Elisabeth Easther talks to the tour leader from Adventure South New Zealand.
I was born in England and we moved to West Berlin when I was a baby. I went to British military schools with the kids of soldiers and airmen. We all moved around a lot, so we learnt to make friends quickly. Some people might think that sounds terrible, but for me it was great and after two years I'd look forward to the next place. In order to stop us getting into trouble, the British forces in Germany ran a youth club and I went to an international youth camp for four consecutive summers at military bases in Europe. We'd spend two weeks walking, windsurfing, kayaking. There was one in the French Alps, another at a boring place in Holland, one in Norway. That certainly shaped me in terms of knowing I didn't want to go back to the UK.
As a teenage boy I did the usual thing and went in the opposite direction to my dad. Then, when I didn't quite get the marks I thought I'd get at school, I realised I was being a dick and that I did want to be a soldier, to be more specific, a helicopter pilot. In order to fly helicopters you have to be a corporal and to become one quickly, if I joined as a technician, I could then become a helicopter pilot. Only they found something wrong with my eyes and that path fell around my feet. I was upset for a while, but then I thought if can't be a helicopter pilot, I'll be a commando.
Commando training was the hardest thing I've ever done. Over eight weeks you're getting tireder and tireder, you're injured and it's just luck if you don't pick something up that stops you. The final test is a 30-mile march laden with equipment, with eight hours to finish. You've got blisters, you're so sore but if you pass you get presented with your green beret in the moors. After the ceasefire was called in the first Gulf War, we were in the desert scavenging anything we could to make life more comfortable, before being pulled back across border. I was with a tank regiment and I remember a colleague shouting, "mine!". I stopped. Then I saw these brown cricket-ball sized anti-personnel mines. I looked back and realised that I'd walked through about 15 of them, these little bomblets dropped from American aircraft. Had I gone a few inches either side I'd have lost a limb.
Six days before going to Bosnia for six months, I went to London with a friend to live it up and I met Michelle, who's now my wife. Once we were an item, if I had a long weekend we'd go somewhere. To the north of Scotland, to Venice, to Prague. In the latter part of my army career I'd been doing rock climbing and abseiling with a view to turning those things into some sort of civilian employment. Starting out as an outdoor instructor, now I'm more of a guide.
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The Milford cycle tour is rapidly becoming my favourite. I enjoy how the scenery gets more and more epic. It cherrypicks some of the best bits from New Zealand's Great Walks. You've got the day walk on the Kepler, a teeny tiny bit of the Routeburn, the start of the Hollyford and a bit of time on the edge of the Milford track, while starting and finishing in Queenstown. It's the perfect package. Last year, we went to Rotorua and, on the way home, we stopped in Turangi to visit a work colleague and he says, "Do you want to walk the crossing? It's June. It's a bluebird day. It'll be empty." That walk across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, just me, Michelle and a really good friend: one of the best days ever.
Visiting so many places with cool names, I wanted to know what they meant. A combination of down time and a thirst for learning about the place I call home led me down a rabbit warren to finding out more, but learning Te Reo was Michelle's idea. I did six evening classes with an older Maori lady who took us through the basics. My father in law occasionally calls me a Pom, to which I respond, my roots are Irish and I'm just a late settler. New Zealand is home now.
Further information: see adventuresouth.co.nz