Elisabeth Easther learns all about down-to-Earth upbringing of caver.

I'm a caveman. Born and raised in Waitomo, suckled on stalactites - I grew up on 1600 acres of farm full of caves and forest and cliffs. When I was growing up, we didn't get out much, we basically just played in the forest and the only people we met were cavers. If you've met cavers before, you'll know they're fairly unusual creatures.

My mum and dad would lend my brother and me to the local caving group and they'd tie ropes around us and lower us down holes to see if they went anywhere. I would've been 8 or 9 when I started to go caving which was good because I was little and fitted in the holes. So I had this weird cavey upbringing and got super excited about caving, pretty much because there was nothing else to do but it was a really fun way to grow up.

I'm really the wrong shape to go caving much any more, I'm built like a T. rex, little arms and big legs. The best shape for cavers is long and thin, so you can squiggle your way through.

My life's revolved around tourism. I love being with people, talking to people, and I think that came from growing up starved of social interaction till I was about 20 when I got a job at Black Water Rafting. I was their first guide, throwing people off waterfalls and larking around in the water. After a couple of years working in tourism I decided to travel the world.


Dave and I, he was a fellow guide, we put our heads together one night, and came up with this crazy plan that we were going to hitch-hike across the Sahara Desert. I was 22 at the time and I think if my kids decided to do that now I'd say absolutely not - but my parents said go for it. So we went from Guildford to Africa, through France, to Spain, then Morocco. We climbed through the High Atlas Mountains then to Algeria and Tamanrasset right in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Hitch-hiking was pretty cool. People pick you up so you can help push their vehicle when it gets stuck in the sand, so once you've got a ride you're pretty sorted. After that we went down into Niger, Burkina Faso then Ghana then back to Egypt. It took about a year and was one of those crazy things only Kiwis on their OE would ever dream of doing.

Also, you're not supposed to climb the pyramids in Egypt, but I had to at least try - Lonely Planet has a lot to answer for as it tells you how to get in for free. I snuck in the back of some graveyard and climbed to the top of one of the big three and sat up there.
Suddenly I realised that all these people were converging at the bottom so I legged it and got caught. One guy said, "very bad, you're not allowed to climb, what are we going to do about it?" Then he came very close and said, "would you like to climb another?" And off we went. I gave him a "gift" and we climbed another pyramid.

The really neat thing about adventure tourism is the customers. It's a big deal to get all the way to New Zealand, so these people are up for everything and loving life. That's who I rub shoulders with every day. Lovely adventurous, fun people, from all over the world; every different corner they come from. We're getting heaps more Russians, lots of people from South America, Indians are doing more adventure stuff.

If we didn't do adventure, New Zealand would be quite boring. If we didn't make up all these crazy exciting activities you'd come and look at some birds, the scenery would be lovely but there'd be nothing to do. The point of difference with New Zealand is we give people amazing opportunities. In the States you can't bowl up to a cave and pay someone to do the things we do. We have these trips where you can rappel into a cave, zipline in the dark under glow worms then inner-tube down rapids before climbing up a waterfall to escape.

Best travel advice? Take a very small backpack, and a very large credit card. That's it. That's it.

Further information: see waitomo.com/black-water-rafting