On Sunday, March 31 the eleven women of the first Cox Automotive Australia and New Zealand WWD NZ Challenge set off to Queenstown to take on the beautiful New Zealand terrain.
Night one was where all eleven women including Snezana Jankulovski, Kristy Barneveld, Alisha Davenport, Breanna Towers, Joanne Nash, Mariah MacInnes, Billie Dalgety, Maddie Harris, Rosie Niven, Ellie Capaldi and Lauren Christian met each other at a group dinner where they discussed the expectations of the trip and got to know about each other and the brands under Cox Automotive AU/NZ.
To begin the challenge, officially, the hiking guides met all 11 women nice and early to head off via Wanaka to Raspberry Flat in Mt Aspiring National Park for the first overnight hike. Long bus rides are great for team bonding and getting to know each other, which was cut short by a ford that was too deep to drive through.
So it was time to hoist on the pack and head towards the hut for night one. Heavy rain and wind didn’t stop these women from reaching the hut in time but the cold air and snow on the mountains definitely made it a tough start.
Once they all reached the dry hut, one of the key survival activities was introduced, light a fire. Or to make it even harder, light a fire with wet wood. The ladies worked amazingly together as some cut wood whilst others prepared the kindling or fire starters to get it going. With great persistence and determination, the fire was roaring by the time other hikers reached the hut.
Then the guides lead some team bonding games, which tested the communication skills of the group but also provided some laughs. These included communicating birth months, favourite animals and home address number in chronological order without speaking.
On the first night, all the women were then officially introduced to the hiking lifestyle, cooking under head touch lighting, sharing a room together and wearing socks to bed to keep warm.
Day two, was an early start and an icy morning to hike up a side valley to view the Rob Roy Glacier. Nothing says ‘good morning’ like the struggle to put wet socks and boots on to begin the day. The hike began after the 9km trek out of the hut and continued by crossing the Matukituki River Swing Bridge.
Then the women followed the trail through native beech forest along the Rob Roy Stream, a wild glacial river that tumbles down the valley through a series of steep rocky gorges and is a 10km return hike. The paths were steep and uneven for the whole duration, but as the guides mentioned was nothing compared to the next few days ahead.
The views from the top were spectacular from the glacier to the waterfall, it was worth all the stream crossings, the wet feet and the climbing. The descent back down the valley was often harder than the uphill as all the women headed back to the abandoned van to head to the next part of the journey in Makarora.
Night two was a little more comfortable with proper beds, showers and electricity – which was very much needed in preparation for day three.
As mentioned by the women of the trip, day three was easily the hardest, and the most rewarding but was mentally the toughest days they had experienced. It started with a scenic helicopter flight into the valley known as Siberia Valley. To reach this hut you can go three ways, either the flight in, the jet boat in or a brutal eight-hour hike through waist deep water.
Home for the next two nights for the women was a small hut which over the course of the two days had over 20 people in it a night, had no electricity or fully functioning toilets.
Once they reached the hut the women changed from hiking packs to backpacks and set off through Gillespie Pass Circuit on route to Lake Crucible. The first part was the easiest, with a few river crossings but mainly flat.
Then the unexpected, the steep ascent up the Crucible Stream climbing up tree roots and following the orange markers to ensure all were still on track.
This part of the hike was very steep and covered in forest, which required the use of hands to climb up. Once that part was all over, the women had to take part in a river crossing above the knee in high rapids as well as some rock climbing on the other side.
After a much needed break and recap, most if not all, the women thought the worst was over, it was not the case. As they all passed through the meadows, there was no lake to be seen, just a mountain in the background. The lake was in fact on top of that mountain.
It was at this moment, most lost the physical motivation to reach the top of Lake Crucible. Knees began to give way, ankles were rolling and the time was running out to get to the top by 2pm. But then, as the women reflected on the journey so far, there was no other option but to push through, cheer each other on and use a positive mentality to climb that mountain.
So that is what they did, every single one of them pushed up the rock face to reach the top and it was so worth it when they all made it to the top as one! Some even had a dip in the freezing icy alpine lake to cool off.
But, what goes up must come down so as one they all trekked back down the mountain to make it home before nightfall. This is when it started to get harder than ever. The decline through the forest required the women to physically slide down as they continually looked out to the valley, consistently reminded of how high up they still were, time and time again.
Then the positive mentality began to fade, but finally, they hit the bottom! Emotions were high and relief was felt as they then knew it was only an hour walk across the Gillespie Pass until they reached the hut.
Night three was tough, everyone was tired and mentally drained. The slight injuries started to appear but the women came together to express how proud they all were of each other. Then it was a night, again all bunked together in the one small room for a night of tough sleep with aching bodies.
Day four was all about team building, learning practical skills but also working together to solve problems through communication and teamwork. These included tent building – blindfolded, basic first aid and rescue searching, survival tactics and map reading. It was a great series of exercises for all the women to work together as one, to work as a team and to communicate with each other. Some even went back for more and spent the afternoon swimming in the freezing waterfall or hiking through the grassland.
The last night was spent together reflecting the last few days, the challenges and the key learnings. The challenges of putting on wet boots, encouraging each other and working as a team to push others in the group to get up that each mountain or to cross through that river was discussed and admired.
The next morning was spent hiking back to the jet boat to back to civilisation. The hike also wasn’t easy with more inclines and declines and loads of supplies to carry back, but they made it! Back to the boat on a thrilling 40-minute journey downstream to Makarora.
So what were the key takeaways from the trip? As a team and as a business, as long as we all work together we can achieve anything we set our mind to. Taking much needed breaks will give you more energy to get to your desired outcome and we work for a business with great leaders and are part of something big.
These women also took away from increased confidence to face difficult tasks and challenges, improved communication and collaboration, improved knowledge for the three key businesses, individual leadership, teamwork and support when times are tough, confronting and dealing with weaknesses and enhanced listening skills and improved focus.
So how did the hiking company describe this trip before the women headed out? “A small group of like-minded women sitting around a fire, miles from anywhere and spinning yarns with bursts of laughter about the team’s response to the challenges faced during the day – river crossings, icy plunges in alpine lakes, carrying a pack and setting up camp. A remarkable journey in the remote and stunning Mt Aspiring National Park where the grandeur of the landscape will take your breath away. For those that need their adrenalin fix, this trip includes a helicopter flight into a remote hut, two days walk from civilisation and a thrilling jet boat ride back out”.
They weren’t wrong, but in the end, these 11 women learnt not only about the business and each other, but also themselves. In total the women hiked 60km and climbed 1,700m over five days. This challenge wasn’t just physical, but also a mental battle as the women collaborated together to push past the pain and the struggles and we have never been more proud to be Cox Automotive.