As told to Elisabeth Easther
I'm from Temuka, a town that's famous for pottery and I went to school in Timaru. When I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from Otago, I wanted to do my OE but I needed money so I went to Queenstown and found a job at The Heritage as their food and beverage supervisor. I intended to work all summer then go to Japan and teach English but I saved no money in Queenstown, so I stayed and never did do the OE.
At 26 I was working for Cure Kids and I went to Lithuania and Denmark on a Rotary group study exchange. We were immersed in Danish and Lithuanian culture. In Denmark the public health system looks after people so well, they didn't really have a concept of charity. In Lithuania, the standard of hospitals was confronting, and we met passionate, dedicated professionals trying to work in the most challenging environments. Lithuania is a beautiful country and the people are amazing. One standout memory was visiting a former KGB prison that had fronted as a kitchen. People were taken there and shot, then sent down chutes to waiting vans so people never saw the bodies being removed. The photos of all the Lithuanians thought to have been executed there took my breath away. In contrast, The Hill of Crosses serves as a testament to the power of the human spirit. When Lithuania was taken over by the Soviets, local people would plant crosses on a hill in silent protest. The Soviets would bulldoze the crosses but people kept putting them back. When you walk there now, there are over 100,000 crosses and it is the most poignant place and it really gives you perspective.
I was in Bali last year, in Lombok with my husband and daughter who is 9. We were staying at the water's edge when a massive earthquake struck at about 8pm. We went to reception, and they said there were no alerts so we went back to our room. We packed our bags just in case and I took our passports out of the safe. Then a another bigger shake happened and we got under a doorframe. We called reception but they weren't answering. I tried to check for tsunami alerts but the Internet was down. Our daughter was pretty upset but we decided, if there was an alert, an alarm would sound or someone would come and tell us. When the internet came back on, a tsunami alert had been issued so we left the resort and walked in darkness to the main road, dragging our suitcases. A building collapsed beside us. My husband yelled to see if people were okay, but there was no answer. At the main road, it was chaos, but at least there was light. Cars were going left, right and centre. We knew we wanted to get to the airport as we thought it would be the safest building on the island. A taxi stopped with two Aussies in it and they loaded us into their car. As we drove along the coast, we were terrified a tsunami was going to take us out. Before we left the hotel, my husband had raided the mini bar, so he and the Aussies cracked open a beer. We made it to the airport and there was another big quake. There was screaming and running. It was mayhem. When the power went, I began to feel real fear. We waited through the night and all the next day with rolling aftershocks. When our plane arrived at 6pm, we were dumbfounded to see it was full of tourists. We just couldn't believe that hundreds of people had been flown into this disaster.
I started work at Highlands Motorsport Park by accident. I don't have a motorsport background but when they opened in March 2013, as Cromwell locals, we went down to check it out. When I saw what they were doing, I just couldn't believe it was in my backyard and I wasn't part of it so I called to ask if there were any jobs going and got a flat "no". A short while later, Tony Quinn, the owner, called me in for a meeting. He offered me the role of business development manager and now I'm chief operating officer.
Highlands is a world-class facility where visitors can ride go-karts, do hot laps in a Ferrari or race in our fleet of Subaru WRXs. There's the National Motorsport Museum, a sculpture park and mini golf. We also have a beautiful cafe. We drive the business to be exceptional from the moment people walk through door, which makes it an absolute must-do for people visiting Central Otago.