United by a passion for bikes, the six-member Columb family’s successfully built New Zealand’s original off-road tour company from humble beginnings. As Off Road Adventures celebrates its 30th birthday, Philip Chandler takes a ride on the wild side
Two German visitors to Queenstown in 1989, Hans and Ralf, have a lot to answer for.
Wanting to get out and about on motorcycles, they chanced upon self-employed plumber Denis Columb, who also had a passion for motorbikes.
He told them he’d take them for a three-hour ride the following day.
That first ride turned into nine hours, and turned into what became New Zealand’s first off-road tour business.
From the start, the entire Columb family have been integral cogs in Off Road Adventures, which this month celebrated its 30th birthday.
Columb’s wife Marilyn co-founded the business, and their kids Brendan, Lachie, Scott and Alanna have all guided for the company – Scott’s currently head guide.
“Our family lives and breathes everything off-road, and that has no doubt been integral to the longevity and success of the business,” Denis says.
“We genuinely love nothing more than sharing our passion with visitors.”
The family’s also enjoyed racing various bikes – between them, Lachie, on quad bikes and motorcycles, Scott, in supercross and motocross, and Alanna, on downhill mountain bikes, have amassed 13 national titles.
Those three have also successfully represented NZ on the international stage.
Along with other guides, the family-owned company’s taken more than 150,000 commercial tours and conducted 320,000 hours of guiding.
Famous guests have included filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and actor Orlando Bloom during The Lord of the Rings film shoot.
“We’ve hosted some great guests, many of whom have become long-term friends and now bring new generations of their families,” Denis says.
The company operates 150 top-of-the-range bikes, sports buggies and 4x4s, and is an official partner of Yamaha NZ.
“We want to take people off the beaten track and push the boundaries in tourism for a true Kiwi adventure.
“We always go the extra mile to ensure all of our guests are as safe as can be and have the time of their life.”
Nowadays, the company’s rated Queenstown’s number one guided tour operator on TripAdvisor.
And it’s spread its offerings all the way from one-hour adventures to bespoke, luxury, multi-day expeditions across the South Island.
Assisting those longer trips, the company also owns accommodation hubs in the Hakataramea Valley and in Naseby.
“It’s been a fun journey and one that’s not ready to slow down any time soon,” Denis says.