Each week, Elisabeth Easther gets the story of people in the Kiwi tourism industry. Today, she meets Sandy Waters the owner/operator of Snowy Waters Lodge in Raetihi.
Sandy lives at Blue Duck Station near the Whanganui River with husband Dan and their two children Blue, 6, and Snow, 2.
I started my hospitality career at 14, waitressing at a restaurant in Pauanui during the school holidays, and at weekends. I loved growing up in Pauanui; it was very sheltered and safe but I was always curious about the big wide world. By 18, I'd headed overseas to America, to teach water skiing and wakeboarding at a summer camp in Pennsylvania and after that I found it easy to get jobs in hospitality all over the world.
I worked in the Greek Islands for a summer and in Andorra during the ski season where I got to snowboard from my apartment every day — they were my favourites. Backpacking through Colombia and learning to scuba dive in Egypt were pretty cool too.
I returned to New Zealand when I was 20, to work in Queenstown in reception at The Heritage, but itchy feet bit me again and I continued travelling.
In Argentina, I lived with a family in a town about the same size as Raetihi where not a single person spoke English, so that was my crash course in Spanish before spending two months travelling with my dad. In seven whirlwind weeks we did seven countries including a three-day trip on the Amazon swimming with river dolphins and eating piranhas.
By my mid-20s I was keen to put down roots, travelling was really fun but I'm a firm believer that New Zealand is by far the best country in the world. We are so lucky, it's beautiful, it's safe, it's clean. I wanted to start my own business.
When I came home, I saw the old nurses' home in Raetihi was for sale. I stayed there when I was a kid and remembered skiing down the front lawn on fresh snow in pyjamas with my brother. The building was so run down, my dad pretty much gave birth to kittens when he saw how much work, time and money it would need. But I put an offer in and they accepted it. I've been renovating it for 10 years so far but I think I have about another 10 to go!
Winter is always busy. The same groups come back year after year, so to bring visitors here in summer I wrote a script — I took inspiration from my acting/writing friend.
Because this is an old building with heaps of character, I decided it would be a great venue for a murder mystery set in a hospital. We give our guests a script and a costume and they have to act. It's very rude and politically incorrect but it's hilarious too. Initially I promoted it through Grabone, I thought we'd sell 10 vouchers but we sold 42, which brought us 450 new customers in our first season.
To start with I played Sherlock, but when it became every weekend, I felt I was missing out on my kids so now I hire a Sherlock from The Phoenix Players, our local theatre group.
When I'm at Blue Duck Station I cover for our horse trekking and kayaking guides and do a bit of marketing but mostly I try to spend as much time out on the farm with my kids and Dan.
A huge family of pigs are in the garden right now. Yesterday my husband said he could smell boar and he was right. Dan bought me a compound bow this Christmas and I'm going to learn to hunt — goats and deer — I might have to start with those pigs.
I live in the middle of nowhere, there's no cell phone reception, no traffic lights, and limited internet. We're surrounded by bush and hills, wild animals and farm animals.
When I was growing up I used to collect animals. My parents used to say 'you should've been raised on a farm'. Now I can have as many animals as I like.
It's a cool little community. When I first met Dan there was just a handful of backpackers but now we have two other young families in the valley. We have communal chickens, Dan's mum and auntie live in the valley and they're good at growing vegetables and we have fruit trees more than 100 years old, that have never been sprayed. I'll be making plum gin this summer.
Further information: See snowywaterslodge.co.nz