As told to Elisabeth Easther
I grew up in the big smoke of Newcastle. When I was 16, the teachers asked if anyone wanted to go to Outward Bound. I had no clue what it was, but I went on a four-week sponsored course in the Lakes District. It was bloody hard yakka — some thought it was a prison sentence — we even had to jump off the jetty, stark bollock naked, even when there was ice on the water. That was when Outward Bound was really raw — Serve To Strive And Not To Yield — but it turned my life around. When you're 16, if you're asked what you want to do, most teenagers have no bloody idea but, after Outward Bound, I knew I wanted to be outdoors. I found out who I was.
I went to work in South Wales in Brecon Beacons and met my wife there. When we moved to Pembrokeshire, Lynne started running a vegetarian guesthouse offering walking holidays in Pembrokeshire National Park and I joined The Prince's Trust. We'd take kids who were third or fourth generation benefit-oriented on a 12-week programme. For the first couple of weeks, we'd just try to get them to stop hating themselves. Most of these kids had never been loved or looked after and they were off the rails. We lived in a bunkhouse and did outdoor activities focused on team building. They learnt to believe in each other and themselves and develop skills. It was hard work, but very rewarding. Back then, 60 per cent who finished the course signed off the dole and went on to something positive.
When foot and mouth hit the UK, people were asked not to take unnecessary journeys. The Pembrokeshire centre closed and we were given three months unpaid leave. Our kids were nine and 12, the perfect age to travel, so we came to New Zealand. We started with the Milford Trail and stayed in DoC huts. When we saw all the posh lodges, I said to the kids, "never ever stay in places like that. It's so wrong when you're in the mountains". I later ended up working for Ultimate Hikes and staying in those lodges and I came to love them — but the children did like to remind me what I'd said. We also visited some old friends in Hanmer Springs. They'd set up an outdoor education facility for primary school kids. When they told us they were retiring, we made a snap decision at a Kiwi barbecue to buy the business.
After eight years with the Prince's Trust, working with wonderful little Kiwi kids really recharged my batteries. But when the earthquakes hit, every school in Christchurch wanted to send the kids to camp, and we were run off our feet. At the same time Lynne lost her mother and brother to cancer within seven days, so we sold the business and walked Te Araroa to rebalance and grieve. We left Cape Reinga in September and arrived in Bluff in April, and walked for 112 days. Having climbed and walked in the South Island, I had a bit of arrogance that nothing in the North Island could challenge us, but we were hit by bad weather in The Tararuas and it was surprisingly tough. It took all my experience, my skill and my will to get through that bit.
It's such a wonderful routine, to be active 6-8 hours a day. When we got to Bluff, I just knew I wanted to keep walking so I applied for a job with Ultimate Hikes and guided for them on the Milford and Routeburn Tracks. I loved being paid to walk and spend time with interesting people.
After that I worked for a cycling company, guiding luxury tours on Alps2Ocean, West Coast Wilderness Trail and Around The Mountains, when we got an email from our son that changed our lives. He'd been working on a super yacht in Fiji, and had made a local girl pregnant. She couldn't keep the baby, and by that stage our son was working in Paihia as a dive skipper. Because our careers were in their twilight, and we didn't want our son's career to end, we sold up and moved north. Our granddaughter is 2 next month and she is perfect.
When we headed north I touched based with Mike Simm who'd done an Alps2Ocean tour with me, and he said he was looking at running luxury e-bike tours on The Twin Coast Cycle Trail. Today, Northland Experiences' main product is the six-day Cook to Kupe Tour, staying in boutique lodges and enjoying local cuisine. We visit Waitangi, there's a Footprints night walk in Waipoua Forest and a night at The Duke of Marlborough in Russell. The people who come on this kind of tour, they're not coming to get fit, they're coming to meet the locals and absorb the stories. It's also a real investment in Northland because there is so much potential to bring Northland alive through cycling.
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Steve Brodie manages Northland Experiences