Elisabeth Easther talks to the owner of Shiny Paua, Paddle Board & Kayak Rental on Great Barrier Island.
I grew up in Ōtāhuhu in the 1960s. Back then the meatworks were cranking, everyone had a job, rugby league was really happening and everyone knew everyone. There were eight of us kids and we'd play out on the roads and in the creek behind our place. We had lots of adventures around the Tāmaki Estuary. My dad was from England. He'd come over to build the harbour bridge and, if you asked him about camping, he'd be like "What the hell would you want to do that for?" We hadn't connected with our Great Barrier heritage at that stage.
Because Dad was from England, our aunties would come out to visit and I knew I wanted to visit that side of the family. In the 1970s, I went with my twin sister on the last voyage the Australis made before it was scuttled. It was a pretty old boat and it took 27 days to get to Southampton via the Panama Canal. I remember going up and down the different locks and everyone being out on deck — that was fascinating. We had four stops, Tahiti, San Juan in the Caribbean, Vigo in Spain then Southampton. It was so cold when we arrived and we were met by relatives who whipped us up to Middlesbrough. It was a very industrial town, quite a doom and gloomy part of the world so I could see why Dad wanted to follow the sun to New Zealand. We didn't want to hang around Middlesbrough too long so we took jobs as chambermaids in Scotland at a place called Glenmore Lodge. It was like Outward Bound and in our time off we were allowed to join the group activities. We did one season there but because I was a spontaneous sort of a tart, when I heard there were jobs up in Iceland working in a fish factory, I just up and went. We were there for winter solstice; living in a fjord, so there was no sunshine for two or three months, but we had fun and there was lots to keep us busy — sledging, hot pools. We had no flash gear — no Kathmandu — so we were usually wearing four or five layers although inside we had central heating.
I like cycling. I used to bike around London, and I did one cycle trip from England to Holland. Off I went with a pack on my back, I didn't even have pannier bags and I just jumped on a ferry. I was told to get off the autobahn in Holland but they were very kind and just said "you can't bike here". I had a map and I never got a puncture. I hadn't thought about what I'd do if I did.
Another time I cycled with two other people from France to the Mediterranean, down to Naples, all along the coast and across Italy. When I think of those hills we did. But my poor mates — the woman really struggled, and at the end of each day she'd ask her boyfriend: "Why did you bring me on this holiday?" I thought it was tremendous but she left halfway through.
After three years overseas, I returned home and met Phil — he's a total outdoors boy — and we had four kids. We're a bit gypsy and when the kids were young we started in Rotorua, then we went to Stewart Island for three years. Phil did building and fishing and I threw myself into school, doing the little jobs a mum could do. I also worked at the local hotel then, when high school kicked in, we moved to Invercargill and bought a bed-and-breakfast hotel. It was awesome learning all about Fiordland and the Catlins.
Five years ago we moved to Great Barrier. I had some family land here but it was in a pretty inaccessible place, and then this little bach in Whangaparapara came up for sale. I wondered, how will I make a coin here? We have access to the water, we're just three minutes from Whangaparapara Lodge and I took it pretty seriously. I won't be a cowboy so, with my daughter, we qualified as stand up paddleboard instructors. My clientele tends to be mostly women my age. Maybe they lack the confidence to go out on the water so I help them.
I supplement my income with property maintenance and I manage a few Airbnbs. I always say to people "come for a paddle". Sometimes dolphins come into the harbour, or we take visitors to get a feed of mussels off the mooring ropes of the buoys. Lots of people say paddling with us is the best part of their trip.
Further information: see greatbarrier.co.nz.