Jeremy Black tells Elisabeth Easther about skiing, surfing, crocodiles and luxury hotels.
My father used to run the Rydges Hotel in Queenstown so I grew up there and, having been brought up in hotels, hospitality is in my blood. Queenstown was quite different back then, compared to what it's like today. Back then, during winter, every Monday was ski day. We'd all turn up to school with our ski gear, then get on the bus and go up the ski fields for the day. After school and during the holidays, my sisters and I would spend time running around the hotel and causing trouble. Three months ago I moved back to Queenstown, to manage the same hotel my dad used to run. It's fair to say he's pretty proud.
After I finished university — I did a Bachelor of Commerce at Otago, majoring in business management and economics — I went over to London to do my OE. When I first arrived, I got a job on a shearing gang outside London, in a small village called Helmdon, and each day we'd head to a different farm to shear. That's definitely not what I thought I'd end up doing in London. Before then, I'd never shorn a sheep in my life.
After I'd saved enough pounds to go travelling I went to Greece — I'd definitely go back there — and Croatia, the Netherlands, Germany and Morocco. And every time I ran out of money I'd come back to London and do things like construction work or landscaping. I didn't want to get locked into a full-time, career job — I just wanted to earn enough money to keep travelling.
In Morocco, we went trekking in the Atlas Mountains. There wasn't much planning, we just hired a local guide and set off. We ate the local food, interesting stuff like sheep brains and snake. The snake was cooked on a fire. I'd describe it as being similar to chicken. When I visit a place, I like to eat the sorts of foods locals eat. When my family went to France for Mum's 50th birthday, I ate frogs and snails, traditional French cuisine. And I really loved the snails, the escargots.
When I left London, I went to Sydney and landed a job as a corporate management cadet for Rydges Hotels, and because I was flexible with where I would go, I lived all over Australia. I did three years in Sydney. We lived out by Bondi so beach culture was a big part of our lives. We went to Darwin for a year, it's like a completely different country, so beautiful. We visited places like Kakadu National Park in a four-wheel-drive. We went on boat tours and saw beautiful waterfalls, and crocodiles. It's so hot up there, but because there are crocs and jellyfish, you wouldn't catch me swimming in the ocean, but some people do, although everyone in Darwin has a pool.
I like to surf, but I haven't surfed for quite a long time, at least until a mate took me down to the Catlins a few weeks ago. He's a mad keen surfer and he took me there when the waves were huge. I wouldn't say I wanted to go out but he twisted my arm, and I couldn't say no once I got there. The waves were about six foot, and I was in borrowed gear. He had the full kit on, hood, gloves and everything and I just had a wetsuit and no hood, so every time I went under I got the full icecream headache. I didn't last long, the first big set of waves almost drowned me and I headed straight back to shore.
Working in hotels, you do see the odd strange thing. Naked people in the hallways appear now and again. I don't really know how it happens, but I expect people get up in the night to go to the bathroom, then they go out the wrong door and it closes and locks behind them. They then try to use anything they can to cover themselves, furniture or pot plants, then they sneak down to reception to ask for a key. I've had to deal with it on occasion, and we do have robes and towels for those moments.
Three months ago I was offered the job I'm doing now in Queenstown, looking after the QT and Rydges Hotels. The QT is a brand new part of the hotel, it was built 18 months ago, and is a five-star, boutique hotel, while the Rydges side is about to be completely redeveloped. That will be a challenge, but for me, the best thing about hotel management, you're dealing with people from all parts of the world, from all sorts of cultures and every day is different.
Jeremy Black is the manager of QT Queenstown and Rydges Lakeland Resort — qthotelsandresorts.com