Sean and Kristine's Comboyne

A Plunge pays off for A Total Adventure

Sean and Kristine Edwards won’t forget their 1990 surfing trip to the NSW Mid North Coast. It left a lasting impression: a career change, a new lifestyle and a dangerous plunge into the world of adventure tourism.

Sean is coordinator of Australia’s largest cooperative adventure group "A Total Adventure" and it all started by being re-directed off the Pacific Highway on their surfing trip because of a motor vehicle accident, This led the couple to the lush hinterland area of the Comboyne plateau, halfway between Taree and Port Macquarie.

Today, adventure headquarters for this couple is based at the Udder Cow Café, Comboyne’s old bakery building where the rustic wood fired oven that used to turn out crusty baked delights now adds a warm yesteryear charm to the al fresco dining.

By the time they reached their thirties Sean and Kristine decided to shun the corporate world to explore the entrepreneurial rush of adventure-eco tourism. "We drove through the place (Comboyne) after we were redirected off the highway because of a car accident. We immediately fell in love with the setting." Not long after that Sean and Kristine discarded with their former lives at Singleton working in the mines in exchange for the purchase of Comboyne’s old sawmill. With a vision of rustic accommodation they combined their talents - Sean as the builder and Kristine as the designer - to transform this piece of historical Comboyne architecture into a haven for weary travellers. Just 12 months later Sean and Kristine quickly added another rustic building to their business development plan by purchasing Comboyne’s old bakery. They have since transformed it into a groovy café that’s become the meeting place for those who are hooked on adrenaline - whether it be in the water, on the land or in the air. With a background in human resources, Sean wanted to combine his tertiary knowledge with tourism and the natural environment. After just two years establishing the accommodation and café businesses Sean then turned his attention to networking with other operators of tourism ventures on the Mid North Coast. He saw a consumer need for more integrated packaging of adventure activities rather than the scattergun approach that was being used. "I wanted to get people together and network: people who were basically in the same line of business and who had a lot to gain by talking to one another rather than competing with one another when they were all working in the same area anyway."

After the first huge leap over the scepticism hurdle Sean began the talking and moved forward with a proposal to the regional tourism organisation to support a funding application to Tourism NSW for a brochure which would effectively package all adventure operators on the Mid North Coast together.

One year from the birth of this concept A Total Adventure has grown from six operators to 34. Now the push is on to further raise the profile of this group in international markets. From skydiving to surfing on a trimaran (the latest watersport activity to hit Australian shores), the Total Adventure group pride themselves on diversity and a fantastic landscape in which they can offer their activities to participants. Already in the Adventure Group’s development stages there have been some memorable experiences that have proven to stimulate great after dinner stories, like the time Sydney Morning Herald travel writer Bruce Elder was being hosted in the region in June 1997 for a familiarisation. The Adventure group offered Bruce a helicopter ride that he wouldn’t forget.

They delivered on their promise. On a flight over the Comboyne and Ellenborough Falls area the helicopter’s engine failed and crashed to the ground taking out an unleaded fuel bowser at a Comboyne service station. The good news is that everyone walked away from this nerve wrecking experience. Despite this close call Sean is proud of his group’s safety approach. "Everyone in the group is fully licensed, certified and insured. That’s part of the condition for being part of the group. With any adventure activity it carries with it certain risks but all our operators ensure that they follow every possible safety measure to the enth degree."

Sean explains that the reason why adventure activities are so good for breaking down stress is because of the adrenaline that is produced when human beings are challenged beyond the norm. "We call it fight or flight syndrome. Getting the adrenaline pumping and achieving something that you’ve never done before is really good for the self esteem which tends to get knocked out of people in a large corporate environment."

Using adventure to build character, overcome fear and establish team building has become the focus of corporate survival courses, which are also offered by the Total Adventure Group. Sean says it’s a great way to get to know people that share an office together. "In big corporate structures it’s easy to work with people on a daily basis but not really know them very well at all. By participating in adventure challenges it helps work colleagues to communicate on a different level." Sean says the courses are a great way to break down stress and assist in showing workers how to recognise the signs of stress in their workmates. As for the style of the courses Sean doesn’t pull any punches when emphasising that they’re not part of the new age Americanised corporate approach. "We don’t go through all the motivational psychology and bullshit terms. We use Australian workplace philosophy because Australians by and large are team-orientated people. "

One of the most memorable corporate training survival groups Sean led was a six hour bush walk starting up the Comboyne Plateau and down a series of cascading gorges. "It was great because it was to a place that no one had been before."

With the Adventure Group now well and truly established, Sean and Kristine are not prepared to leave themselves any breathing space. Despite the hard work since they started their new life in Comboyne Sean and Kristine still have many plans to further fulfil their entrepreneurial yearnings. Their advice to other would be entrepreneurs - don’t leave it too late. "A lot of people opt for a major lifestyle change, however, most leave it until their too old. By making the move when you’re in your thirties you have more energy and ambition, "says Sean who is a firm believer in the philosophy of making it happen for yourself.

As for any future moves, Sean and Kristine are adamant: why leave a place, which is aptly summed up by its advertising slogan – "If you can’t get to heaven Comboyne will do".

Article Written by: Val Schaefer – Tourism Manager Taree NSW

For details relating to Human Resource Courses, Adventure Weekends or days, Incentive Marketing or Accommodation Packages please contact Sean or Kristine Edwards at

"The Udder Cow Café, 1 Main Street, Comboyne NSW 2429 on (02) 6550 4188.


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