Each week, Elisabeth Easther gets the story of people in the Kiwi tourism industry. Today, she meets the owner of Auckland Sea Kayaks, Nic Mead.
I'm Auckland born and bred and I've been close to the Hauraki Gulf for as long as I can remember, through sea scouts and sailing, as well as having a bach on Waiheke.
I was lucky because, when we were kids we did lots of outdoorsy stuff that set me up for this life. My dad loved sailing and when I was 2, my dad bought my granddad's sailing boat. Giving my mum a break from us, Dad would take me and my three sisters out sailing with strategic bribery in the way of sweets and fizzy drinks. Mum soon became sick of hearing about all the fun she was missing and decided to come too.
My parents have a wonderful sense of adventure so being outdoors wasn't hard for them and they've always instilled an adventurous streak in us. I've climbed the highest volcano in Asia with my dad, Mt Damavand in Iran, and another time our whole family went horse trekking in Uruguay.
When I finished high school, I went to Turangi and trained in Outdoor Pursuits, then completed a degree in Natural Science at Lincoln. After that it was on to Te Anau, where I worked in Milford and Doubtful Sounds with a commercial sea kayaking company.
Then one day, I was taking some time out, hiking and climbing in Pakistan, and I got to the point where I needed a job and somehow, through a remote connection, I was offered a place with a sea kayaking company in the mountain town of Voss, in western Norway.
While there, I was given one of the best pieces of travel advice. I'd just finished my first season in Norway, I had a little money and didn't know what to do for three or four months when the ski season started again. I turned to my boss and said, "Where should I go?" And he said, "You should go somewhere you can't go when you have kids."
So I went to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya. We didn't have much money and the best thing about travelling with not much money is that it increases the imagination. And you probably have a better time with less money, especially if the people you're with have the same budget — that's key.
But after five years in Norway I had to decide if I wanted to live there for the rest of my life. Having decided no, I moved back home where I felt a strong sense of my place in the Hauraki Gulf.
By that time, the winter of 2010, I knew a lot about sea kayaking and business and, after having a good look around, I met members of the Department of Conservation and found out what it entailed to set up a business in the Gulf, setting up concessions and, most importantly, consulting various iwi.
Our client base varies but mainly we attract independent travellers and, with a ratio of one guide to eight passengers, it's largely about interaction and the guide's local knowledge. People love that there's a chance of seeing orcas or dolphins, and learning that two thirds of all the volcanic material in the 49 eruptions around Auckland came out of one volcano — Rangitoto. Or that a third of the world's bird species live here. And if there are children on a trip, they love stories about nature, particularly how the tui and the weka got their places in the forest, and how the kiwi became the bird of the forest by sacrificing itself.
Our most popular trip is the sunset paddle to Rangitoto. People love it because they get to kayak across Auckland harbour, hike to the top of Rangitoto volcano, enjoy a barbecue dinner and phenomenal views of Auckland as the sun goes down. To top it all off, they kayak back under the stars. Close ties for second place are the half-day trips to Motukorea (Browns Island) and the overnight stay on Motuihe. We do shorter trips — a two-hour paddle to the Riverhead Tavern from Herald Island and for a longer, more remote experience we do a trip around Great Barrier Island that's five to seven days.
One thing I feel fortunate about is that lots of Aucklanders want to kayak with us. I've worked at lots of other tourism companies and they have 99 per cent international tourists, so having people who live in the area wanting to spend money is a very positive sign. Last Sunday, we had a guy who did his fifth trip with us and to me that's the greatest endorsement.
It has been hard work but now I've got to the stage where the work is continuous and I've got five awesome guides working for me. I'm 32, I've been doing this for seven years and I've no desire to stop. For now, I feel very fortunate to make a living doing something I really enjoy.
Further information: See aucklandseakayaks.co.nz