Bridal 2001

Adventure honeymoons
Some couples choose backpacking and bushwhacking over a day at the beach

by Peter Gauvin

The cliché notion of a honeymoon, as depicted by Hollywood and shelves of wedding magazines, would seem to involve sipping mai-tais on a tropical beach or renting a villa in a fabled Italian city. Certainly, those sorts of idyllic getaways can be a fantastic way for newlyweds to let go of the tension that comes with tying the knot, not to mention kick off their new life together in luxurious splendor.

For many newlyweds, however, a honeymoon focused on relaxation and catered romance is merely a recipe for boredom. They would prefer to do something "out there"--something engaging, something active, something wild, something adventurous.

"The trend is toward something else than a typical honeymoon," says Joyce Small, a travel agent with Adventures Unlimited in San Francisco, who's been booking trips for 31 years.

This does not necessarily mean far-flung, gung-ho adventures like trekking through Nepal, a camel safari through the Australian Outback, or dodging grizzlies and ravenous mosquitoes on a raft trip through remote Alaskan wilderness. But it could.

"Kids have these over-the-top weddings now and they all think they're going to go to Abu Dhabi or Namibia, but they haven't a clue about how much planning it takes," Small says. "It's supposedly the guys that generally have the honeymoon-planning responsibilities, and sometimes they drop the ball."

Unless a couple is experienced in roughing it together for long periods, Small recommends picking the sort of honeymoon destination that allows them to satisfy their adventure bug in smaller doses. "Go to a place that is intrinsically rich in adventure activities, but has the sybaritic comforts that you want on a honeymoon."

She steers couples who want some adventure toward exotic-but-comfortable destinations, such as Costa Rica, Fiji and Bali--places where there is an abundance of "adjunct adventures" like scuba diving, windsurfing, hiking, and kayaking, amid an interesting cultural setting, and within easy reach of a comfortable, private refuge.

Diane Cameron, a certified travel counselor with Gone Tropo in Marin County, books many honeymoons to the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea in Tahiti. There, she says, couples can find a wealth of adventure activities, from kayaking and windsurfing to 4-wheel drive safaris into the middle of the islands and "shark diving" in Rangiroa, an atoll with a 42-mile long lagoon. But she would discourage honeymooners from visiting New Guinea, which is "really adventurous<\p>.<\p>.<\p>.<\p>but not conducive to romance."

No matter what type of honeymoon a couple has in mind, Small recommends they plan well ahead, particularly if they're getting married in the peak season, summer. So many couples get married in June, she says, that popular destinations get over-run with honeymooners and other travelers. As an alternative, she suggests planning a local post-wedding getaway, such as a nice lodge or B&B in Big Sur or Mendocino, and saving the real honeymoon trip until the fall.

Of course, an adventure-seeking couple doesn't have to travel to the ends of the earth on an exotic--and expensive--eco-travel package to qualify their honeymoon as adventurous. In fact, they don't even have to leave the state.

Larry and Ellie Winther of Redwood City spent their honeymoon backpacking the alpine wonderland of the Desolation Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe. "We're not into the resort kind of scene," says Larry, who manages a camping and ski store. "It's a way to see some great scenery without spending a lot of money. My wife is from Holland and she loved it."

Others find adventure honeymoons a good opportunity to explore the great outdoors, and learn more about each other in the process.

Mike Woods and Heather Rock Woods of Menlo Park were married in 1993. They had a small wedding so they could spend more extravagantly on their honeymoon. They flew to Anchorage and spent four weeks exploring Alaska and the Yukon in a rented Chevy Blazer. "We upgraded to a 4x4, which in Alaska is actually useful," Heather says.

They camped on the Kenia Peninsula, spent four days backpacking and bushwhacking their way through foggy bogs in Denali National Park, drove over the "Top of the World Highway," sat on the Arctic Circle, soaked in a sauna next to a freezing stream at the Hatcher Pass Lodge, and had the worst pizza ever outside Wrangell/St. Elias National Park.

"We camped maybe two-thirds of the time, but when we got too grungy we'd take a hotel," says Mike, a physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

"Romance does not have to happen in a hotel," adds Heather, a freelance writer and mother of two.

"We would do it all over again, no question," she says. "We found it a good way to start our lives together. We learned very quickly about each other's day-to-day habits. We still have a lot of teamwork because of it to this day, because it wasn't always easy<\p>.<\p>.<\p>.<\p>We love being outdoors and in beautiful places so it seemed a lot better than just lying on a beach."

Ted Barber, who works at IDEO Product Development in downtown Palo Alto, would agree. He and his wife Kathleen, a software marketing consultant, were married in 1997 and spent three weeks road-tripping through the West and backpacking in awe-inspiring settings like the Tetons and Zion. They stumbled across a rattlesnake or two and experienced some intense thunderstorms that left their tent floating an inch off the ground.

"When you can take your new bride out for four days sleeping on the ground, face to face with bears, without showering for days, and have a great time, she's probably a pretty good woman in my book," says Barber.

But, Barber admits, it didn't hurt that they ended the trip with three nights and the Sunnyside Lodge in Lake Tahoe. "We washed away the weeks of dust, enjoyed the relaxed environment and a gourmet dinner."

For those whose idea of a perfect honeymoon involves tropical climes, Leo Kopelow and Angela Isaac of Palo Alto happened upon a great adventure. They were married in 1999 and spent their honeymoon in Australia, where they got to live out the romantic fantasy of being shipwrecked lovers on a tropical isle. Well, not really shipwrecked. They spent three days and two nights camping on a small, uninhabited tropical island (Russell Island, part the Franklin Islands), reached by hitching a ride from the town of Cairns on one of the navy of diving boats that motor out to the Great Barrier Reef.

"The first night our flashlight stopped working, our lighter stopped working, it rained, and early in the morning a bunch of tropical birds woke us up," says Kopelow. They also had close encounters with sea turtles, giant clams three to four feet wide, schools of fish, and huge spiders eight inches wide. But of course that was all part of the adventure, he says.

"We also did some stuff like diving, camping and whitewater rafting, but the stay on the island was definitely the highlight," says Kopelow. For some adventure honeymooners, it would seem, unpredictability is the stuff romance is made of.