The Land of the Kiwis: New Zealand
I'm not afraid to admit it: I have a "bucket list" a mile long. My wanderlust, love for travel, the outdoors, and hunting have been with me since a very early age. And, they are tough to satisfy. But in the past 10 months, I have systematically checked off many of the items on that list and I've had my fill of adventure.
The past year, while filming the second season of "Nick's Wild Ride", I have experienced many things I will never forget. We have literally been all over the world. Places like Africa, England, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Kansas, and much, MUCH, more. And, I am so excited for you all to see these journeys.
One place, in particular, holds a special place in my heart. It has always been at the top of my "must see" places. And, if I'm honest, it's always been a place that I thought I may have to see only vicariously through TV shows and Magazines... a place that seemed a little beyond my reach. New Zealand.
Earlier in the year, I met a man named Dick Dodds. Dick is a legendary Colorado outfitter who has led more hunters to more trophy elk than just about anyone else in the world in his long and esteemed career. He's a fellow Minnesotan, so I liked him right away.
After recently selling his Colorado operation and moving back home to MN, he partnered with Glen Dene Hunting and Fishing, a well-respected outfitter that is based in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. It didn't take much convincing for me to jump at the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream. I booked a hunt for Mid-March. And just like that, I was headed to New Zealand!
Dick told me all about Richard and Sarah Burdon. Ranchers by trade, they run a large farm that primarily raises sheep. But, they also run a FIRST CLASS hunting operation that specializes in trophy red stag. On top of that, they offer hunts for backcountry Tahr, Sheep, and Chamois, world class-fly fishing, among other things.
I met the Burdons before my hunt at SHOT show in Las Vegas, and after a few gin and tonics I knew we would be fast friends. They are the kind of people you can't help but like. They are gracious, intelligent, funny, witty, and genuine. And when they started showing me pictures of the animals they have taken on their farm recently, I couldn't wait to get over there.
THE SOUTH ISLAND
New Zealand is a hunters paradise. Since the pair of islands have no native big game species, all of the animals that are hunted there were introduced many years ago and are therefore classified as "invasive". Therefore, much like wild hogs in the U.S., there are no hunting seasons. And, because of the climate, hunting is confortable year round! There are so many species to hunt that you literally can custom-tailor a hunt.
As I stepped off the plane in Queenstown on the South Island (New Zealand is made up of two islands, North and South) I can honestly say that I have never seen a more beautiful place in all of my travels. (This is why they filmed the Lord of the Rings films here, duh.) Every view is truly the definition of EPIC. Larger than life. This may sound cliche, but it's true. After Richard picked us up at the airport and we began to drive towards Glen Dene, the views only got more spectacular around every turn.
Glen Dene sits on the shores of the breathtaking Lake Wanaka. Sited between two World Heritage areas and providing over 15,000 acres of free range hunting country, this is one of the most stunning New Zealand trophy hunting environments you will find anywhere. The ranches accommodations were all at once charming, comfortable, and entirely appropriate for setting the mood for an authentic New Zealand experience. Richard and Sarah, and their staff, invited us into their home for meals and they made us feel immediately like part of the family.
The following morning after we arrived we took the day to recover from the jet-lag and decided to head out on the river to check off one of those "bucket list" items: Fly-fishing for the world-famous New Zealand trout. This did not disappoint. We floated miles of the clearest water I've ever seen. This, in turn, made the fishing more difficult that I would've thought. The challenge made every fish a trophy. I can still smell the clean air and hear the river rushing past as I took the first fish of the day into my hand.
The next morning we got down to business and took to the mountains above Glen Dene in search of Red Stag. The Roar (or as we know it, the rut) was just beginning and we could hear Stags roaring their guttural calls into the night as we began our hike. It is the New Zealand equivalent of an elk bugle... and it is equally exciting.
Though we saw many stag the first day, this was not an "gimme" hunt and it took us a few days to get close enough to a mature stag. (While Glen Dene does offer trophy hunts for HUGE stags, my hunt was entirely fair chase and these were wild animals that did not make it easy) But, finally my chance came and I was able to not only get close ... I got I-CAN-SMELL-YOU close to a giant bull that was bedded on a rainy morning below a tree and behind a rock. I stalked to within 30 FEET of this monarch, and after a stand off, I put perfect shot from my Kimber Hunter chambered in .308 on him and as he fell so did my dream come true.
His nearly 400 inches of antler, along with 2 quarters and backstraps ,were heavy to pack out but the pride and elation I felt made me almost dance down that mountain to the truck. I'll never forget that moment for as long as I live.
The day after I took my stag we drove to the west coast for the next part of my journey. We were to take a helicopter into the wilderness of the public land near the Franz Josef Glacier to camp in the high country in search of Tahr and Chamois.
As we were dropped off in a valley and the chopper flew away we were left in the awesome silence to behold what was the most beautiful place I may ever see in my life. This would be my home for the next 3-4 days. No contact with the outside world. Just me, my camera girl Karla, and our guide Dan. Oh yeah, and my backstraps from my big-ass stag!
We began the hunt the next morning and I have to admit... those mountains kicked my ass. I work hard to stay in "sheep shape" all year round. But, there is something about this terrain that was extra-tough. But, the upside was that at every ridgeline I was rewarded with another SPECTACULAR view.
Finally, we spotted a chamois and we were able to get to a place where made a 300+ yard shot to take down my first New Zealand backcountry animal. All the hard work paid off and we enjoyed fresh Chamois, served rare, back at camp that night along with a cold beer chilled by the stream running next to our camp. (Come on, you didn't think I'd go into the backcountry without beer did you?)
Though I didn't take a Tahr on this trip, I am kinda glad... because it gives me something to keep New Zealand ON my "bucket list".
When we returned from the backcountry I got down to doing what we do best on "Nick's Wild Ride": learning about local culture. I tried my hand at shearing sheep, which I learned I am HORRIBLE at (a special shout out to the poor sheep who was my subject), and I explored a local winery named MAUDE. New Zealand is famous for it's wines and this was a special treat for a guy like me who enjoys a good buzz.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Glen Dene Hunting and Fishing guided me through a simply perfect trip. The food was incredible, the attention to detail perfect. The personalities I met along the way are among my favorites of all-time. The scenery was straight off a post card at every turn. The guides were top-notch. And the hunting.... oh my the hunting!
The thing that struck me most about the hunting here was that it was MUCH more affordable than I could've ever imagined. (Yes, I had to pay just like everyone else!). There is something for every budget there. Travel was more affordable than I had thought it would be, as well.
I typically don't repeat trips within a few years of each other, at minimum, simply because I want to show you all something different every time you watch "Nick's Wild Ride". But, in the case of New Zealand and Glen Dene Hunting and Fishing, you may see me headed back there next year to go after that Tahr... and (twist my arm) probably another big-ass stag.