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Misadventures Magazine - Interview with Active guide Vanessa Wards

Interview: Vanessa Wards, Active Adventures Trip Leader


I was quick enough to nab an interview with Vanessa Wards, a guide at Active Adventures, between her travels for work and for fun — though I have to say it’s hard to tell which is which. Active Adventures is New Zealand’s premier outdoors expedition company. They take small groups on week to two-week long biking, snorkeling, backpacking, kayaking, and caving trips all around New Zealand primarily, but also in Nepal, Peru, Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, and Ecuador. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig Vanessa’s got. 

Normally, I shy away from group trips because, duh, I know everything there is to know about the outdoors (not), but these trips are tailor-made for outdoorsy travelers who want the most out of their time and who want to share the experience with like-minded people. The ‘active’ in Active Adventures is not just clever alliteration; it’s real. If you are the type of person who would rather be an explorer than a tourist, these trips might be for you.

So, without further ado,

When did you start working for Active Adventures?

I only started in October of last year, but I’m not stopping anytime soon.

Before this I was doing outdoor adventure work on the west coast of Ireland. I got a one year work visa there and worked at an outdoor adventure camp. But I’ve done lots of things: community health promotion, working the mines of Western Australia…

Since I left high school I haven’t stayed in one town or city for more than two years.

Is that exhausting?

I think it’s just me. I love seeing new places, so this is the perfect thing for me.

What attracted you to Active Adventures?

The job description. It was my dream job, and here it was written out to me like, ‘this is my destiny.’ I hadn’t planned on leaving Ireland, but there it was. Originally I’m from north of Auckland, so it was sort of like a homecoming.

What is your favorite trip to lead?

I’ve only led the New Zealand trips so far, and because of the language barriers and the extreme amount of expertise needed, I don’t think there’s a chance of me leading in South America. Active Adventures is serious about having experts in their fields lead these trips.

I’ve mostly been leading a two week trip called the Rimu. It’s the best of the best. It’s such an amazing trip around New Zealand, and because you’re with local guides, you see these incredible places that you wouldn’t normally just stumble upon.

But my favorite is an eight-dayer, called the Tui. It adds in this place called Siberia Valley. We fly in on a small plan, do a hike up to glacial lake, stay overnight in a hut, and boat out. It’s amazing.

What’s next for Active Adventures?

Our plan has always been to grow, and come this summer we’re going to have the busiest season yet. It’s exciting to see.

What’s a place you’ve never been but you want to see?

Oh, everywhere. The more I see the more that list increases. Alaska sounds beautiful. Canada — all the hiking there looks amazing — or kayaking or just a cruise up some of those fjords. I’d like to do all of that.

Mountains or the beach?

I grew up at the beach, so beach by heart, but something about the mountainous, alpine landscape has got me. That’s why I love the South Island. We’ve got it all.

Honestly, before Lord of the Rings you could ask a lot of people and they wouldn’t know where New Zealand was.


I bet so.

Sadly, I think you’re probably right.

Favorite food? And what do you eat on trips?

A Kiwi classic: roast lamb. We have amazing food on Active Adventures trips. People think they’re going to lose weight because of all the activity but I think they might put it on because the food’s so good. And it’s all local to wherever we are that day, whether it’s fresh salmon, venison, local produce — really good stuff.

What are the best things to see in New Zealand?

Go on a trip with us. Seriously, they’re the best. I love working for Active Adventures because I can say things like that and I really, truly believe it. The trips are incredible.

You’ve also just got to go to Queenstown. It’s the adventure capital of the world. Anything you want to do you can do there, plus the best wining and dining ever. It’s such a cool town, from alpine ski season to summer. You know the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand? It’s the hub. All the trails lead you straight there. What’s better than that?

To see the original print and for more articles like this, visit the Misadventures Magazine website.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15866 reviews)

    Amazing Adventure!

    I just got home from the Winter Rimu trip throughout South Island of New Zealand. To say it was simply "amazing" does not accurately describe the trip. The views, adventures, service and guides were extraordinary. The trip was worth every penny. Even when snowstorms came or other inclement weather hit, there was always a backup plan that allowed us to keep experiencing the awesome culture, people, mountains, lakes and glaciers of New Zealand. I was very impressed with Active Adventures and can not wait to plan my next trip through Active Adventures!
    Elizabeth Derck Review Image
    – Tennessee, United States
    Winter Rimu, August 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15866 reviews)

    Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

    My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

    1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

    2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

    3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

    4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

    5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

    6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

    A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
    Lauren Gerth Review Image
    – Missouri, United States
    Rimu, November 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15866 reviews)

    A Marvelous Exprerience

    This trip was worth every penny. We had marvelous lodging that we could not have accessed on our own. Our access to trails, parks and activities was all arranged and all we had to worry about was showing up for the experience. We were truly touched by the extent to which our guides went out of their way to respond to our special food needs. I felt truly safe, supported by the experience, training and good will of our guides. I came home stronger and with new confidence that as an elder I can still take on physically challenging experiences and succeed. What a gift that is.
    Wendy Ball Review Image
    – New York, United States
    Kiwi, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15866 reviews)

    Glaciers, Cheese and Cows!

    Great time hiking in the mountains. Couldn't ask for a better time then to sit at the base of glaciers for lunch and relax (even have a nap) while listening to the cow bells.
    Donna Weimer Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Tour du Mont Blanc, September 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15866 reviews)


    This active adventure was wonderful for me. In fact, one of the best trips I have ever taken. I loved the trekking, fellow trekkers, guides, food, history, etc. All of it. What an amazing, beautiful, fun vacation. I feel so fit!
    Jenny Wada Review Image
    – Hawaii, United States
    Dolomiti, July 2017



Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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