Novice archer hooked by dragon hunt in native bush near Nelson

MARTIN DE RUYTER
Stuff reporter Katy Jones learns how to hunt dragons with Markus Erdmann of Archery Park at Nelson's Cable Bay Adventures.

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.

Stuff reporter Katy Jones, front, goes dragon hunting in Cable Bay near Nelson, with Paula Muddle, left and Claudia Meister.
Martin De Ruyter/Stuff-co-nz
Stuff reporter Katy Jones, front, goes dragon hunting in Cable Bay near Nelson, with Paula Muddle, left and Claudia Meister.

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.

First time archer, Nelson Mail reporter Katy Jones, enjoys the learning curve at Archery Park in Cable Bay.
Martin De Ruyter/Stuff
First time archer, Nelson Mail reporter Katy Jones, enjoys the learning curve at Archery Park in Cable Bay.

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.

Claudia Meister, left, and Nelson Mail reporter Katy Jones take aim at Archery Park in Cable Bay, before heading out on a dragon hunt, one of more than 70 local activities discounted through the NMRH trust’s "Backyard Passport".
Martin De Ruyter/Stuff
Claudia Meister, left, and Nelson Mail reporter Katy Jones take aim at Archery Park in Cable Bay, before heading out on a dragon hunt, one of more than 70 local activities discounted through the NMRH trust’s "Backyard Passport".

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.

Stuff reporter Katy Jones with Markus Erdmann, owner of Archery Park in Cable Bay.
Martin De Ruyter/Stuff
Stuff reporter Katy Jones with Markus Erdmann, owner of Archery Park in Cable Bay.

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.

Markus Erdmann, Katy Jones, left, Paula Muddle, and Claudia Meister removing arrows from a target.
Martin De Ruyter/Stuff
Markus Erdmann, Katy Jones, left, Paula Muddle, and Claudia Meister removing arrows from a target.

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.

A rat is one of the targets on the "Dragon Hunt Archery Experience" in Cable Bay near Nelson.
Martin De Ruyter/Stuff
A rat is one of the targets on the "Dragon Hunt Archery Experience" in Cable Bay near Nelson.

"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.

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