Travel Diary - an adventurer's dream challenge



  1. a call to someone to participate in a competitive situation or fight to decide who is superior in terms of ability or strength.

A challenge can be as equally terrifying as it is satisfying. Life revolves around it, for it’s one of the few ways we truly progress, improve, and learn.

I’m Aziz Al Sa’afin and I am on leg five of my journey Rediscovering Ruapehu. I’ve teamed up with Torpedo7 and Visit Ruapehu to explore what’s in our own backyard, and discover the gems within it.

I’m all kitted up and ready to take on any challenge that comes my way (or so I thought).

I started my journey five weeks ago in a Waka on the Whanganui River, with a man called Willie Huch, in Owhango.

The following week I found myself camping in the Ruatiti Domain with amateur photographer Alex Pearce and adventurer Tom Patrick from Torpedo7.

I was then kayaking with Tom and Blue Duck Station’s own Dan Steele, one of the most engaging people I have ever interviewed in my ten years of broadcasting.

Last week Dan and I met the wonderful Anna Wilcox, New Zealand freestyle skier and Torpedo7 ambassador, and we went hiking to a place known to many as the “top of the world” - and it very much was.

So what’s on the cards this week you ask? A challenge that’s what.

Both Anna Wilcox and Dan Steele are back for this next leg of adventure. Anna arrives on a bike all dressed up looking like an utter pro - me on the other hand looking like an utter no. I came desperately underprepared, but lucky for me Anna’s got my back, or rather, my helmet.

Thanks to Torpedo7 I am all kitted out once again. Breathable and light cycle shorts with a light shirt to match, biking Enduro gloves, a couple of water bottles (which makes me think this is no short journey), and the most important thing of all, a mountain bike.

This is no ordinary mountain bike either. Introducing the SRAM GX Eagle, complete with a lightweight alloy frame, 27.5" wheels, and premium RockShox suspension. Surely this will make a mountain biker out of me, right? If anything, at least I’ll look good ripping up the trail (that’s what they say, right?).

The coolest thing of all is we’re still here at the Blue Duck Station, one of the most beautiful places in the Ruapehu region. Serene, remote, and ever so calming. Plucked right out of an adventurer's dream, the possibilities in this place are endless.

I feel I’m in safe hands too. While my second nature is Netflix and chill, Anna is very much a natural when it comes to cycling the New Zealand terrain. She’s done countless trails, thousands of kilometres, in the most beautiful places in the country - and to top it off, her expertise when it comes to actual riding is higher than my time spent on Netflix - and that’s quite high.

This really is where the challenge comes in for me. Mountain biking isn’t something I do, and certainly not on a trail that is no wider than a metre with a cliff drop that is several, several metres. Fear starts to build ever so slowly, but as too does the excitement to try something new.

Anna is already coaching me on brake and gear control, and she’s already adjusting my seat to match my (incredibly short) height. The coolest thing with this bike is it has a hydraulic seat, with a button to adjust throughout the ride. This as I quickly found out became quite the useful function making my way through the sometimes steep and other times vertical terrain.

We make our way through what can only be described as paradise. The Whanganui river in the distance, native bush and mountains lining the horizon, and once again, that all powerful birdsong. How lucky are we to have this right at our doorstep I think to myself.

I’m a little bit wobbly, and letting my fear of falling get the best of me. Anna turns around to say ride with confidence, and look at least five metres ahead. She also tells me to be aware of the gear changes I should be making on my bike, as it will make my journey easier. It did.

This land is beautiful, and it’s rich with history. Europeans came to Kaiwhakauka and over-optimistically tried to farm the land Farms were given to the soldiers after World War One but it all failed because the land was unfarmable. Now the land is being restored and rejuvenated by people like Dan Steele, of the Blue Duck Station.

A special part of this adventure I’ll never forget is cycling past an old farmhouse, built in 1917 and still completely intact. Dan invites us to look inside, and it truly is an incredible sight. The things these walls would have seen, the conversations that would have taken place here, and the time in which it all happened. I look over on the left and empty beer bottles are still sitting on the shelf, once placed by the soldiers that lived here long ago.

This area actually connects to the Mountains to Sea cycle trail or Ngā Ara Tūhono, which Anna informs me we will be conquering. I ask her how many kilometres defines “conquering” - she laughs and charges ahead. I wasn’t aware I had made a joke.

Before I know it I’m charging ahead too, swiping corners, speeding through the bumps, and ‘tearing up the trail’ (see - that is what they say - perhaps it’s just what I say).

I’m really enjoying myself in something I would have never chosen to do usually, and I think I’m glad I took up the challenge.

Good thing I’m competitive too.

The gear is down, my seat adjusted, and I’m now full steam ahead right on Anna’s tail.

This article was created for Torpedo7 and Visit Ruapehu