Hundreds of Kiwi tour guides face an uncertain future, writes Juliette Sivertsen
As soon as Level 2 arrived on May 14, queries on New Zealand's travel booking websites unsurprisingly skyrocketed. With Covid-19 wiping most overseas holidays off the table for now, New Zealanders have a rare opportunity to travel their own country without having to contend with international tourists.
And while it appears Kiwis are keen to support domestic tourism, those efforts may only stretch so far. Many New Zealanders don't understand the value of a guide in their own country.
Kayak guide Kyle Mulinder has been doing guided adventure tours for nearly 20 years. But with his guiding future in limbo, he says he's concerned New Zealanders won't pay extra money to hire guides in their own country, if there's a chance they can do it themselves.
"We've all been brought up with 'she'll be right' and a number 8 wire attitude and that is deeply ingrained in our culture of 'well I can do this myself'. And we've also taken things for granted for so long, like having national parks for free," says Mulinder, who grew up in Hawke's Bay and now does kayak tours in the Abel Tasman.
"We have a different psyche and when we go overseas we get terrible guides... we get cheesy guides that are literally high school students or university students with no qualifications, who do that cheesy summer camp style 'are you ready? Give me some energy!'"
Mulinder is at pains to point out that New Zealand guides aren't like that.
"Stop bloody comparing us to those bulls**t ones overseas."
Veronika Vermeulen is the director and owner of Aroha Tours, which organises luxury private guided tours. Originally from Germany, she's spent the last 20 years working as a guide in New Zealand, and also faces an uncertain future without international travellers coming here.
She says the majority of guides accredited under ProGuidesNZ - a not-for-profit association for professional tour guides - are aged between 50 and 60.
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"We're not just mourning the loss of the lifestyle that we adore, or the income, but we're also scared because, where do we go? We are 50 or 60 years old. What's our next job going to be?" says Vermeulen. "I think a lot of them will be very lost. Are you educating yourself? Where do you go next? Is it the end?"
Vemeulen says New Zealand travellers, like Australians, are more independent. "They think they can figure it out themselves."
But could our DIY mentality also be putting us at greater risk of mishaps in the outdoors?
While many New Zealanders would like to think they understand the conditions in their own country, there are activities that can be dangerous if you don't have local knowledge.
"Kiwis are the worst to have on tour," says Mulinder. "Every disaster story I have involves a New Zealander. Because we think we know it all." Kayak rescues in the Abel Tasman inevitably involve those who've rented the equipment for a self-directed tour without a guide, he says.
Chief executive of the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, Mike Daisley, says New Zealanders tend to be overconfident about their knowledge of the outdoors, and unfortunately have a higher propensity to suffer outdoor incidents than foreign tourists.
"It's our own backyard and so we know the place, and we're outdoorsy folk. And those are sort of things we've brought through from our forebearers and our grandparents, and now most of us live in cities and we're not that outdoorsy," says Daisley.
Many New Zealanders believe because it's their own backyard, they know what they're doing, but the reality is often different, says Daisley.
"If your normal backyard, if you live in Wellington or Auckland, is the central north, and you decide to go to the South Island this year, the cold there is different to the cold in the north. Ice and black ice is a thing," he explains. "It's a different sort of cold and you can get a lot more exposure with winds, and those are the things you need to do a lot more research into."
"If you've never stepped foot in the South Island you have exactly the same issues as any other foreigner in not knowing the conditions," she says.
But the value of a guide isn't just about safety. Mulinder says it's also about being a best friend on tour and creating an unforgettable experience that you can't get on your own.
"I can show you so much more, I can show you the history of different pa sites, and I'm not hiding it from you, but I need to be there with you to experience it.
"Ten per cent of my job is safety. And the rest of it is exceeding expectations and creating a journey that you would never have had."