One of the best things about being the Herald's Travel Editor is that I not only get to visit all sorts of fascinating places but also meet a lot of extraordinarily interesting people.
There's no doubt in my mind that the power that drives the tremendous success of the New Zealand tourist industry is provided by all those talented characters who have set up tourist-related ventures - big and small - around the country.
Sure, we have the advantage of beautiful scenery, an equable climate and a small population. But without the bright ideas of lots of bold entrepreneurs we wouldn't be taking such effective advantage of it all.
And I don't just mean the bigtime movers and shakers like A.J. Hackett and his adrenaline tourism, the Tamaki brothers and their cultural tourism or that pioneer of scenic adventures, the late Les Hutchins.
Just as important are the people who host all those unique lodges, personalised jetboat rides, walks in the wilderness, great little restaurants serving Kiwi cuisine, among other things, that make a trip around New Zealand so special.
A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I went to Nelson where I was able to meet up with people like:
* Hermann Seifried, brought to New Zealand nearly 40 years ago to make fruit wines, who was laughed at when he said the South Island was good wine-growing country but not only started an outstanding winery of his own but fathered a hugely successful regional wine industry.
* John Wilson, who 30 years ago built a boat so his family could explore the beauty of Abel Tasman National Park and now heads a company that takes thousands of people from around the world to see the park's golden bays and tranquil forests.
* Julian Wiseman, an entrepreneurial English immigrant - one of many such - whose money and skills have breathed new life into the Buller Gorge Swingbridge operation with its adventure rides, goldmining and jetboating.
People like that trio - and I've met countless others like them - are definitely among the largely unsung heroes of our economy.
Their vision, willingness to take risks, management skills and ability to hang in when times are tough are the reason our tourist industry remains so successful.
They have the talents we are going to need to get through the present difficult economic times. And theirs are the sort of businesses the Government needs to encourage if our economy is to prosper.
Best of all, the chance to meet and talk to such delightful personalities is a big part of what makes this such a great country to explore.
- Jim Eagles
Pictured above: Hermann Seifried played a crucial role in the establishing of the South Island's booming wine industry. Photo / NZ Herald