Elisabeth Easther talks to the proprietor of Martinborough Hotel.

My childhood is full of beach memories like collecting pipi and looking out to Kāpiti Island. I grew up on the Kāpiti Coast but in winter we'd go down to Lake Rotoiti in the South Island. We learnt to ski at Rainbow, so I had the seaside and the snow. And because Dad's work took him to Thailand, we also travelled a lot in Asia, which really opened my eyes to other cultures.

When I finished my degree I moved to Sydney, which was an easy stepping-stone to the big wide world and it was a wonderful base from which to explore Australia. When I was transferred to London, I didn't want to go straight there and thankfully my firm let me take five months to travel. I started in Vietnam then travelled overland to China, to Nepal, then down through India.

Trekking in the Annapurna Mountains made me realise I love holidays with an achievement. Getting to the top of Annapurna was a physical challenge, although we got stuck up there, which was hilarious. We were wearing clothes that hadn't been washed in ages, drinking Himalayan tea made out of yak butter and not knowing when we'd get off the mountain.

Jacinda Cole, second left, at the top of the Annapurna pass.
Jacinda Cole, second left, at the top of the Annapurna pass.

India was full-on so I'm pleased I'd been travelling for a while before going there. We arrived overland from Nepal and our first stop was Varanasi. We should've gone somewhere like Rajasthan or Delhi first, but we got to Varanasi, dropped our bags and stepped out of our backpackers into this tiny cobbled alleyway into a crowd of people. We didn't realise till we'd taken a few steps that we'd merged with a funeral procession going down to the Ganges. You can't go against the tide and we got swept up, the body carried just above our heads.

I was by myself in India for a bit and I didn't know it was unwise for women to travel alone on trains. I was in this cheap carriage full of about 40 Indian men and we were stacked up three levels high. Thankfully a lovely man came over — he spoke very good English — and he asked what I was doing. I told him where I was going and he said I shouldn't be on this train, but he'd look after me. I didn't have much choice, I had to trust him and sure enough, he was a wonderful guy. He made me feel safe while the whole carriage gathered around in a ring, staring in fascination. No one went beyond the staring but it was a 10-hour journey, so I was very grateful for his kindness.

Iceland was amazing. We travelled around the western side where there are hot springs and beautiful mountains right next to the sea. I was determined to find a non-commercial hot spring to jump into. Some locals told us to go down this road that's not really a road in a landscape that looks like the moon. We found the hot spring but it was about 400C so there was no way we could get near it.

In Iceland they have a national delicacy made of fermented shark. I'm quite open-minded about food, but just the thought of it now makes my skin crawl. Imagine a fish that's rotted into cheese, it's one of those things that lingers and you can't get rid of the taste for days.

We went to quite a few music festivals, but it's the little ones that stick in my mind. Our last month in London, we went to Festival Number 6 at Portmerion in North Wales.
I was pregnant with twins, and it bucketed down the whole time. Because it had never rained during the festival before, the organisers hadn't thought about how to handle bad weather and when we went to leave, the cars were all underwater, flooded in. Every farmer with a tractor was called in, and they hauled the cars out. You couldn't help but laugh.

We could've stayed in London with the children but we wanted them to have the same sort of upbringing we had. Tim and I both worked in finance but it wasn't a passion so, when we moved back to New Zealand we wanted a business of our own and a flexible life. When we heard The Martinborough Hotel was for sale, at first I thought it was crazy, but we came down to get a feel for the place and driving in, it just felt right. We instantly fell in love with the hotel and the beautiful town. We're not hospitality experts but we've travelled a lot and we know what we love so our theory is that we can apply that to the hotel, and hopefully other people will love what we do.

There's lots to learn but, when it's your own business and you're passionate about it, it doesn't actually feel like work. I love this rugged coast, and I'm really excited about being based in New Zealand again.

Further information: see martinboroughhotel.co.nz