As told to Elisabeth Easther.

I'm originally from Wellington, but I've been living in the Bay of Islands for the past 30 years. We bought Fullers when they went into receivership in 1989 and moved here from Auckland in 1990.
In 11 years, we turned the business around and, in the process, I became a
committed Northlander.

I did the traditional OE in the 1970s, and was away for six years, starting in Australia, then going to London. It was nothing out of the ordinary but it did give me an idea of what travel meant to people and how important it is to look at life from a different perspective. In London, I was fascinated by all the places I'd seen on the Monopoly board as a kid. I also played a lot of cricket in the UK, and was part of a team of expat Kiwi cricketers. We once had a practice match against New Zealand on The Oval. I don't think you could do that sort of thing these days, professional sport is all so controlled. I also made it to centre court for a final at Wimbledon without a ticket. I knew a BBC cameraman and he'd lend us his badge. Sport was quite important to me when I travelled — I even met my wife at an All Blacks match in Dublin.

I'm probably a lot braver now, as a traveller, than I was back then and now I've got more time on my hands I'm picking it up again — a new-age traveller in my 70s. These days retirement means retiring from your job, but getting stuck into having fun. My wife and I recently walked Il Camino de Santiago, the trail the pilgrims walked in Spain. It can take up to 100 days and there are a lot of people on it, but it still felt very authentic, unlike some parts of Europe where everything feels as if it's been merged into one. We booked with an operator who took out the heavy lifting; they transferred our bags and organised accommodation to the level we wanted. We just had to arrive in Pamplona, pick up a map and away we went, self-guided walking. We did 25km a day in 38C heat, at times it was quite rough terrain but we loved it.


Before that we'd also done a pilgrim walk in Japan — The Basho Trail. We were particularly struck by Japanese society, it's so different to ours and there's an amazing purity to their culture. That trail's about 1500km in total, with people tending to do it in 10-day sections. We had never been to Japan before, we had no idea what was in front of us and it was the most amazing experience, accommodation ranged from five-star hotel rooms to sleeping on paper-thin mats in a monastery.

We've also done several cycling holidays — the Alps2Ocean, from Mt Cook to Oamaru, we've done the Otago Rail Trail and a couple of journeys in France, the UK and Germany. All rides have their own special character but Alps2Ocean really stands out, it's a good challenge and now electric bikes are opening cycling up to older people, many of whom would never have considered cycling the 300km of the Alps2Oceans, but that sort of thing's so achievable now.
With our new venture, Northland Experiences, we're trying to do something for tourism in the Far North by sharing the culture and giving visitors time to stop and talk to people, which is what travel should be about. We recognise that visitors from overseas have a limited amount of time, and we want them to come here and have a unique experience by finding out what makes Northland so special. It's also very easy to have a free holiday in Northland — you can walk in the forest and have a surf, but we unashamedly want visitors to spend money in order to benefit the local people. If you look at the Otago Rail Trail, lots of small towns there have come back to life, and our Twin Coast Cycle Trail is doing the same thing. Local people can benefit from increased tourism by sharing the stories of their own lives.

Our main itinerary is called from Cook to Kupe, and it's a week-long exploration from Russell to the Hokianga. Other tours include a walking tour of Cape Brett and the Whangaroa Harbour. Or visitors can cycle the Twin Coast Trail, which they can do on e-bikes if they like, and all the while they'll be supporting Northland without compromising what's unique about the area. They'll learn about culture and heritage, Māori history and way of life, and early European history too. To international visitors, I would suggest they come to Northland first, visit Waitangi, spend some time soaking it up, then move on down the rest of New Zealand, Queenstown or Rotorua — but
start here.

Mike Simm is the owner of Northland Experiences.

Further information: see