Key Points:

When 23-year-old William Goodfellow said he wanted to take tourists sailing on old Team New Zealand boats to watch the America's Cup, he got some sideways glances.

He was talking about offering Joe Bloggs the kind of experience usually reserved for multimillionaires.

Nine years on, Goodfellow's company Explore NZ is giving tourists once-in-a-lifetime experiences and has a strong hold on its market.

Goodfellow, a born and bred Aucklander, spent much of his childhood sailing around the Bay of Islands and racing on the Hauraki Gulf.

He was working for a tourism company in the Bay of Islands when New Zealand won the cup in 1995 and knew he wanted to be in Auckland when the country hosted the event in 2000.

Goodfellow and his business partner, a boatbuilder, quickly secured a contract for corporate viewing of the cup which allowed them to buy a charter boat from Hong Kong in time for the event's start in 1999.

But Goodfellow had seen that ex-America's Cup yacht NZL40 was available, and he decided he wanted to take people sailing on it.

Sail NZ was the first venture on Explore NZ's list of marine tourism experiences. A flood of tourists to Auckland's Viaduct during the Cup made for plenty of chartering competition but no one was offering anything quite like sailing on an actual America's Cup yacht, Goodfellow says.

"It's usually the sort of experience that the billionaire syndicate and their professional racing crew get. We've made it possible for anyone of any sailing ability to see what it's like to sail on one of the grand prix sailing machines."

There was plenty of money floating around the Viaduct during cup season and the company quickly turned a profit.

"It's very unusual to have a start-up business with the cashflow that we had but we were phenomenally lucky with the timing," Goodfellow says.

He says he had not counted on the Cup remaining in Auckland and was already looking to push into other tourism ventures, so it was a bonus when New Zealand defended the title and the tourists returned in 2002.

In the interim he added another Team New Zealand yacht to the fleet and started offering racing for corporate events and team-building activities.

When the Swiss seized the Cup in 2003, Goodfellow moved Explore NZ to the Bay of Islands, bought a catamaran and started offering day sailing.

Soon after he purchased Dolphin Discoveries, a well-established business specialising in eco-cruises and swimming with dolphins.

In 2005 Explore NZ added Auckland business Whale and Dolphin Safari to the group, and last year took over the Pride of Auckland vessel, which offers more sedate sailing on the Hauraki Gulf than the racing yachts.

This year Explore NZ launched a joint venture with Dune Rider, a company running four-wheel-drive tours from Cape Reinga down to Ninety Mile Beach.

The company now employs around 60 staff, though numbers vary seasonally.

Goodfellow makes a point of making sure he's capable of skippering all Explore NZ's fleet.

While the goal is to have a variety of enjoyable fun and complementary tourism activities under the Explore NZ umbrella, the company's main focus is to optimise the areas it is good at.

"We are careful to make sure that all of what we have is built up to its maximum - rearranging the product, introducing different trips, starting to offer the boats for different events, starting to offer Friday racing, which is quite unique. We try to use the vessels harder."

Rising fuel prices affect Explore NZ's operating costs as well as the number of people coming into the country, but Goodfellow says that won't stop the company growing its products and market share.

"It just becomes a case of doing things better and providing a product which is superior to what else is on offer."

"We've got a huge point of difference. And when you add things like the marine mammal experiences which are once in a lifetime things, it's sort of infectious," he says.

Explore NZ
Managing director: William Goodfellow - winner of young tourism professional award, PATA 2008.

Companies:

* BSail NZ - Ex-America's Cup yachts (Auckland) and On the Edge catamaran (Bay of Islands).
* Whale & Dolphin Safari (Auckland).
* Dolphin Discoveries (Bay of Islands).
* Pride of Auckland.
* Dune Rider (Ninety Mile Beach).