The founder of Wānaka's Cardrona Distillery Desiree Reid Whitaker shares her favourite holiday memories
What do you miss most about travel right now?
Being able to come straight home. We have a small team in the UK, and I had to travel there earlier this year for six weeks, which meant a two-week stay in MIQ. The MIQ team looking after the arrivees were kind, but I missed the luxury of travelling straight home.
What are your strongest memories from the first overseas trip you ever took?
Mum and Dad won Farmer of the Year in 1988, and we travelled to the US and to the Ecuadorian jungle in South America with the prize money. I remember the scale of the United States – Upstate New York, Niagara, Texas and California. I remember the giant beans in South America - wild jungle beans about 1m long and inside the pod there was a sweet fluff cloaking the big seeds – nature's candyfloss.
What was a standard family holiday like when growing up?
Our holidays were humble but glorious. We camped religiously at Glendhu Bay at Lake Wānaka each summer, and then from the age of 6, we stayed at my grandparents' holiday house in Wānaka. Summers in the blistering Central Otago summer heat form the heart of my childhood holiday memories.
Who has most inspired your travels?
Not who, but what. Whisky.
What is the greatest trip you've ever been on?
Probably the greatest was backpacking solo when I was 21 down from Latvia, through Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, all the way down to Sicily. Taking in mind-altering places, like Auschwitz, the Baltics, ancient cities including Gdansk, Vienna, Verona, Assisi, Florence and Cava de Tirreni.
And the worst?
Arriving in Venice in the evening by train. Because I was arriving late, I had booked ahead, letting the receptionist know my ETA. When I arrived my reservation at the backpackers had been given away. It was a learning experience.
What's your approach to packing for a big trip?
Lay out everything you want to take. Halve it. Then halve it again. Take two separate money cards (any type), and separate them, the second as emergency back up if your first is stolen.
What is the destination that most surprised you – good or bad?
The Baltics when I visited in 2000. I was surprised by the extremes of poverty married with fierce national pride. The Baltics had regained their independence from the Soviet Union just nine years earlier. I flew into Riga to visit friends who had worked for me at a pub in London, and from there I backpacked down through Lithuania. The feeling of independence was palpable in Latvia – the people were incredibly poor but fiercely proud of their independence and nationality. In 2000 the Baltics still felt the remains of covert attack from the Soviet Union – the ticks in the fields had been infected with meningitis, meaning if you took a walk through a field and you were bitten by a tick you needed to go straight to hospital for treatment. This happened to one of my friends while I was staying with them. Phosphorus had been tipped into the Baltic Sea, so that it resembled natural amber as it rolled up onto the beaches. The Baltic people traditionally gather amber from the beaches, and they would be severely burned by mistakenly picking up the phosphorus instead of the natural amber.
Where was your most memorable sunrise/sunset?
Erice, in Sicily, a mountain top medieval village that looks out across the whole of the island.
What do you miss most about home when you travel?
These days, my children. I travel a lot for work. Ritchie is 6 and Reid is 4.
What's your favourite thing about travel?
Learning the things you don't know. Learning about the similarities and differences of various national cultures.
The Spirit of Cardrona by Desiree Reid-Whitaker. Published by HarperCollins NZ. RRP $60.