Adventure in sandals


Running the Routeburn Track in sandals was a breeze for extreme adventurer Mike Horn.

The South African action man did it last week while on a whistle-stop trip to Queenstown.

But this is a bloke who’s midway through a gruelling four-year expedition around the world, which began in minus-40degC temperatures in the frozen wastelands of Antarctica.

In his time, the death-defying multi-discipline sportsman has notched up some amazing feats, including:

  • A 27-month trek around the globe along the Arctic Circle
  • A six-month crossing of South America by foot and riverboarding down the Amazon
  • With another adventurer, becoming the first to walk to the North Pole in the sunless Arctic winter 
  • Circumnavigating the equator over 17 months by walking, rowing, sailing and biking – in the Congo he even narrowly escaped being killed by a firing squad.

Of his terrifying brush with death in Africa, Horn, 43, says: “I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo crossing from one rebel territory to another when one group thought I was a spy.

“I was actually in front of a death squad and they were going to shoot me.

“When they lifted up their Kalashnikovs or AK-47s and I closed my eyes, I was just waiting for the shot.”

He adds: “Maybe they were just playing with me and in the end a police officer saved me after saying it was a police affair, not a military one.”

As well as being famous for his daredevil exploits, Horn has written four top-selling books and from his base in Switzer­land lends his name to tents, sleeping bags, watches, shoes and skis.

He’s also fluent in seven languages, including Russian, Afrikaans, Spanish, French … and Zulu.

“When I went round the Arctic I just had to speak Russian – in order to stay out of trouble.”

Horn made the quick trip to Queenstown with his Dunedin-born wife Cathy – who used to live in the resort – after parking his expedition boat in Milford Sound.

And he was immediately impressed with the friendliness of the locals, especially when asking for directions.
“In Europe, they’d s**t on your head for it.”

Although he did tackle the Routeburn in his sandals before cycling the Glenorchy Road, larger-than-life Horn didn’t get the chance to go bungying in Queenstown, but says he’s done a couple of jumps in Switzerland.

“I like to jump – but without the elastic,” he grins.

After trying for 20 years to prove his incredible feats were do-able, Horn says sponsors now prefer him to stay at home.

“They think I’m worth more alive than dead.”

He adds: “But I don’t like being comfortable all the time. In adventure you push yourself to such a limit that you know yourself better.

“You are born to be an adventurer.”