WILDfest launches in style

The inaugural WILDfest, Australia’s first wilderness festival, has successfully launched in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. The three-day event in Joadja, (held from October 27-29) attracted nature lovers and foodies from around the state, with the highlight being WILD Native Feast. The feast had a “top hats and tiaras” surprise theme and featured live entertainment and a seven-course meal by Damien Monley, head chef and owner of Grand Bistro, Bowral. But WILDfest, the brainchild of Southern Highlands local Amanda Fry, is more than an indulgent weekend away. It’s a festival designed to encourage a greater appreciation of the outdoors.

“This is intellectual tourism but I’m trying not to make it so obvious,” Fry told The Adventure Journal.

“I’m trying to teach you without teaching you, and that’s really what intellectual tourism is. You just don’t hit people over the head with it; you just get them excited enough to want to ask the questions rather than feeling like they’re being dictated to.”

Fry has been an animal carer for years and says she decided to start WILDfest because of her love of wildlife.

“I wanted to do work in Australia and say to people ‘you can go to the Northern Territory and have one of the most amazing experiences, but if you don’t have seven hours on a plane and you don’t have the time, look what we can show you an hour and half from where you live’.”

Joadja was a fitting location to achieve Fry’s objectives, given its cultural significance and location in a somewhat hidden valley at the end of a rutted clay road. Founded in 1850, Joadja was a shale mining town made up of mostly Scottish immigrants. At its peak, there were 1200 people living in the isolated valley before the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company ceased mining operations in the early 20th century. Subsequently, the workers abandoned Joadja and now native vegetation is reclaiming the ruins of a village that’s become home to mobs of eastern grey kangaroos.

At daybreak, those kangaroos greet WILDfest’s overnight guests who stay in a “pop up wilderness hotel” consisting of stunning glamping tents from Avant-Garde Camping Co. These guests were joined by festival day-trippers on hiking and mountain-bike tours of Joadja, and on kayak excursions in nearby Kangaroo Valley. Local conservationists and animal carers also called in with an eastern grey kangaroo joey and koala as part of an educational talk on the importance of maintaining healthy habitats for Australia’s native wildlife.

*WILDfest will be held annually at Joadja, with pop-up events across Australia. For more, visit wildfest.com.au.

World Expeditions acquires NZ cycle tours

World Expeditions has expanded its presence in New Zealand by acquiring a majority shareholding in Trail Journeys, one of the country’s most popular self-guided cycle tour operators. World Expeditions CEO Sue Badyari says the move is designed to cement World Expeditions as a major player in the NZ cycle scene.

“Trail Journeys are the ideal complement to our well-established cycle brand, Adventure South, which runs fully-supported, guided cycling holidays primarily on the South Island, from its base in Christchurch,” Ms Badyari said in a statement.

“New Zealand is a highly desirable destination for active travellers seeking an immersive experience,” she added. “We are very excited to be offering a fun, affordable product to people keen to see the country’s stunning natural landscape via its network of cycle trails, enjoying quality accommodation, great food and wine along the way.”

Trail Journeys has a more than 400 bikes for hire and has bases in Clyde and Middlemarch, at either end of the famous Otago Central Rail Trail.

As part of the acquisition, World Expeditions has also become a shareholder in Trail Journeys Nelson, which offers guided and self-guided cycling tours from its bases in Nelson, Mapua and Kaiteriteri, paving the way for it to become the leading operator on the Tasman Great Taste Trail.

 

 

 

Aussie ski resorts extend season

Australia’s leading ski resorts will stay open for an extra week, closing on October 8 instead of the usual October 1/2. Perisher, in the NSW Snowy Mountains, was the first resort to make the announcement, boasting the best snow conditions in five years. Mt BullerMt Hotham and Falls Creek, all in Victoria, will also offer skiing for an extra week.

Perisher management made the call on the back of more than two metres of snowfall through August and a forecast for more in September. The natural snow depth in the Snowies currently sits at 233 cm.

Mt Buller, 3.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne, also decided to extend its season following “the best recorded September snowfalls since 1992”. At the start of September, the resort received a top up of 50-plus centimetres of snow.

“We have 180 cm of deep and good quality snow cover on our ski runs and more cold and snowy weather in the forecast, so it’s an ideal opportunity to keep the lifts rolling and invite snow lovers to enjoy this very wintry September and ski for another week,” says Buller Ski Lifts General Manager Laurie Blampied.

It’s been 17 years since Hotham has stayed open past the October long weekend but, with 420 cm of snowfall (throughout the season), the decision was a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Falls Creek management says with 100 percent of terrain currently open and a snow depth of around 1.5 m, the resort has “the best combination of spring-like weather with winter-like snow”.

Mt Buller buried under fresh snow in September 2017. Credit: Mt Buller

 

NZ island named Dark Sky Sanctuary

New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island has become the first island in the world to be designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Located off the north-eastern coast of Auckland, the island’s night skies will now be officially protected.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the island community is focused on protecting and preserving its stunning natural beauty.

“Great Barrier Island is a place of rugged beauty and untouched wilderness,” he said, “and is one of the most tranquil and unspoilt places in the wider Auckland region.”

Already, the island is ‘off the grid’, meaning light pollution is minimised. According to Tourism New Zealand, the definition of a Dark Sky Sanctuary is public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights, and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural or educational value, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.

Great Barrier Island is only the third place in the world to receive this designation, following New Mexico, in the United States, and Chile. Also known by its Māori name, Aotea, the island has a population of 900 people, and more than 60 percent of the 285 sq km is public land administered by the Department of Conservation. The destination is popular among adventurers and nature lovers, with walking trails through native forest, natural hot springs, fantastic scuba diving, fishing, surfing, kayaking, mountain biking, and camping.

 

 

Aurora Expeditions introduces Antarctic skiing

Travellers to Antarctica will now be able to go skiing, with Aurora Expeditions introducing the classic winter sport to its tours. The polar cruise specialist is also adding snowshoeing to its list of activities for the 2017/18 season.

The skiing in Antarctica tour option means Aurora passengers have the chance to ski glacial slopes, traverse remote areas to iceberg-studded bays and even follow in Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps across South Georgia. With unpredictable snow conditions and terrain that varies from gentle slopes to crevassed glaciers and alpine bowls, this is an excursion for the true adventurer.

Passengers will travel in small groups with experienced ski guides, and can expect to learn mountaineering and ski-touring skills, including how to use an ice axe and crampons, what to do in the event of an avalanche, and how to build emergency shelter.

Snowshoeing in Antarctica, with Aurora Expeditions. Credit: Tarn Pilkington.

If you prefer soft adventure, snowshoeing in Antarctica runs for up to three hours and is a great way to see more of the pristine continent. A reasonable level of fitness is required and, as with the ski touring, the aim is for six excursions or more per voyage, depending on weather and landing sites.

The two new activities are available on selected 2017/18 itineraries, including the In-depth South Georgia & Antarctica and Spirit of Antarctica expeditions departing in November and December (2017).

Adventurers turn to Colombia

Colombia is at the top of adventurers’ wish lists, with World Expeditions reporting a strong increase in interest this year to the South American country.

The fascination can most likely be attributed to the fact Colombia’s political climate is settling following decades of civil conflict, as well as to its natural attractions, which include stunning beaches and dense jungle.

“Colombia teems with historical insights and natural wonders, from colonial cities and archaeological ruins to high-mountain trekking, jungle safaris and idyllic Caribbean beaches,” says World Expeditions CEO Sue Badyari

“Whether you are looking to get there ahead of Pope Francis in September, feel inspired by the 50th anniversary of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude or you’ve been encouraged by the formal peace talks, Colombia is steadily claiming its spot as a must-visit destination,” Bayari says.

World Expeditions offers two tours to Colombia, the newest being the 14-day Active Colombia during which travellers can go paragliding at Chicamocha Canyon, as well as rock climbing, rafting and even hiking 1200 steps to reach the sacred ‘Lost City’.

Mt Buller opens with free night skiing

Mt Buller, in the Victorian Alps, has also announced it’s opening ahead of the official start to the Australian ski season, beating Perisher, in NSW, by one day.

Buller will have lifts turning on Friday, June 2, allowing skiers and snowboarders to hit up the main run, the beginner-friendly Bourke Street, during a special and free Friday twilight session from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. Bourke Street will remain open into the weekend, as well as next week, with the Blue Bullet lift turning from 9am to 5pm daily. Beginner “Discover” lessons will also be available at the ski and snowboard school.

“Everyone is excited to get on the snow as soon as possible, so we’re inviting everyone up for a free night ski this Friday,” said Buller Ski Lifts General Manager Laurie Blampied on Wednesday.

“We’ve invested in new stadium-style lighting on Bourke Street that turns night into day and this is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the early snow and get out for a Friday night slide.”

From Saturday, lift passes will be $60 for adults and $33 for children.

Perisher to open early

Chilly temperatures and steady pre-season snowfall has been enough to convince Australia’s largest ski resort to open a week early. Perisher, in the NSW Snowy Mountains, will kick off the season on Saturday, June 3.

The resort made the decision after 20cm of snow fell earlier this week, adding to the great snowmaking conditions. It revealed the news to avid skiers and snowboarders with this fun video.

On Wednesday, the Perisher film crew hit Front Valley to show fans what conditions were like, following a big storm and freezing temperatures. The overnight temperature dropped to minus-three and the resort took advantage by switching on more than 30 snow guns.

 

With more snow predicted over the coming days, skiers and boarders will be able to make first tracks on Front Valley from Saturday. The Village 8 Express Chairlift and a ski carpet will be operating, providing access to the resort’s popular beginner and intermediate terrain. A terrain park, with rails, boxes and small jumps, will also be ready, along with a tobogganing area for families.

NZ’s newest touring route

With its jagged mountains, aqua lakes and sprawling countryside flecked with livestock, it’s obvious why New Zealand is ideal road-trip territory. To add to the appeal, northern Canterbury tourism chiefs have come together to create the new Alpine Pacific Touring Route – a 450-kilometre stretch from Christchurch to Waipara Valley, on the South Island.

The route has been designed to reinvigorate the region, which was affected by the magnitude 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016. For those who’ve travelled the Alpine Pacific Triangle route (370km), think of the APT as a longer, renewed version aimed at encouraging more tourists to visit the area.

It’s a great trip for a soft adventure, as travellers pass through rural countryside and coastal landscapes, and get up close to local marine wildlife, such as sperm and humpback whales. Starting at Christchurch International Airport, the trail passes through Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs, and ends in New Zealand’s “newest wine region”, Waipara.

 

 

Mt Buller’s “Snow Factory”

One of Australia’s top ski resorts, Mt Buller, is guaranteeing snow on the opening day of the season, thanks to a new “snow factory”. The Victorian resort has spent $1.6 million on the TechnoAlpin 220 Snowfactory, which has the ability to pump out artificial snow well above zero degrees.

Ahead of the official start of the southern season, on June 10, 2017, Buller’s snowmaking team has been testing the technology. Over two days in March, the factory produced more 500 cubic metres of snow. Autumn visitors enjoyed the rare treat, getting in a few very early pre-season turns. Check out the resort’s first “snow report” below:

“We are delighted we can make snow already and deliver on our promise of skiing on Bourke Street for opening weekend in June,” said Buller Ski Lifts General Manager Laurie Blampied.

“This Snowfactory is a game-changing investment for Mt Buller,” he said. “The tests this week have exceeded our expectations. To see people enjoying snow in March, all smiling ear to ear 80 days before the opening of the ski season is an incredible moment in our resort’s history.”

Mt Buller will start making snow in earnest in May. Until then, check out this video of the resort from the day the snow factory arrived: