Elisabeth Easther talks to Craig Wilson, the managing director and primary consultant of Quality Tourism Development.
I spent my first 18 years in the white stone city of Oamaru and family holidays were to places like Arrowtown and Queenstown. One of my favourite places was Lake Ohau where mum's uncle had built a crib in the middle of nowhere. I learned to shoot rabbits there when I was 12. I'm not sure we got many, but we did enjoy trying.
At the age of 26 I did my big OE. My girlfriend and I were headed for England when a friend suggested we converge on Camp America for the summer. It was 1992 and we were sent to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. We had three camps in one place — a high-needs camp for children with ADHD, another camp full of angst-ridden teenagers, and a senior adult vacation centre where the average age was 77.
We had an amazing combination of people coming to cool off in our little lakes over summer. Seeing all the pharmaceuticals the kids would take, lined up at the wellness centre for their daily dose of drugs, that was an eye-opener for a boy from the South Island, but it was a wonderful summer.
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We spent about 10 months in England, working and holidaying. We explored England, Wales and Scotland — I managed to get sunburnt in Scotland, can you believe? We spent a month driving around Europe and the scariest moment of my entire life was doing the bobsled in France. Four of us guys thought we'd be smart on the Winter Olympics course. We got into this thing called a Bobraft and it was out of control. It was a three-minute ride and there was so much G-force, we couldn't breathe for what felt like two and a half of those minutes and we weren't even going at full bobsled speed. We banged from side to side, going round corners with our heads hitting the ice. It was terrifying and at the end, the four of us jumped out, so happy to be alive.
Another trip took us to Canada to go rafting for 10 days on the South Nahanni River in the Northwestern territory. A friend arranged the expedition and a chartered flight, a floatplane, dropped us above North America's tallest waterfall. Virginia Falls are twice as high as Niagara Falls and it was scary just hearing the percussion waves, these muffled sounds coming at us through the forest, it sounded like a giant bear was about to run up behind us. If a tree went down those falls, it would come out as toothpicks.
When I got home I realised I wanted to work in tourism, entertainment or leisure — something that helped people enjoy their lives more. It took me two years to get into tourism and my first break was working on the TranzScenic rail network. After four really enjoyable years there, I spent two years with Tourism Auckland before moving on to start my own company.
The evening tour with Footprints in Waipoua Forest is the best guided tour I've done anywhere in the world. It's relaxed, fun and revealing, all at the same time. You follow the story of the little kauri seedlings all the way through to the god of the forest, Tāne Mahuta. The guide unveils the different trees as darkness falls, and it's incredible. I hope they get to continue to do what they do so well, in light of kauri dieback.
I was involved with The New Zealand Cycle Trail from the very beginning. I belonged to the Technical Advisory Group and from more than 50 amazing applications, we had to choose what would become the 22 Great Rides. Today I focus on product development, on experiences along the corridors, helping to implement wow factors, layers of luxury, or connections with food and beverage. The Otago Central Rail Trail has been around for more than 22 years, and they're still adding new chapters to their book.
I've got favourite bits of all the trails. I like the zigzag on the Twin Coast ride down to Snow's farm. I love the bridges on The Timber Trail, and arriving at the lodge in the middle of the Pureora Forest. I love the easy trails that connect me with a brewery or a vineyard, specially when I don't have to ride on the road, the Great Taste Trail in Nelson and the cycleways in Hawke's Bay, Queenstown and along to Gibbston.
I'm so glad I work in the "memories of a lifetime" business, it's so much better than the "selling things for someone else" business.
Further information: see qualitytourism.co.nz