Novice archer hooked by dragon hunt in native bush near Nelson
Shooting at dragons with a bow and arrow may sound like something from a mythical story book.
But in a bush-clad valley near Nelson, I found myself doing exactly that.
With a satisfying thunk, my arrow hit a small red one, 20 metres away.
Just hours earlier, I had been worrying how I - a first time archer - would fare during the "Dragon Hunt Archery Experience" in Cable Bay.
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I needn't be nervous, our guide Markus Erdmann joked. Three out every four groups made it out alive.
The experience is one of 71 activities discounted across the top of the South Island as part of the "Your Backyard Passport", an initiative set up by the Nelson Marlborough Helicopter Trust to support local tourist operators and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Not only did our group-of-four live to tell the tale, there were a lot of laughs along the way.
Our adventure began with a bumpy river crossing in a four-wheel drive van to the target range, just across from the entrance to the Cable Bay Adventure Park.
After outlining the safety rules, Erdmann ran through the technique we needed to master, before heading into the bush.
Standing side-on, bow extended to the corner of my mouth, my first three arrows sailed straight past the target.
But thanks to a few tips from Erdmann, my strike rate improved, and by the third round, I was having fun.
Nearly an hour and another short van trip later, with five arrows stashed in our belts and longbow in hand, we headed down a path along a creek, into a valley of virgin native forest.
A pod of people on the Cable Valley Skywire appeared in the distance. "Not a moving target", Erdmann clarified.
Our first real target appeared a few minutes later. A realistic looking goat, made of high grade foam.
I was first up. My third (and final) arrow struck it - just. We all did a variation of the fist pump, after making the grade.
There are about 10 mythical and real targets on the nearly three km circuit, including three dragons (one hatching out of an egg), a taniwha, a boar and a rat.
The option of shooting from three distances tailors the challenge to experienced archers and beginners alike.
Erdmann, an archery coach for about 15 years, is well attuned to helping guests improve their weak points.
"It wouldn't be fun if people missed all of the targets.
"But it is challenging, what we do here is the deep end ... we're shooting uphill, we go downhill, we walk a lot, we shoot a lot."
The adventure was therefore not generally open to children under 10, he said.
Erdmann first discovered his passion for field archery in his native Germany, about 17 years ago.
"It's basically the romantic idea of Robin Hood. You just run around in the forest with a bow and arrow."
After moving to New Zealand, the accredited archer opened the Archery Park nearly two years ago, with the agreement of Cable Bay Adventure Park.
Relaxing was key to striking the target, Erdmann advised, likening the experience to meditation.
Taking a deep breath as I extended the bow to a soundtrack of native birdsong, I was inclined to agree.
The Your Backyard Passport can be bought for $50 at your local NBS branch, or online at https://www.helirescue.co.nz/backyard/
The Dragon Hunt Archery Experience runs from 10am-2pm on weekdays with an extra session available on Sundays from 1-5pm.