The outdoor-climbing Frenchman putting Kiwis in trees

by Fiona Terry / 19 December, 2017

Jean Caillabet at Adrenalin Forest Wellington.

Jean Caillabet

For someone who cut his climbing teeth in the European Alps, the flat land of Christchurch seems an unlikely location to establish an outdoor-climbing business. But it was a pine forest at Spencer Park that proved perfect for French-born Jean Caillabet’s venture involving aerial obstacle courses in the treetops.  

“It seemed ideal,” says Caillabet, who came to New Zealand 13 years ago to improve his English, intending to stay only three months. “They were popular in France; I thought they’d be great for adventurous Kiwis.”

Caillabet needed a forest with trees at least 25 years old, for strength and height. Christchurch City Council liked his proposal and offered to lease him some land. It took two years to get consent and another three months of construction to get the project literally off the ground. “It was quite a job,” recalls Caillabet, who’d been a mountain guide in Europe and also owned a rafting business. “Everything was hand-created and I needed advanced climbers to help me.”

By opening day, in January 2006, Caillabet was totally broke. “It’s like climbing,” he jokes. “When you’re halfway up the mountain, you cannot stop. You see it through to the end.”

His faith was rewarded. Climbers of all ages and abilities love the courses, which build gradually in height and level of difficulty. Bridges, nets, barrels, swings and flying foxes test the mettle of school groups, families, dating couples, sports teams, and hen and stag gatherings, while a locking karabiner system ensures a continuous connection to safety lines.

Caillabet’s branched out further since then, opening Adrenalin Forest courses in Tauranga and Wellington, where the highest section is a lofty 31m off the ground. Plans are now afoot for another venue, yet to be confirmed. “I can’t call one my favourite,” laughs Caillabet, who’s a father of three.

“It’s like having children: they’re all different, but you love them all the same.” 

Find out more at www.adrenalin-forest.co.nz

This was published in the November 2017 issue of North & South.

 

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