High adventure on four wheels

  • Focus
  • Wednesday, 02 Dec 2015

One of the support cars pulling the bicycles used during the mountain biking event. Lake Wanaka is in the background.

IT SHOULD have been the worst trip that I had ever been on.

It started with me almost not being able to get onto the plane, thanks to a ticketing discrepancy, a high-speed bicycle crash down the side of a mountain which left me limping for over a weekand and losing my luggage.

Did I mention that I almost couldn’t get on my flight back? No? Well that happened too.

Truly, I should have nothing but bad things to say about the trip.

But guess what, I don’t.

1 The writer (second from front) during the mountain biking event.
The writer (second from front) during the mountain biking event.

New Zealand is a country seemingly made for the adventurous-at-heart.

From its rugged Lord of the Rings setting, the almost timeless countryside to the down-to-earth disposition of its people, New Zealand has a lot to offer the adventurer.

So when I received an invite to attend a two-day camp in the country’s South Island, I jumped at the chance.

With a population of just over one million people sharing an island the size of all of Peninsular Malaysia and a hefty chunk of Southern Thailand, the South Island is huge and almost uninhabited.

For the locals, much of their leisure time is devoted to the great outdoors which is not really surprising, seeing that their “outdoors” is particularly great!

It was in this wild setting that Ford Motor Company wanted to show off its recently launched new and improved pick-up, the Ranger.

The two-day event was held at Minaret Station on the western shores of Lake Wanaka in the Otago region.

This sprawling 202sq km working farm sits on the east face of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and is home to some 10,000 head of deer, 7,000 sheep and 1,000 cattle.

With no road access, we (namely a team of journos from all over South East-Asia and Australia) were helicoptered in from Wanaka town to our camp.

The chopper took roughly 30 minutes to fly over the clear blue waters of Lake Wanaka to reach our camp.

Some of the participants relaxing by the lake after an adventurous day.
Some of the participants relaxing by the lake after an adventurous day.

As camps go, the Ford Camp was a fairly impressive sight to see by air, but were even more impressive up-close.

The tents looked somewhat like a Mongolian yurt, but that’s where the similarity stopped.

They were walk-in tents that came with electric lights and even a USB charging station for your mobile phone.

These tents were huge.

To give you an idea of how much space we’re talking about, I had a queen-size bed with a spring mattress in my tent. Not an inflatable mattress on the floor, but a proper bed complete with legs and a headboard. I even had bedside tables on either side!

After ditching my gear at my tent we went for our first event, a short primer on how to use the Ford Ranger.

The primer was divided into three sections – hill climb and descent; driving in mud; and another section to test the pick-up’s abilities in rough terrain.

After the introductory course, we drove back to camp for a five-star barbecue lunch of food sourced from the farm.

It was an interesting spread of lamb, beef, fresh vegetables and and crawfish (which I thought was lobster due to its sheer size).

After lunch, the group split into to three, depending on which activity each participant had selected for the first day.

One group went kayaking on Lake Wanaka, another went fly-fishing for trout and yours truly went downhill-mountain biking.

They took us to the side of an unnamed hill a half-hour drive from camp.

The drive up was steep, especially once we left the main road (which was just a gravel trail that barely fit two cars) and entered the sheep meadows.

It’s pretty amazing that New Zealand lamb is so tender, seeing that the fellows we drove by had to literally climb up mountains to eat!

Once we reached the top of the hill, the landscape opened up into towering mountains and lolling foothills and you could see almost see the entire length and breadth of Lake Wanaka.

We each were given a mountain bike which seemed fairly light to what I remember riding before.

Back in the day, I was a pretty avid cyclist but had hung my bicycle cleats a short while after the turn of the century so to say I was bit rusty would be an understatement.

Nevertheless, I took the bike with gusto and found myself coasting down the side of the hill at quite a good clip.

We retraced the route we took up and there were several obstacles that we had to traverse which seemed petty when we were driving but suddenly become frightfully daunting now that we were on two wheels.

7 A participant kayaking on the lake.
A participant kayaking on the lake.

Everything from little gullies to springs, hidden rocks and even sheep jumped at us.

Luckily, none of them got me (especially the sheep) but what did get me in the end was a long turn to the left down a steep slope.

The instructor had warned us to never jam on our brakes as this might cause us to skid out and crash.

Instead, we were supposed to tap on the brakes gently, much like a car’s anti-brakelock system would.

Unfortunately, every time I tapped on the brake, my bike jumped to the right and each time this happened, I’d inch closer to a fellow participant’s bicycle.

Realising that there was nothing I could do to stop from hitting him, I ditched my bike thinking my “noble” sacrifice would stop a crash.

Instead, my bike made a bee-line for the other guy and nailed him.

Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt, but I was left with bruises, a cracked helmet and perhaps a humbled spirit.

The second day saw us being divided into two different groups; one heading to rustle sheep and the other off for a bit of extreme off-roading up to a hidden valley in the mountains.

Seeing that I was representing the Metro Adventure Club and not the Husbandry Society, I opted for the drive to really test out the car.

It was a one-and-a-half hour drive up to the valley through some pretty hairy terrain.

Once we hit altitude, the trail hugged the side of the mountain with a drop that was easily a couple of hundred metres on our side.

One thing I noticed about the trails in Kiwi-land, was that unlike Malaysia where we have laterite trails that turn into a muddy hell once it rains, they have very gravely, sandy trails that kick up a lot of dust.

The valley was truly something to write home about and it brought all my Tolkien fantasies to life.

The last event on the programme was to be choppered back to civilisation and go on a scenic four-hour drive back to our hotel.

All-in-all, I’d rate New Zealand as a go-to place for adventure seekers.

The country is chock-a-block full of outdoor activities to pick from.

Given the chance, I would gladly go back again.

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