The general manager of Waimangu Volcanic Valley talks to Elisabeth Easther.
In 1988, my family travelled to the UK, Canada and Honolulu to support my older brother, who was playing in a high school rugby tournament. My brother was the captain of the team, a big seventh former, and I was in the third form. I remember being blown away by the size of London and finding it strange how limited the light was. Being December, it was dark at about 4pm, so we'd go back to where we were staying and huddle around the heater. Kids today get so many more opportunities to travel, airfares are cheaper and it's not as big a deal, but for us, that trip was a major event and my parents saved intensely for three years to make it possible.
When I travel, I really like spending time in one place, rather than buzzing round, trying to cram in too many things. When we visited Spain for a month, as part of that trip I swam across the Gibraltar Strait between Morocco and Spain. I trained for a year, but had booked a time with the organisers a few years earlier. You swim on your own but with a support boat, and they make sure you have the best tides, and they manage the weather. I set off from Punta de Tarifa on the southern coast of Spain and arrived in Cries Point in Morocco. There are no sharks but I did see dolphins, which was neat. The big thing to be aware of is container ships as it's a major traffic channel. I also had to take my passport and halfway across they radioed the authorities to tell them a swimmer was coming and, at the halfway point, they took down the Spanish flag and put up the Moroccan flag. It took about four and half hours and, after reaching Morocco, I touched Africa, then got back in the boat and returned to Spain. Swimming in June it was extremely cold, as it's the exact meeting point of the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans. You can really feel the chill coming from the Atlantic, but it had been a dream of mine, to do a big, open-water swim.
In South America, after spending time in Brazil and Argentina on a work trip, I stayed on in Chile for a few days and in Santiago I arranged to meet some people I'd seen on Instagram. They make this cool plywood furniture and I asked if I could visit their workshop. They sent me an address in industrial Santiago but when I arrived, they weren't there because there was a student riot breaking out on the same street as their workshop. Because I got caught up in it, I saw first-hand how their government deals with unrest. They just send in the riot squad and use armoured vehicles, tear gas and high-powered water cannons to clear the streets. But the students weren't too worried and they lit fires on the road, and threw rocks and other objects so the police decided to stamp it out. There was nowhere I could go. I couldn't get out as the area was cordoned off, I couldn't find anyone who spoke English, so I tried to look as nondescript as I could. I still got caught in the tear gas and had to scurry up an alleyway to clear my eyes. The whole thing probably lasted only an hour and then I spent a couple of hours with the furniture people, who had eventually got through the cordon. They said that sort of thing's not uncommon so it was no big deal but I was glad my family wasn't with me.
Today I'm the general manager of Waimangu Volcanic Valley, south of Rotorua. Covering 17ha, it's the world's youngest geothermal valley where visitors can walk and hike through regenerating native forest, check out amazing geothermal action and go for a cruise on Lake Rotomahana, which is where the pink and white terraces were covered by the Mt Tarawera eruption in 1886. Today we're clearing a path for nature to take care of itself, while still giving it a bit of a helping hand. We work with DoC to control pests like wallabies, possums, rats and stoats and keep the weeds down. We've also worked with scientists, to pinpoint the exact locations of the terraces and last year we launched an app so that, when you're cruising on the lake, you can use augmented reality to actually "see" the terraces. The story of this region is fascinating, the environment and the history, the legacy of that geothermal activity. I learnt about the terraces at school, the eruption itself was so dramatic and the maunga is deeply important to local people. The eruption changed Rotorua forever and it's an important part of what we do and who we are, and, for those reasons, working here really appealed to me, to stand by the concept of manaakitanga and be connected to the birthplace of tourism in Aotearoa.
Further information: see waimangu.co.nz