Elisabeth Easther talks to Graeme Ransom of Country Village Heaven Greytown Tours
My dad worked on the railways so I lived in Taihape till I was five when we moved to Tauranga before going onto Auckland. Fifty-plus years ago railways were a bit like airlines, relatively glamorous and well paid, and he had a free travel pass for a month each year. We also had a car, and in those days if you had a car you used it. The first holiday I remember we went to Napier, across the Gentle Annie from Taihape. In those days it was all dirt and I remember it being a long, drawn-out journey. A couple of years ago I did it in my Mazda RX8 and it was a beautiful drive, with views out to Ruapehu.
The "Kuala Lumpur" was a ship that used to do schoolboy cruises out of Auckland, and when it wasn't doing regular cruises it sailed from Indonesia to Malaysia to Mecca. It was a very old ship, pre-war, and down below was all open dorms and hammocks where 200 kids would sleep. Over 10 days we went to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia — although we weren't supposed to get too near the regular tourists.
When I was 17, I hitchhiked by myself around the South Island. I had a tent, a big pack and some cooking utensils. I'd get one of those giant cans of spaghetti, cook it up and eat the whole can with some bread and a bit of fruit. My mother was very resourceful and made me take a cake of Sunlight soap so I could wash my self, my hair and my dishes with it. I rang home once or twice and returned five weeks later with just two cents left, having started with $100. And my parents just let me go — thinking about it now it was all pretty easy, but you wouldn't let your kids do that now.
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Hitchhiking was different in those days. On one occasion a car pulled up, an old Prefect, and it was full of children and luggage and stuff, yet somehow they fitted me in.
I lived in Melbourne for 25 years, driving cabs, mostly at night. I was attracted to taxis because every day was an adventure. I never knew what would happen. But I was never scared of the passengers, I used to joke that they had to worry about me. With travel, when you're out of your comfort zone you've just got to be positive and project an aura that you know what you're doing, that you're indestructible. That way you don't tend to attract trouble. Nasty people sniff weakness.
I'd always fancied being in tourism. After my marriage broke up, I came back to New Zealand and tried to run tours of the North Shore, but 25 years ago that didn't go so well, then I moved to Waiheke and operated a company there.
Today I run tours out of Greytown. It's a quaint little place. And I've been blown away by how many things are going on down here and how easy is it to deal with people in terms of business. Down here people want to work with you. Greytown is a little country town, but it's not well-connected with public transport, so our tours help non-driving international tourists connect with these sites.
You know the Rimutakas? Do you really want new arrivals driving that road? They're probably tired after a long flight, they're on the wrong side of the road. Are they going to have a great experience if they have to terrify themselves to get over here? So we give people an option to enjoy Greytown and Martinborough without having to drive. We go to Schoc, an award winning chocolate shop in Greytown, then to Martinborough for wine and on to C'est Cheese in Featherston, where there are 60 different cheeses to choose from.
Regional NZ has all these gems but the tourism triumvirate of Auckland, Rotorua and Queenstown get all the PR. There are lots of other great places and Wairarapa is one.
Further information: see greytownvillage.com