The Adventurous Kiwi – An Interview with Hollie Woodhouse

Last updated: 30-Nov-18

By Luke Jarmey

A fine purveyor of all things outdoors, Hollie Woodhouse has a particular penchant for activities on the adventurous end of the spectrum. Between pounding trails in all corners of the globe, she also finds time to create and curate a boutique magazine, filled to the brim with a heady concoction of inspiring and compelling content. We have a chat to find out what keeps the gears turning in the life of this intrepid Kiwi.

Q. Flamboyant introduction out of the way, who is Hollie Woodhouse?

A. Ha, that was a great intro! Thank you. I’m very much a rural kiwi girl brought up on a farm south-west of Ashburton, in the middle of the South Island. Currently based in Christchurch, I like to think of myself as a weekend-warrior, who somehow manages to juggle a day job, publishing a magazine and training for my next adventure. Now and then I find time to have a blow-out in my social life too, just to keep things balanced.

Q. Crikey growing up on a farm in that area of New Zealand must have provided a torrent of constantly stimulating outdoor playgrounds. Has running always been a big part of your sporting repertoire, or have you only recently started wearing holes in the soles of your trainers?

A. Outdoors was just part of life for me growing up. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was; weekends were always spent outside, whether that was helping dad on the farm, riding our ponies, heading up the mountain or skiing on the lakes, depending on the time of year. I have a brother who is a year older and a twin sister, which meant I always had a buddy to play with. Sport was always something I loved, no matter what it was. I loved cross-country growing up, but to be honest ‘running’ wasn’t something I considered as a sport, it was just something that I did when doing my other sports, such as hockey, touch and aerobics. It wasn’t really until I moved back to New Zealand in 2009 that I started to compete in trail running events.

Q. Were you drawn in by the longer distances straight away or was it more of a steady progression?

A. My cousin who also lives in Christchurch was into the outdoor racing scene, so I just did what she did! We would head away for the weekend with friends and do a race, usually between 15km and 30km, and explore a different part of New Zealand. Never did I think I would one day be competing in multi-day ultras that were 260km through the Sahara, or 230km through the Amazon Jungle, but how awesome is that? It was more about just taking an opportunity that presented itself at the time.

Q. When did you first toe the start line of a race and how did you do?

A. My first off-road race was Captain Cook’s Landing in the Marlborough Sounds. I managed to get through the first 15km OK but almost died over the last 12km. It was by far the longest I had run; I couldn’t walk for days afterwards. From then on I swore I wouldn’t head into a race so underprepared. But I absolutely loved it and went on to compete in more trail events just like it. I went back a few years later and managed to cut 15 minutes off my time and even managed to make the podium.

Q. I read that you had to be rescued 18 hours into one of your first adventure races – please elaborate?

A. Ha ha, yes. Again, I had just returned to New Zealand, and a friend was looking for a third team-mate for the 12-hour Spring Challenge race. I was completely foreign to the multisport scene, but thought ‘why not’. Trail running, orienteering, white-water rafting and mountain biking sounded like a great adventure. I didn’t own a mountain bike but managed to borrow one that was far too big for me for the race. It was an eye-opener, and I very quickly learnt that you couldn’t take the outdoors for granted. It was based in the Richmond Ranges near Motueka, and we ended up getting seriously lost on a ridge in the dark, trying to navigate ourselves down. We managed to find another team, who were also lost and followed them out. Not wanting to quit, we then hopped on our bikes and headed off, only to return to the same spot two hours later! Seriously lost, we had another crack, but it wasn’t long before the race organisers tracked us down and advised us it was probably a wise idea to call it quits. This was at 3am; we had started at 9am the previous morning. We found out later that one team spent the night in the bush and were found by a local pig hunter. While almost everything went wrong, I fell in love with adventure racing and continue to compete when I can.

Photo credit: Marathon des Sables.

Q. Ha ha, all part of the game and certainly solidifies the inclusion of ‘adventure’ in the title of this race genre. On the topic of really pushing yourself physically and mentally, did the Marathon des Sables scratch that adventurous itch for you?

A. Yes and no. It’s funny, until I did the Jungle Race, I thought the Marathon des Sables was amazing. It was certainly an adventure, and I loved being so far removed from everyday life for six days, and just racing, but I am far more suited to the jungle. It was like New Zealand’s West Coast on steroids.

Q. Sounds like Jurassic Park. Out in the Sahara though, what did you struggle with most? And did that experience further inspire you to tackle any more multi-day ultras?

A. I’m not that fast on the flat, and add sand to the mix, and you could say it wasn’t my favourite terrain. But, it was epic. I had never been in a landscape like that before, and then to spend five days with four (now) very close friends, was amazing. As we sat in our 5-star hotel the day after we finished (in a slight alcohol daze), we decided there and then that the Jungle Ultra would be next on the list!

Photo credit: Hollie Woodhouse.

Q. We’ll come back to your recent ultra-escapades, but first tell us about your design background and how your magazine Say Yes to Adventure came about?

A. I have a Bachelor of Design, and a love for printed magazines, so it has always been a dream of mine to produce a high-quality publication based around adventure. For Rangers is a charity that I helped form (the initial reason for doing the Marathon des Sables) and I was searching for a way to raise funds on an ongoing basis for it, so I decided to start Say Yes to Adventure. The first publication came out at the beginning of March 2015, and Volume Six is just about to hit the shelves next week (Sept 2016).

Q. Fantastic stuff, so obviously being an online magazine of sorts, we at RunUltra are partly a reaction to this decline in traditional print media. Since you’ve gone the opposite way, do you still see a healthy audience, willing to invest in beautifully crafted printed magazines?

A. It is a niche market, and getting people aware of the product has been a slower process than if it was digital, but the reason I wanted it to be print was so that people could experience the magazine in their hands, an entirely different experience to swiping with your finger on an iPad. It hasn’t been easy, and the geographical location of New Zealand makes distributing overseas a costly exercise. Because of this, I have decided to make it a digital publication, available for download via PressReader from now on. It has been a hard decision to make, but at the end of the day I want people to read my magazine, and being both print and digital now makes this a lot easier to reach people anywhere in the world.

Q. How much of the content do you contribute yourself directly? And how hard has it been to find compelling articles/photos from freelance contributors?

A. I usually contribute at least one article, either my adventure or an interview I have written about another person. At the start, I had to reach out to people, and I am so grateful to everyone who contributed to the first volume for their faith in my project. Since then it has continually grown, and now about 80% of the stories are from people who contact me, and the other 20% are from people who suggest a great story from someone they know. It’s the best part about creating the magazine; meeting (face-to-face and via email) so many inspiring adventurers who are out there doing some incredible things.

Q. Do you always try to include one running story in each edition, or is just whenever a juicy one comes along?

A. It’s not a conscious decision, but by default, there is always a running story of sorts. There are two in the next volume; the Jungle Ultra in Peru and a group of friends who ran the Rota Vicentina trail in Portugal.

Q. Now as one of our 2016 RunUltra Blogger Awards finalists, it would be a crime not to mention your fantastic blog ‘The Adventurous Kiwi‘. How did the blog start and how does it fit in around the magazine?

A. My blog has been the stepping stone to my magazine. I started it in mid-2013 when I was training for New Zealand’s Coast to Coast, a multisport race from one side of New Zealand to the other. At the time, it was by far the biggest event I had ever done. My sister lives in Kenya, so instead of sending her emails telling her about what I was up to, I decided to start a blog, and since then it has turned into an outlet to record my adventures. I love creating the content; writing, photography, videos and of course, the adventures. I was never any good at English when I was at school, but now that I am writing about something that I am passionate about, it seems to just roll off the keyboard.

Photo credit: Mikkel Beisner.

Q. On blogging topics, tell us about your recent foray to Peru for the Jungle Ultra? Where there any mishaps in the race, or was it all plain sailing?

A. The Jungle Ultra was incredible. I wish I could go back, and I didn’t say that about the Marathon des Sables. Unfortunately, I managed to pick up a gastro bug on the first few days which made running interesting, to say the least. But because I was so slow at the start, I managed to finish strongly. I was probably the only competitor to finish the race in better physical condition than when I started. It was so well organised too, which added to the experience. Also the fact that there were only 49 starters made it a far more personal experience than the MdS, and the For Rangers team made up ten of that. It was definitely a challenge and crossing the finish line was a huge relief, but it was such an amazing experience. What made it even better was that our entire For Rangers team finished the full course too, an incredible achievement.

Q. Excellent. So finally, what’s the near future holding for Hollie Woodhouse and also Say Yes to Adventure!?

A. There are some exciting new adventures on the horizon, and this time, it doesn’t mean heading offshore. I have joined forces with Kathmandu and will work with them as I prepare for the Coast to Coast 1-Day. Slightly terrifying, but also very exciting. Something I have always wanted to do, so it was the perfect opportunity. So that means my next five months will involve kayaking, biking and running. I am not complaining.

Say Yes to Adventure is going well too, with the aim to keep growing the magazine and awareness going forward, and getting it into the hands of as many adventurous people as I possibly can!

Thanks Hollie, great talking and good luck in the Coast to Coast!

For more information:
F: The Adventurous Kiwi
I: @holliewoodhouse
T: @holliewoodhouse

F: Say Yes to Adventure Mag
I: @sytamagazine
T: @sytamagazine
F: For Rangers
I: @forrangers
T: @forrangers

"Never did I think I would one day be competing in multi-day ultras that were 260km through the Sahara, or 230km through the Amazon Jungle, but how awesome is that?"

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