Di Westaway OAM is the Founder & CEO (aka Chief Adventure Chick) of Wild Women on Top and Coastrek. She is a passionate hiker, climber, coach, mum, motivator, fundraiser and teacher as well as a twice-published author.
Di Westaway OAM is committed to championing women in the outdoors through the community she has developed through Wild Women on Top and Coastrek. The author of Natural Exhilaration and How to Prepare for World Class Treks, in 2020 Di was awarded an OAM for services to women’s sport, recreation and charitable services.
What is your job, a what does the work involve?
Founder & CEO of Wild Women on Top, but I prefer the title ’Chief Adventure Chick’! I’m passionate about helping women fall in love with health and fitness through hiking, so my work is also my pleasure. This means I do anything from baking Wild Women cookies, to writing blogs, to inspiring corporates, to exploring tracks and trails so we can share our love of walking in nature. I’m a futurist so I’m always planning the next adventure and looking for exciting ways to age disgracefully.
Can you tell us about Wild Women on Top?
Our mission at Wild Women on Top is to connect, coach and champion women in the outdoors through community hiking adventures and our Coastrek program and events around Australia. As Founder I am devoted to serving the brand, business development, strategy, planning, content and PR, as well as supporting our team to have more fun going wild.
How did you break into the women’s outdoor adventure industry?
Wild Women On Top was founded in 2004 after I suffered through what I call a ‘mid-wife’ crisis. I’d just come out of a failed marriage and needed something to lift me out of my misery when a friend invited me on a hiking expedition to remote South America. It wasn’t just any old hike… it was climbing Mt Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere and I impulsively said yes! Like all the greatest lessons in life, mine came from failure. We didn’t make it to the top but what I gained from this experience was far greater – I learned that extreme wilderness challenges not only bring natural exhilaration but require more physical fitness, mental and emotional toughness than I ever imagined. I was inspired to help women prepare for adventure challenges and teach them the lessons I learned the hard way.
On my return home I embarked on a series of small group training sessions, registered Wild Women On Top as a business, and between 2005 and 2008 Wild Women climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Elbrus, Mt Kosciuszko, Mt Aconcagua, Mt Fansipan Denali, Mt Rinjani and Mt Kinabalu. In 2009, the first Coastrek event took place in Sydney, raising funds for the Fred Hollows Foundation.
Fast forward, and we now host Coastrek programs in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide and have inspired and empowered nearly 40,000 people, mostly women, to get fitter and healthier by hiking together, raising nearly $40,000,000 for charity. The journey continues with the introduction of new Coastrek routes imminent!
What is the appeal of being active in the outdoors?
We were born to be wild, so being active in the outdoors makes our spirits soar. Whether its hiking to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise, having a cup of tea on a cliff top at sunset, plunging into the crystal waters of a rainforest waterfall, or being caught out in a hail storm, we get a burst of natural exhilaration that enhances our spiritual as well as physical wellbeing. My life has been immensely enriched through outdoor adventures that enable me to defy societies expectations of what a 61 year old woman should be doing. Handstands on knife edge summits have become an essential symbol of my refusal to conform.
Can you describe a favourite moment?
My adventurous life is regularly delighted by magic moments in the outdoors. Micro adventures are an essential part of my day. Yesterday I got my thrills by taking my mountain bike out for a spin along steep rocky trails. And today I’ll scare myself silly by going rock climbing or exploring off track on foot. If I must pick a favourite, it would be a springtime sunset summit cuppa tea and cake or a sneaky sip of glühwein by a waterfall with friends at the end of a challenging hike.
How do you deal with challenging situations?
A least favourite moment was when I was perched in a tiny tent on the side of Ama Dablam in the Everest region of Nepal agonising about whether I could muster the courage and mental toughness to make a move for the summit. I texted my friend Danae, who was back in Sydney, and she said, “control your mind”. So I did.
I went on to do the World’s Highest Handstand on the summit of Mt Ama Dablam before making the terrifying descent to base camp. I sobbed in fear as I descended the knife edge arete but called on years of mental toughness training to push through to safety.
How does the outdoors adventure community embrace women?
There’s a lot more opportunities for some women in the outdoors than there used to be, but we’ve still got a long way to go to truly embrace women. This starts in childhood where girls need to be exposed to outdoor adventures when they’re little. Caroline Pemberton, Miss Adventure, is doing great work in this area.
Wild Women On Top reaches out to women through social media and channels like Travel Play Live, to invite women to join our active and engaged Facebook community. We provide education, training and programs to help women get fit for adventure and connect them with likeminded women so they have local buddies to walk with. We also partner with charities and adventure brands like World Expeditions to help get the message out.
What’s your advice for women thinking about taking up outdoor adventuring?
Just do it. Take the plunge, leap out of your comfort zone and give it a try. Grab a buddy, pack a cup of tea and wild women chocolate chip cookies, lace up your runners and head into nature. I guarantee you’ll love it.
Where will you be exploring when we are able to travel freely again?
I want to go and explore Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand. They have a fabulous Walking Festival in November and I’d love to do it. I’m also keen on rock climbing on the island of Kalymnos in the Mediterranean, and mountain biking in the Drakensburg mountains of South Africa.
Anything else you’d like to share with Travel Play Live readers?
If you fall in love with outdoor adventures, share them with every body you meet and never stop exploring.
Registration for Coastrek 2022 program and events is now open. Train and trek your choice of 30km, 45km or 60km routes across some of Australia’s most magnificent coastline.