Take pristine caves and unspoilt native bush, a waterfall, swamp and an old woolshed, spread it over 100-odd acres of a sheep and beef farm across the harbour at Te Akau, add a bit of innovation and passion for outdoor education — and you have the memorable Adventure Waikato experience.
Simon and Rosie Worsp’s bold venture on their 700-acre farm — their home for 35 years — has evolved over time and supports a rural livelihood in a way they could never have imagined when raising their three young children back in the ‘80s.
Now whether it’s abseiling into a cave, belaying up the 20-metre waterfall or racing along high above the treetops on a giddying 220-metre long flying fox — one of the longest rides in the country with some “serious” structural reinforcements in place — the experience is an unforgettable one for schoolchildren, youth and corporate groups, many of whom return regularly to play and often stay.
“We’ve had some great years,” says a youthful-looking Simon, who’s not far off 60 but has barely a thought for retirement. He’s too busy dreaming up ever-better adventures.
The catalyst for development of the farm’s natural resources came in 1995, he explains, when Brooklands Country Estate up the road was looking for a caving experience for its corporate clientele.
With a network of more than two kilometres of caves underneath his property, Simon opened it up to the public and trained with the Mountain Safety Council to be able to take tours. It wasn’t long before caving led to the setting up of the first of six abseiling sites, now offering an adrenalin-pumping combination of activities with names like the Rope, Rock ‘n’ Fox.
That’s a combo which involves abseiling 20 metres down into the Ruru Cave entrance, exploring spectacular stalactite formations and glow-worms, before finishing up with a hair-raising flight across the valley on the flying fox.
Rosie recalls her first flying fox adventure with horror: she was left dangling midway between its distant ends, and because she was so light the pull-back rope was just out of reach of would-be rescuers. The language had to be heard to be believed, reckons Simon mischievously.
But it was before the whole operation was perfected to Qualmark standards, he adds, and other trained instructors brought on board.
Now Adventure Waikato boasts an array of onsite activities from claybird shooting, archery and orienteering to swamp crossing and human dog trials which Simon says never fail to get a laugh from teams staying at the woolshed and vying for the coveted Dag Trophy.
Then there’s the popular Jurassic Stroll. It’s a “fabulous area” of native bush growing over an ancient collapsed cave system, explains Simon, and can be tackled “unplugged” as simply a stroll and a look inside the magical Ruru Cave or “plugged” with extra rope challenges — the Burma Bridge and ‘chicken walk’ — added to the compulsory abseil and flying fox experiences.
A Te Uku School party was a recent visitor to the complex for a day’s adventure and team-building. And twice the national Scout Jamboree has been staged at the farm, the most recent with about 80 different kids involved every day for a week, rotating activities and challenges.
But there is also the option of stayovers for self-catering camps and conferences, making use of the converted shearing shed with its 15-bed bunkroom tagged on the end and a renovated 10-bed shearers’ cottage close by. Outdoor fireplaces and massive picnic tables complete the setting.
Simon’s now keen to see more use of the great outdoors sanctioned by Health and Safety NZ which he believes is “running scared” of risk-taking in our environment. Managed risk is what it’s all about, he says, to take advantage of the country’s huge variety of geography and topography in a condensed area.
“I see some wonderful acts of courage (here),” he told the Chronicle. The outdoors creates such a good “melting pot” for people, crossing economic and ethnic boundaries, age and gender.
He points out there are kids living in Auckland who’ve never even been to the beach let alone the bush. “It’s ridiculous!”
The enterprising Worsps have interests too back across the harbour in Raglan where Rosie has put her decorating talents to use. With a flair for colour and style, she’s not only revamped a few holiday houses over the years but was also instrumental in the art deco-style repaint of Raglan Town Hall.
And the recent wharf project has been more than a passing interest for Rosie who is delighted now at the new building’s “soft, duck-egg blue” exterior which can be seen from the couple’s 1920s Californian bungalow high above in Rose Street.