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Finding adventure, challenge and friendship

Johnsonville Corps womens weekend away group photo
Women's weekend adventures with Johnsonville Corps.

For 13 years, The Salvation Army in Johnsonville has seen annual women’s trips as a great way to build relationships and provide spiritual refreshment says organiser Leonie King.

In March, 22 women associated with The Salvation Army in Johnsonville headed to the Marlborough Sounds for a weekend of adventure, challenge and friendship. We spent a day sea kayaking and then headed on to the Queen Charlotte Track to mountain bike and walk. Most summers for the past 13 years, our corps has had a women’s weekend away. There’s always some sort of adventure, which is the backdrop to the friendship, fun and rejuvenation that comes from such a weekend.

These trips started when the corps officers thought we should do something for the women of our church after a group of men had enjoyed a long weekend fishing. As a newish mum, I’d noticed the opportunities to get away with just adults and do something for me were a bit harder to find.

I really had no idea how the first ‘women’s weekend away’ would be received. I don’t think the women who went knew what to expect either. Our first weekend involved 28 women, a day’s sea kayaking in Queen Charlotte Sound, followed by the choice of either abseiling at Outward Bound or a day walk along the Queen Charlotte Track. The weekend was a huge success, and so they’ve continued.

We’ve done 10 trips since then, with groups ranging in size from 22-40 women. Our activities have included a three-day Canadian canoe trip on the Whanganui River, walking the Abel Tasman Track, black water rafting (a 35 metre abseil into a cave and then a flying fox in pitch blackness inside the cave), horse trekking, an overnight sea kayak trip, a weekend sailing the Spirit of New Zealand, walking the Tongariro Crossing, rafting, mountain biking, high ropes, and more.

These trips allow women to challenge themselves in a supportive environment, to develop deeper friendships with people they already know and to make new friends. Sharing an adventure and supporting one another through challenges is guaranteed to build and strengthen friendships. Often, women find the opportunity to be in the outdoors and completely outside their usual routine gives them a fresh perspective on life and their priorities.

Those who’ve been involved have ranged in age from their 20s to 60s. Typically, the group is half church attenders and half their friends, neighbours, sisters, work colleagues, etc. We’ve had mother-daughter pairs and a few grandmothers, too. These weekends are a great way to introduce non-churched friends to some supportive and enthusiastic Christian women. That’s one of the highlights for me. The other thing I love is seeing women achieve something they weren’t sure of, and then sharing that joy. I am always astounded by how brave and determined women are, and how encouraging they are of each other.

Our trips are carefully designed so fitness levels and ability levels are not a barrier. We use professional guides where appropriate to ensure safety. Good food is another key ingredient. Adventuring makes people very hungry, and food always tastes better after a big day in the outdoors.

There have been many highlights over the years. Like when all 32 women made it down the abseil into Raukuri Cave to begin black water rafting. It took a lot of determination and encouragement to get everyone into the cave, but we did it! Another highlight is the sense of achievement we felt when 40 of us sailed the Spirit of New Zealand proudly back into Wellington Harbour to waiting family and friends after we’d spent the weekend learning to sail the ship. We survived some big seas in Cook Strait, followed by a magical night sleeping on the ship in the tranquil waters of Ship Cove, just inside the northern entrance to the Marlborough Sounds.

There was also a huge sense of achievement when we completed the first day of our three-day canoe trip down the Whanganui River. Only three of our party of 32 had ever been in a canoe before, and a sense of fear was prevalent when we started in bad weather. However, we laughed and relished the wilderness. By day two, the weather was beautiful, helping everyone relax and enjoy the environment, the experience and each other.

We always come home physically tired, but emotionally and spiritually refreshed, and with a renewed appreciation for this beautiful country that we call home.