Elisabeth Easther talks to Koro Carman of Footprints Waipoua.
Growing up in Rawene in the 1980s was cool. Small town New Zealand really was about whanau. We never wanted for anything. We were outdoor kids into rugby, touch, golf, fishing, swimming, horses, boats and motorbikes — all that good stuff.
My first trip overseas was to Singapore when I was about 11. I don't have particularly fond memories of the heat and humidity. One day, when walking outside, I started bleeding from the nose and it wouldn't stop. There's blood everywhere, so I'm rushed to a nearby rubbish bin and I almost filled it up. I was taken into a building with air conditioning and given water, then I was good to go again but at the time I thought I was going to die.
My whole focus during my teens was on rugby, to be an All Black, and rugby enabled me to travel. On a high school trip to Canada, my billet family lived up in the hills in West Vancouver, surrounded by trees. I remember the first morning, walking to the dining area and there's a huge window overlooking the water. I'm about to sit down, and a bald eagle flies past and I thought, what a cool welcome to Canada.
After rugby, I wondered what to do with my life, so I signed up for a tourism course. Not because I wanted to do it but because I get $14,000 for signing up. But the course was actually pretty cool. Our first field trip was to the Bay of Islands and I felt compelled not to sit at the back of bus, but right up the very front, on what's called the dummy seat. The driver was Maori and he told me all about his coach driver journey. He painted this picture of a stunning country and all these incredible experiences that visitors have. Even though I'm shy, I could picture myself behind the wheel so, on the way back, I asked him to ring his boss to see if there was any work experience. I started cleaning the buses, and I must have cleaned them really well because the boss paid for me to get my licence. Then when someone didn't rock up for work, I got to drive transfers, then gradually I moved up to doing tours — and that was me hooked on tourism.
Footprints Waipoua started because the owners of the Copthorne in Omapere wanted to increase their bed nights and they realised they needed to create an experience to add value to their destination. We knew the primary reason for people coming to the area was the trees. We started with a day tour, the beach and the forest, but realised people weren't willing to pay for something they could get for free. So the two original guides and I went to the forest to talk and think. We sat underneath Te Matua Ngahere for ages, talking and sitting, then the unthinkable happened. Day turned into night. Those boys who live in the forest, hunting and gathering, they get that all the time but, for someone like me, it was my first time in a forest at night, and my senses went through the roof.
Things looked so different walking back to the van. We didn't have torches, we didn't think we'd be there that long so we had to rely on our ears and we heard kiwi and morepork. I heard sounds I'd never heard before. I saw things I'd never seen before. And I wondered if I'm having this enhanced experience, what would visitors think? Later that night, I went to my old man's house and banged on his door. I woke him up — it
was 11.30pm — and I said: "I think we just found it."
I think visitors to our forest get a feeling of connectedness. There's magic in the forest and we connect people to that magic. In the early days we'd ask for feedback, and I had this Maori lady share this proverb. "Tell me, I will forget. Show me, I will remember.
Involve me, I will understand."