Elisabeth Easther talks to the creator and host of Awesome Walks.
Being raised in Zimbabwe and South Africa, our family holidays were quite local. My parents were never really drawn to overseas travel, despite mum being from Mauritius and dad's family being from England and we tended to enjoy bush and game parks, walking and mountains. We were outdoorsy and active.
Visiting game parks as a child, I remember looking for snakes when walking on warm rocks, because that's where puff adders like to hang out. I remember going to Fothergill Island in the Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe, an island on Lake Kariba joined to the game reserve by a low-lying spit, where elephants would walk across when the water was low. You either flew in or came by boat, and the pilot had to buzz the runway to clear the animals before landing. The thatched cottages faced the water and you could lie in bed and watch elephants and hippos at the waterside.
Alec and I met after our respective OEs. I spent part of mine in the Caribbean cooking and crewing on charter yachts. Those sorts of holidays allow people to get to areas that are only accessible by water, and often yours are the only footprints in the sand. There's a tiny island off the coast of Anguilla, a sandy atoll with 13 palm trees surrounded by a pretty coral reef. Every day enterprising West Indians took chilly bins over on boats and set up a bar on the beach. It was very popular with guests.
One time, I'd prepped the evening meal and went ashore. You get to know the bartenders so I meandered up to the bar and sat down when the skipper of another charter boat said, 'are you Philippa Parsons?' That was my maiden name. And it transpired he was in my primary school class, and he was the first boy I ever kissed. I remember it distinctly, behind the bike shed on the last day of school and there he was on this minute little island. It made me realise how small the world is.
The Caribbean was full of adventures. We'd get warnings of big storms and dramatically sail away from them. Once, bringing the boat back to Antigua, just the skipper and me, we were sailing through the night, taking turns on the helm when we noticed another boat following us. And it looked as if it was coming straight for us so we called to this unknown boat on the radio. "This is yacht Ocean Magic, please identify yourself". Nothing came back and eventually it was clear they were heading straight for us so we turned the motor on and put up as much sail as we dared when someone on the other boat said through a loud speaker, "prepare to be boarded!". It turned out to be the coastguard. The area was rife with cocaine in the early 80s, with drugs moving by boat to Florida. But the coastguard don't announce themselves, as people just start tossing everything overboard. They weren't overly apologetic; they were just doing their job.
Because of Alec's Greek heritage, when we first holidayed with small children we gravitated towards Greece, as we really wanted to give our children a taste of their Greek-ness. We'd go across to the island of Karpathos and spend summers there, the kids running barefoot through the village. The Greeks laugh and dance, they kiss each other, they're noisy, they're loud. They treasure their families and they'll share everything, irrespective of how much or how little they've got.
Moving to New Zealand in 1994, we spent our first holidays exploring. We went skiing for the first time; we'd never been in snow in South Africa. We also developed a love of camping, and relished the fact that, in New Zealand you could put up a tent on a remote coastal spot and it would still be there at the end of day.
One of Alec's mottos is that we'll only regret the things we don't do so, for the past six years we've been looking at how to make a living out of our shared love of food and entertaining, tramping and the freedom of camping. But how could we turn that into a business? And that's how Awesome Walks was born. We looked all over the country as to where to do it, but found the answer right on our doorstep in the Waitakeres. All the guests have to do is leave our base in the morning and explore the incredible Waitakeres while each night they stay in a fully equipped Kiwi caravan, towed to wherever they emerge, with their luggage, food and linen. The Hillary Trail is only about seven years old but it's already becoming one of New Zealand's great walks.
To me, travelling is learning about other places and cultures, yet with all the travel we've done, the things we remember are thanks to the people we've met and their passion for the place they call home. And that's the thing with Awesome Walks, we're passionate about what we do and where we live.
Further information: see awesomewalks.nz