Each week, Elisabeth Easther gets the story of people in the Kiwi tourism industry. Today she talks to the owner of I Guide U Travel.
I was born in Northern Italy and grew up speaking Italian and German. We moved to Brussels in Belgium where we had a great life. Dad had a good job there so we could afford every weekend to go somewhere, France, Holland, Luxembourg. In Brussels, I went to a European school which put me in a very multilingual environment and meant I am fluent in six languages — Italian, German, Spanish, English, French and Portuguese. As a teenager, we moved back to Italy and that was a bit of a shock. Brussels was cosmopolitan and amazing and full of things to discover and then we moved back to a small Italian town and I thought the people were a bit late on everything.
From that moment I started thinking that Italy was not my favourite place to be — however, after school I ended up joining the Italian air force, and working for 12 years as an air defence controller. The military career was not my thing at all. Back then, a friend finished his compulsory service and went to live in the Canary Islands, in Spain. He invited me over saying there were heaps of opportunities. So I took all my leave, went there and started working in a resort as a squash instructor, mountain bike and fishing guide. That was great and soon after I quit the air force to start travelling.
My first big trip was to Brazil, where later I got my first guiding job and — wow — all of a sudden, I was taking people to see monkeys and snakes. It was pretty adventurous and my life turned around.
In 2000, through my mother-in-law, I landed a job as a guide on a small volcanic island in Southern Italy called Stromboli. I was supposed to help a local guy who'd had an accident so he sent me to learn everything about the volcano. When they realised I knew so many languages, they didn't want me to quit, so I worked there and on other volcanoes in Sicily for five seasons.
Family life on the tiny island took a toll and I went back to where I was born in the Dolomites. I was employed by a very famous former Italian ski champion who took me under his wing. I began managing some of his big ski rental franchises and helped him build a ski resort in China in 2007. One of his friends owned a ski shop in New Zealand. He suggested a trip here. So I travelled through the country and to Ohakune, discovering a ski shop that was renting out old straight skis. I suggested he update his rental gear as the rest of the world was already skiing on curving skis, so I ended up selling that guy a few hundred pairs of second-hand skis and hundreds of ski boots from the ski rental I was working at in Italy. The owner came to Italy to sign the contract. He was this awesome real Kiwi bloke and offered me a work visa to come out and manage one of his shops. That's when my New Zealand adventure started.
It's been 11 years now. I'm a freelance guide. Most of my clientele are small groups and couples or families. The itineraries are generally very high-end and I get to take them to the most beautiful places and accommodation, travelling by helicopter around the country or flying by private jet. New Zealand is beautiful wherever you go but possibly my favourite thing of all is a custom-made day helicoptering in Fiordland, catching crays on the West Coast then choppering up a mountain to cook them.
The places we visit are breathtaking, but it's my guests who make this job so interesting and challenging. I get to meet people who have mind-blowing lives - from Brazilian plastic surgeons to German vegan families, to Italian honeymooners to billionaires from Monaco. It is a privilege and an immense responsibility and I can't imagine doing anything else.
Further information: See iguideu.travel.