Elisabeth Easther meets Cally Johnstone of The Quince Boutique Bed & Breakfast.

I grew up in Dunedin and we used to holiday in Wanaka when there was only one shop, the Four Square. It was a bit like Millers Flat is now. Or we'd go to Nelson. We never went to the beach because my mother hated sand, so we stayed at the Matai River. We had a caravan, a tent and awnings and we'd stay at camping grounds. When we travelled Mum and Dad would fill me up with carsick pills so I just slept. I remember one trip from Blenheim to Nelson. Doughnuts were a new thing, but mine came back up and I've never had one since.

My first holiday without my parents, I went to Italy on an Italian ship, from Auckland to Genoa. As we left, there was some big uprising and Dad told us not to get off the boat in Naples. But instead of going all the way to Genoa, we got off the boat in Naples. And it was terrible. We were petrified because, after six weeks in a boat, there we are, just the two of us, standing in some foreign land in 1976. And this boat is sailing off without us. I was useless but my school friend Judy could read maps and do practical things. She had a bit of nous and she took us where we were supposed to go or I'd probably still be standing there now.

When we arrived in London, we hated it so our first job was in Cornwall where we worked in a B&B and restaurant. You tell lies to get those first jobs — you tell people you've done all these things and just figure it out.

Cally Johnstone (left) and her partner Wendy run The Quince House.
Cally Johnstone (left) and her partner Wendy run The Quince House.

One morning, completely hungover, I'd come down to start breakfast and by the time Judy arrived, I was asleep on the floor and I'd done nothing. We got away with that because the woman who owned it was a drinker so she didn't know what was going on. If guests wanted steak, she'd take it out of the freezer and put it in the pie warmer. By the time they got to eat it, if they ordered rare, it was already cooked. Then she'd blame us. But it was so much fun.

Our next job was looking after a titled lady in Scotland. It was a job for one, but the pair of us took it and halved it. We didn't stay long, because Judy'd had a fling with an Italian boy from the ship and he and a friend followed her to Scotland. The boys stayed at a B&B and picked us up during our hours off. When they decided to go to Wales, we thought we'd hitch a ride. So we gave the lady breakfast — prior to breakfast we'd taken our suitcases to the bottom of the drive — then we left. We did all sorts of crazy things back then, things I wouldn't dream of doing now.

I had trained as a kindergarten teacher but somewhere along the line, my parnter Wendy and I opened a B&B, Glenfield House in Dunedin. We hosted private dinner parties and did catering but, because it was a 24/7 sort of business, we decided we needed somewhere to run away to, so we bought the B&B and Quince Cottage was born. Millers Flat is a fabulous little community. The population's about 200 and everyone works together and volunteers for everything. There's a cafe called Faigan's, a school with about 45 children, one church, a pub and a very good camping ground. And the River Clutha runs through town. Plenty of visitors come through on the Clutha Gold Cycle Trail. It starts at the Roxburgh Dam and finishes in Lawrence, and our cottages are on the trail.

We grow pretty much everything we serve here, or we source it locally. Cooking is very important to me, and Wendy has the most incredible vegetable garden.

Someone said to me the other day that she'd had a B&B but got sick of the cleaning. But I'm a cleaning nut. I don't mind cleaning the same thing every day, washing and ironing sheets. We love being busy, we just love it here.

Further information: see thequince.co.nz