Elisabeth Easther talks to Andrea Messenger of Plateau Lodge & Tongariro Crossing Shuttles.
As a kid in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, my childhood was very desert-oriented. My dad was in the drilling industry, in mining, and mum was a nurse. I was really fortunate to do lots of travelling with my parents. I especially loved camping on beaches and, though there were snakes and spiders, we were educated not to touch them, just to admire from afar.
In the 80s, Bali was still quite rural, and I remember walking around the markets holding my nose, breathing through the material of mum and dad's clothing. These days it's all cleaned up but back then, dogs roamed the streets, and you weren't really allowed to wander beyond the resort. There was only one resort on Nusa Dua back then, now it's thick with hotels and shops.
I left home at 18 and spent 10 years working on islands from Brisbane up to Papua New Guinea. I started at Stradbroke Island, off the coast of Brisbane, and ended up on Lizard Island. They were doing luxury eco-tourism before it became trendy and it was rated in the world's top 40 luxury resorts. There were around 80 staff for 40 guests, and it cost two grand a night per person, in the 90s. In my downtime, I'd hop in a staff dinghy and cut through the shipping channel to an isolated island for a picnic, or go fishing, or spearfishing. I'm such a water baby.
I've travelled to all seven continents and in Africa I spent a lot of time in Zimbabwe. It was 1989, when things were pretty tense politically. We hired a car and everyone said, "you're crazy, you can't do that" but we visited all the national parks in our little hire car. One day, I was trying to get a photo that looked like my hand was up an elephant's bottom (pictured). Obviously this is a park and not a zoo but you forget that and I was chased by a male elephant. I remember running in a zig-zag for what felt like an eternity. Eventually I found a tree and hugged it, looking round and thinking, "holy crap, is it still chasing me?" The wildebeest were cool. They'd just stand in the middle of the road and not move.
So you had two choices, either beep the horn and they ignore you or sit there in your tiny Mazda 323 and hope they don't push the car over. I also remember lining up at the telephone to call my parents, to tell them we were okay, because even the Harare tourist police would tell us to go home. They'd say, "it's too dangerous here for you". A year later there were so many riots.
In South America, I did Peru and the Inca Trail, I travelled up the Amazon to get to Ecuador. I hopped on a boat and put my hammock up and another family was living underneath me. The food was pretty basic, piranhas and watery chicken soup and on the boat no one spoke a word of English. So for two weeks I couldn't speak to anyone and when I finally found someone who did speak English, I was pretty emotional. I ate guinea pig in Cusco, Peru. When I ordered it I thought I'd get the body but I got its head, so the only part I could chew on was its cheek. In Vietnam we went to a snake restaurant. Downstairs it was like the killing fields of snakes, upstairs they served snake soup, bile in a glass, snake spring rolls, a whole buffet of snake. They even served blood in a glass, it's supposed to be an aphrodisiac but I couldn't do it. It was still warm and I could only sniff it.
I went to Antarctica on an old Russian icebreaker. We set off from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. There were lectures each morning then we'd go out on the zodiac and investigate.
There were talks about ice, the animals and glaciers and it was incredible. We left in January and took a couple of days to go across the Drake Passage. We were lucky to have a smooth trip over and just a moderate trip back, because it can get pretty hair-raising and I suffer from seasickness.
I've been in Mt Ruapehu for 13 years. My husband and I have a lodge, a bus company and two children. We started a new bus company last year and in summer we transport more than 30,000 people for the Tongariro Crossing. The bus starts at 6am and leaves every hour till 6pm. That allows people more flexibility because everyone isn't dropped off at the same time. If you want to miss the peak season, come down in November or December when there are only 200 or 300 people on the track. In January, we get around 2000 people per day, and that's pretty full-on.