Wānaka Sun       

Every cloud: a post-covid success story

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 11 Jun, 2020 | By Joanna Perry newsdesk@thewanakasun.co.nz

I have a fear of heights in general, and sheer drops in particular. So to say the thought of climbing 320m up a waterfall in an inversion, and shimmying my way along what would (in my opinion) be more accurately termed a tightrope than a bridge, was a daunting one would be an understatement. But the community's support of Wildwire Wānaka - with over 700 locals signing up for a post-Covid koha waterfall climb - has been such a powerful story that two weeks ago, I found myself driving out towards Treble Cone to try their via ferrata waterfall climb.

The intermediate and most popular level, Wild Thing, takes about five hours and involves some steep and exposed sections, crossing increasingly narrowing suspension bridges before finishing at the base of a 60m waterfall. 

I was probably (definitely) more frightened than the two young boys in my group of eight - who, in classic Wānaka fashion, were on completely separate bookings but turned out to be schoolmates. But the easygoing pace, solid security measures and encouragement of our incredible guide Connie Causa meant that just hours later, I was hanging off a bridge 300m up, spinning around in my harness - and not by accident.

The famous Wānaka inversion gave our climb up the iron rungs an eerie, Jurassic Park-like quality, but just as we reached the top, the mountaintops managed to peek through the cloud, giving our experience a unique ending. It was made even more memorable by the sense of community amongst groups and guides alike - like spending the day with friends, they said.

The local and regional uptake for Wildwire has been phenomenal. Now offering two for one deals, they are close to fully booked for the winter months. CEO and co-creator Mark Morrison told me this is unprecedented, which is impressive considering international tourists usually make up 80 percent of their market. They're keeping very busy running between two and five climbs a day in what is usually their quietest period. 

Wildwire's popularity has had a tangible impact. “At the start of lockdown we told all of our guides that that was the end of any guiding work for the foreseeable future... At that time we were employing about eight guides,” said Morrison.

“Since the Koha Climb after Covid scheme has gone so bananas, we have reemployed about twelve guides. Some of those guides chose to volunteer initially, but with the phenomenal response we have been able to pay everyone. Let's be clear, we aren't making money out of this, but we are paying our guides and some of the bills, and we are passing the money on to other establishments like Aspiring Helicopters and Fedeli who are our trade partners.”

By employing more guides, they've been able to offer work to mountain guides who would otherwise have struggled to find work this winter.

“Some of our guides are extremely experienced,” said Morrison, pointing out Mike Roberts, who was set to lead Adventure Consultants Everest 2020 expedition. “This would have been Mike's tenth summit,” he said. “However, with Covid-19 coming along, there is certainly no international guiding work, so we are thrilled to have Mike onboard. We have an amazing team and we are just so thrilled to be able to support them all.”

Wildwire are also promoting other locals deals around town, encouraging clients to help businesses recover. “This is a tough time, but it's great to see a community pull together this way, to support us and in turn support the community,” said Morrisson. “Not only that, everybody gets to have a good time at a price they can afford.”

If you can get a space, I thoroughly recommend getting involved. It's a great chance to support local, challenge yourself, and clear out the cobwebs after all of that sitting around.

Read edition 978 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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