Each week Elisabeth Easther gets the story of people in the Kiwi tourism industry. This week, Napier City Council's manager of visitor experiences, Sally Jackson.

I'm from a little town

called Llanycrwys in South West Wales where I grew up one of four siblings in a single-parent home. We didn't have much money and we spent many of our holidays in charge of our own entertainment. During the day we could go off and explore various farmlands for hours without worrying about safety. It was fantastic, living rurally.

When I was 10 we moved to a bigger town, and by the age of 16 I'd moved out of home, carrying on my education while working part-time jobs. Starting out in hospitality, I worked in a fantastic hotel called the Cawdor Arms Hotel in Llandeilo and then went off to university. However, after a year I decided I needed to travel so I took a work experience opportunity with P&O. I was on the ferry that went between England and France and, while it was meant to be just six weeks, I was there for six months and that's how I started my travel fund.

My first big trip was to Israel when I was 18, working on a kibbutz as a volunteer. To be fair, my mother was fairly freaked out when I announced I was off to a war-torn country, but she'd brought us up to be very independent children so she knew I would manage. The kibbutz was close to Haifa on the Mediterranean coastline and I fell in love with the people, history and culture. The landscape, the buildings, the ground, that harsh, red clay and blue sky, the contrast was so stark and very beautiful. Then there was the proximity to Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus. I hitch-hiked with a girlfriend from the kibbutz in Israel to Jordan and we went to the lost city of Petra. That was one of the most fantastic experiences I have ever had, walking through that corridor and it's all dark and then the lost city appears in front of you.


Going back to Wales to university I was working in an Irish bar in Cardiff where I started dating a New Zealander. When he returned home, he invited me to join him so I packed my bags, sold everything and got a one-year visa, but things didn't work out between us and we went our separate ways. Everyone back at home advised me to pack up and come back to Wales, but I was determined to make that one year work and pretty soon I fell in love with the country, got a job and started enjoying my new life. A little later, I met and fell in love with another Kiwi and we married in 2004 and now, with a couple of children, New Zealand is my home.

Over the years I worked in various tourism roles before starting with the Art Deco Trust in 2010. For six and a half years I was their general manager, focused on the preservation and promotion of the Art Deco city of Napier. Tourism here thrives on the heritage story that started with New Zealand's worse natural disaster — an earthquake and devastating fire in 1931. Napier completely rebuilt itself in just 22 months and today you have street after street of beautifully preserved heritage buildings. Visitors flock to the city — including more than 60 cruise ships - and the Art Deco Trust is integral to ensuring the buildings are maintained and the stories are told.

In recent years, a lot of my travel has been work related, travelling to promote Napier to offshore markets, but that's not very relaxing so travel with my family is based domestically. For our Christmas holiday, we camped in a little place called Waihaha on the western shores of Lake Taupo. It's a stunning spot, we lived in a tent just 10 steps from the clear blue water. There's no power or facilities and the kids have to make their own entertainment in the great outdoors. Paddle boarding, swimming in the lake, playing with other kids, having good, old-fashioned fun.

The summer before we sailed around Waiheke. It was a relatively small boat with just one hob to cook on, a tiny fridge so you have to be mindful of cooking and what to keep cold, but you are out there fishing and swimming, or seeing massive pods of dolphins go by, and you really appreciate what New Zealand has to offer.

The job I'm in now is with the Napier City Council managing nine different visitor experiences across the city. One of them is the National Aquarium of New Zealand. It's an amazing facility and the only place in New Zealand where you can swim with sharks without being in a cage. The facility is also part of a national recovery programme helping DoC and other partners protect kiwi. Often we're brought kiwi eggs and we'll see them through incubating to hatching to the bird becoming strong enough to be delivered back to the wild. We also have a hospital for New Zealand's littlest penguins; they come to us hurt or injured and we get them into a good state to be released.

Napier's tourism industry is really thriving, and it's such a beautiful city with so many different attributes. When I first arrived in Hawke's Bay almost 20 years ago, the culture, the lifestyle, it just matched my personality and I knew that I wanted to stay and make it my home.

Further information: Visit the National Aquarium of New Zealand.