Elisabeth Easther talks to the CEO of Auckland Seaplanes.
I grew up in Germany, near Munich, and in preparation for studying in London I spent two months travelling through the United States to improve my English. Back then, in the 80s, you could buy a standby ticket with Delta Airlines and travel as much as you wanted for 30 days. One morning in the Grand Canyon, it was really early, and I was sitting with my feet dangling off a cliff. I was looking out at this incredible scenery and listening to Whitney Houston on my Walkman. I'll never forget that moment.
In 1988, I went to Singapore for my studies. That was my first foray into Asia and most weekends I'd travel. Back then, to get to Koh Samui you had to take an overnight barge from the mainland in Thailand. The whole bottom of the boat was filled with mattresses so you'd sleep for eight to 10 hours. Once you were there, the main transport was jeeps from Vietnam left over from the war and you'd hire these jeeps and drive around the island. Going back in 96 for a friend's wedding, there was an airport, so you could fly straight from Bangkok and we were picked up in a Volvo limousine and taken to a beautiful resort. That was such an incredible change over a short time.
In the 80s and 90s, travel airport security was so relaxed. Masako, my wife, and I are keen divers and I remember flying from Tokyo to Palau. Masako had just given me a dive knife. I never checked my dive gear because back then there were only two or three flights a week so, if you lost your bag you lost your whole dive holiday. Going through the scanner, the friendly Japanese gentleman at security said "I think that metal object is a knife." "Yes", I said, "it's my dive knife. My wife just gave it to me." So he measured the knife and the blade was 12cm. The regulation at the time, if the blade was less than 15cm you could take it on the plane, so he gave it back to me. I was so happy not to lose the present from my wife.
Shark feeding was still allowed when I visited Tahiti. You'd dive down and position yourself on the coral outcrops around a big, open, sandy area. The dive master would swim down and place the bones and head of a tuna in the middle of the circle then swim away. Then the sharks would appear, and there'd be nothing but bubbles and bodies as the sharks ripped the tuna carcass to bits. One day, I was diving and at first there were no sharks. Then, all of a sudden, there were four or five, then 10. I turned around to look at my dive buddy and I saw that half of his mask had filled with blood. He must've had an artery burst in his nose. It was really hard for me to explain a plan underwater so I gave a sign to go to the surface. "Mate," I said to him, "your mask is full of blood and all these sharks are here, I suggest you flush the blood from your mask, then we dive down and swim along the bottom back to the boat." Luckily we got out safely but that could've
When two of my staff members passed away in quick succession, it made us want to leave the big cities of London and Tokyo in favour of a more balanced life. On the plane, our Japanese purser Mr Tomita asked what we were doing. My wife said we were going on a trip to decide if we should live in New Zealand or Australia. Mr Tomita lent down next to my wife and said, "I am Japanese. I have lived in Australia and worked for Lufthansa and New Zealand is so much better than Australia." I went to sleep and woke up two hours later and this man was still kneeling by my wife. That Air NZ flight attendant really sold New Zealand to her, and we could've saved ourselves a trip to Australia.
I love helping people enjoy Auckland from the air. It's so stunning from that perspective. We have lots of sailors fly with us and they often say, "I've sailed in Auckland for 40 years and I've never seen it like this before." In 300 metres you go from travelling at five knots at sea level to being airborne and flying at 50 knots, with just 20 seconds between one state and the other. Because we're up just 500 metres you can see all the colours of the water. We even see whales and dolphins. It's a great experience.
Further information: see aucklandseaplanes.co.nz