamang who has to pay a 1.25 Lakh NRS or $1,250 USD park royalty fee because of his prime location, is renting the guesthouse from the owner on a 5-year contract. Despite these overheads and the cost of paying for goods to be carried to 4,380 metres above sea level, business was good enough before the quake to make it worthwhile. Now he is unsure of the future. His contract is up at the same time the lodge is supposedly up for tender.

When, and if, the land is to be bid upon, if the guesthouse owner is outbid, they stand to lose not only their lodge, but also the land it stands on.

Even if the structure was built entirely with the lodge owner’s own capital, because it is made from wood, stone and mud from within the boundaries of Langtang National Park, the owner only has rights to the stove and utensils.

The lakes of Gosainkund are a sacred pilgrimage site and a big tourist attraction their natural beauty drawing in thousands of tourists each year.

On the way back down, coming through Laurebina, lodge owners Pasang Tamang and Tashi Wangmu Tamang face similar problems. Although business is down by an estimated 95% and they are still being made to pay a 90,000 NRS royalty fee to the park they are being a little more proactive about their situation.

According to the Nepali government, their lot will be up for tender in a year and a half. They have requested that the tender be postponed for ten years and the royalty fee be waived for two years so they may recover their losses. However, they’re unconvinced their appeals will bring relief and when asked if they will protest say,

“There is trouble enough already.”

Local teenagers outside the lodge run by Pasang Tamang and Tashi Wangmu Tamang.

In Mung Kharka, there exists some of the only optimism left on the Gosainkund trek. Pema Tamang and her family live on an idyllic piece of land at 3,000 metres. Unlike the aforementioned guesthouse owners, they are lucky enough to own their own land despite its location within the national park, and as such, they can do with it as they please and are exempt from paying the royalty fee.

They have a flourishing agro-business, supplying tomatoes and potatoes to the lodges higher up, as well as keeping chickens, cattle and goats. Their guest lodge was damaged in the quake and business has seen a dramatic decline, but because they have taken the opportunity to diversify their assets, they are in fact now doing better.

Pema Tamang and her father in law and daughter Ruth at their farm homestay in Mung Kharka

Thulo Shyabru is a village near the bottom of both the main trails in Langtang National Park. Kanxa Sherpa and Chheten Dolma Sherpa live at the unfortunate end of town as their land is on the Langtang trek and not the Gosainkund trek. On the same day as the first earthquake, which saw a huge loss of life on the Langtang trail, a massive landslide destroyed the route just past their home.

Guesthouse owners begining the rebuilding process in the badly damaged village of Thulo Shyabru.

It is still impassable and since the quake, they haven’t seen a single tourist walk by. The Langtang trail is still accessible, but now the only access to the route is on the other side of the valley. They own their own land, so they don’t have to pay the royalty fee to the park, but their home, their guest lodge and their livelihood have been largely destroyed. Kanxa estimates they have lost 75% of their income since the quake — besides owning a lodge he had worked as a porter and Chheten Dolma sold hand loomed textiles and made food for tourists on the trail.

“Without tourism,” Kanxa says, “Our life is very hard. It is impossible to live.”

Chheten Dolma outside the remains of her guest house and home, Thulo Shyabru.

The Langtang trek is the trail to the Kyanjin Valley, and although it no longer passes Kanxa and Chheten Dolma Sherpa’s home in Thulo Shyabru, it is open once again according to the Nepali government.

However, as of December 2015, very few of the guesthouses are open and locals are afraid to go. Their belief is that bad spirits haunt the trail between the Lama Hotel and Kyanjin Gompa, a stretch where many perished and many are still missing. This is both superstition and an expression of the real, palpable danger. Fears live on in recent memory of the gargantuan forces moving deep beneath the ground as we trek.

Langtang Lirung overshadows Langtang village which was buried in the quake.

Syabru Besi on the highway is the first and last stop for most tourists who visit Langtang National Park. It has seen similar damage to higher towns on the trail and a similar decline in tourism. Materials are much easier to come by here as they can be trucked in from the rest of Nepal or over the border from Tibet. New Syabru Besi, which is on the highway that runs along the west bank of the river, is almost fully repaired. Old Syabru Besi, on the other side is still heavily damaged.

The twisted buildings look as if they’ve emerged from a tornado. Beams that once supported them, are splayed out like the limbs of a giant spider.

Old Syabru Besi

Porbu Sangbu Sherpa ran the OK Guest House here before the quake but he doesn’t yet have enough money to rebuild. Just like Ram Sherpa, he is still required to pay a royalty fee to the park, in his case 45,000 NRS, even though his guesthouse is a pile of rubble. Despite this adversity, Porbu is optimistic. According to him, a new dual carriage highway linking Tibet and India paid for entirely by China is set to open in six months and will pass through Syabru Besi. Money and tourists from Nepal’s affluent neighbours will flood the highway town and he will be able to rebuild his business. He thinks the coming spring trekking season will see a multitude of visitors descending on the trails once again.

Porbu Sangbu Sherpa ran the OK Guest House in Old Syabru Besi.

Sangbu has reason to be hopeful. Nepal has dealt with political unrest and natural disasters before. The tourist industry has always bounced back. Few countries measure up to Nepal’s natural beauty and the hospitality of its people. And yet, although hardship is nothing new in the mountains, little or nothing is being done to alleviate the pressure felt by families and business owners in these hard times.

This article originally appeared on Maptia and is republished here with permission.

How to: Independently trek Nepal’s Annapurna sanctuary

After a year of penny-pinching, my partner and I launched a year-long travel sabbatical. First stop — Nepal. We’d been talking about trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary for months, and we planned to do it alone, with no guide or porter.

What follows is the route we took, where we slept and ate along the way, the items we packed, and some general tips for taking on one of the world’s best treks.

When

October – November is supposedly the best time to trek — post-monsoon with few clouds and clear views. And this is when everyone hits the trail.

Through chance, we arrived in Pokhara — the jumping off point for the trek — a little early, in mid-September. It rained for several days. Then, for 8 days and 9 nights (9/24-10/2), we got sunny weather and unbelievable views.

There was the occasional early evening shower, but I would highly recommend taking a late-monsoon-season gamble to avoid the crowds.

Route

The Annapurna Wilderness is connected by an expansive network of trails that link the Circuit and Sanctuary treks. The Sanctuary is the shorter of the two, with the finish line of Annapurna Base Camp (A.B.C.) at 13,550ft and a 360-degree view of the range.

Only one trail leads up to A.B.C., but there are a couple ways to get to that single route (see below). Buy a map once you’re in-country, do a little research, and talk to locals and you’ll easily determine what works best for you. This is what we did:

Day 1: Phedi to Pothana
Hike time: 4hrs
Our 30min cab ride from Pokhara to the trailhead at Phedi cost 600Rs (<$9). Local buses make the run for less but take twice as long. Nepal is full of bad signage and ambiguous little trails, and this applies to Phedi. Barely peeking out of the dense greenery we spotted what appeared to be a trail, and the first of many, many stone steps. This was the start of our route. The initial uphill climb lasts about 1.5mi, when it opens up to green rice paddies with views of the surrounding hillsides and the Pokhara valley below. Passing through the terraced landscaped, we reached the town of Dhampus, where the trail winds through the village to meet a dirt road. After Dhampus it veers off again — this was the first and last road we came across.

Another 3.5-4mi from Dhampus is the village of Pothana (6,200ft). There are 5-6 guesthouses lining the trail that cuts through the middle of town. We stayed at Fishtail Lodge — great patio with a view of the peak of Machapuchare.

Day 2: Pothana to Jhinudana
Hike time: 8hrs
We gained and lost over 1,800ft multiple times throughout the day.

The morning was a quick 700ft climb to Bichok Duerali, where we were greeted by the impressive Annapurna South peak. Then began a slippery descent down hundreds of steep rock steps to the village of Tolka.

It had rained heavily the night before, so we had to take extra care with what was like stepping down giant ice cubes. Only one day in and you’re far from medical care. We ice skated down unscathed, entering Tolka (5,575ft), which wasn’t the best resting place so we breezed through.

The path levels out on the way to Landruk (5,135ft) and opens up to great views of the adjacent river canyon as you pass through terraced fields. Landruk is a big village and would be good for an overnight stay.

Dropping even more dramatically on the way down to New Bridge, you can hear the rush of the Modi Khola (khola = “river”) as you descend further into the canyon. Sections of trail were washed out here, and there were epic wooden suspension bridge crossings and waterfalls — we couldn’t help but stop and take pictures every 20yds.

We’d planned to stay in New Bridge (4,400ft), but accommodations looked less than stellar. Beat from 6hrs of up-and-down trail, we made one last push to Jhinudana (5,840ft), where the natural hot springs are. Jhinu has four lodges and we collapsed at the first one — Hotel Namaste. With good food and lots of rooms, it was a popular spot.

Day 3: Jhinudana to Bamboo
Hike time: 6hrs
We slept in, left gear in the room, and took the 15min stroll down to the hot springs for a morning soak. There are two big stone baths along the river, and we were the only ones there.

Leaving camp in the heat of mid-morning, we trudged up one of the steepest parts of the trek — the Chomrong stairs. It took about 1.5hrs to reach the village at the top — Chomrong (7,120ft).

I recommend a stay here for at least one night, either on the way to A.B.C. or back, as you have to come through it twice. The place has small billiard bars, stores, and nice lodging. Look for The Chomrong Cottage, which you’ll hit by heading downhill out of town. They were written up in Time magazine for their chocolate cake (seriously).

Descending out off Chomrong, we were on the only path that leads to and from A.B.C., and it’s another steep ascent to Sinuwa (7,745ft).

When you hit the first lodge, it’s not the ‘real’ Sinuwa, which is actually another 30min uphill. But the Sherpa Guest House has great food and nice innkeepers.

The trail steadily climbs over a 8,335ft pass, and then it’s downhill to Bamboo (7,578ft). This was an impressive stretch as the mountain fog rolled through the dense bamboo forests. In the afternoon we had to break out our raingear for the last hour of trail, which filled with water so quickly it was like walking down a creek bed.

Bamboo is a mellow little village. It’s close to the river, so in addition to the rainfall, everything feels a little damp and soaks into your gear. The only way to get warm and dry was crawling into sleeping bags.

Day 4: Bamboo to Duerali
Hike time: 4.5hrs
With an easy 1hr hike from Bamboo, we hit Dobhan (8,530ft), then kept on the muddy trail to Himalaya (9,580ft), which took another 2hrs. Both seemed good for a stayover, with plenty of lodging options…pre-peak season, at least.

An hour after Himalaya, you start to break out of the forest and transition into alpine meadows. It’s here we finally realized how high we were getting. The trail climbs into Duerali over large rocks and boulders. No more clear-cut stepping stones.

There are 3-4 lodges in Duerali, and we stayed at Panorama Lodge — great dahl baht and a friendly staff. We took a rest/dry/acclimatization day here.

Day 5: Duerali to A.B.C, via Machapuchre Base Camp (M.B.C.)
Hike time: 3.5hrs
Though A.B.C. is only at 13,550ft, it carries the mental weight of a 20,000ft summit day because of the distance you’ve traveled to get there and the height of the surrounding mountains. At 26,545ft, Annapurna I is the 10th-tallest mountain in the world. It’s summit success rate is much lower than that of Everest, and sadly the death rate is higher.

Photo: udeyismail

Machapuchare has never been summitted. It’s “only” 23,000ft, but its sheer peak faces obviously aren’t climber friendly. Moreover, Nepali lore has it that Machapuchare is the home of Shiva, who came to an ancient Nepali queen in a dream and forbade anyone from climbing it. After a British team came close in the late ’50s, the government declared the peak off limits. Many renegade climbers still try, but conditions always force them down.

In respect to the gods and our physical limits, A.B.C. was our aim. We left Deurali at 7:30am, getting us ahead of the crowds, and arrived at M.B.C. in less than 2hrs.

Here, the peaks really come alive. With tons of lodging at M.B.C., many people wake up early, hit A.B.C. for sunrise, and return. But I recommend staying the night at A.B.C. It’s a quick, beautiful 1.5hr hike up, and you’re fully submerged in 360 degrees of the Annapurna himals.

Arrive at A.B.C. before noon to get the view before the early afternoon clouds roll in. We stayed at Paradise Lodge. The sunset burned through to reveal a few late peak shots before dark, and we retired to get warm and rest for the sunrise show.

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!

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… :-)