Friday, October 28, 2011

Ye Rugby World Cup overfloweth...

And so it was... 

The Rugby World Cup 2011.

Done, over, finished, completed, at an end but at a really good one. The boys in Black, namely New Zealand's prized All Blacks took away the golden William Webb Ellis trophy that has eluded the nation for the past 24 years. The country collectively held its breath, the clock ticked over and the partying started and did not stop until the early, or late hours the following morning. 

I think this week the whole  country is still recovering and the 'what-if's' are just not worth thinking about, so we won't. It will take a wee while to sink in, let alone for the players all and those people around the world who have devoted the best part of 3 years to making it happen. 

After all and as someone said yesterday on the radio, "they don't engrave the scores on the Cup."

The competition was incredible. It was a battle, but a great one - full of intense rivalries, hard fought games, narrow wins, an empowering public, a welcoming nation and what's now been dubbed 'the best World Cup ever.'

There could not have been a better way to finish such a superb event here in New Zealand than with the win but not only was it about the rugby (and the fact that we won it) but also about the way Kiwi's embraced our overseas, visiting friends. It was a humbling sight to see - and it happened all around the country in even the smallest towns. 

Our travelers who were here at the time (and some who are still lingering on as the vibe is only very slowly returning to normal) have all told us that the energy, the openness, the willingness to go that extra mile, the smiles, the support (for whatever colours one's wearing) has ensured they all walk away from our shores with a sense of New Zealand and its people. What more can you ask for...?

Well done Kiwi's and well done to all of you who made the loyal effort to come down to our shores to support your home teams. We have no doubt you enjoyed all aspects of your time here, hope you stay in touch and come back to our shores in 24 years time when we host it again (we're just putting it out there!)...

And now onto summer and all the La Nina goodness it brings. Apparently it's going to be another long, hot one like last year... Ahhhh, those are the words we like to hear. Come on down - the water's fine.

Ka Kite Ano.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It’s just one of those things I think – the need to write down your thoughts, especially when in places as juxtaposed as Nepal and the world they call third…

Incredibly beautiful, insanely polluted, defyingly peaceful, super busy and all in a country the size of England and Wales put together. Motorbikes, horn-honking, Namaste’s and dhal bhat, this Himalayan country is amazing no matter how you look at it.

Despite its mountainous western reputation (whatever that may be), few people realize that Nepal is one of the world’s poorest nations, with the GDP being only USD400 per annum… And here I am earning that sum in 3 days to merely be here ‘researching.’ It just doesn’t seem just. The best thing about this unjust however is the good old dose of reality to bring your beliefs (and therefore issues) into perspective. I can’t imagine what some of these people would think when rolling up to our modest Auckland property with its roof actually on, running water (yep, both hot and cold) ‘on tap’ so to speak and the neatly manicured lawn out the back.

Juxtaposition - it’s something that’s made me smile while hiking through these incredibly basic, mountainside villages with the Nepali smiles being the first thing you see…

As I sit here typing on the free wi-fi at one of the many local restaurants, a thought comes back to me that I’ve been trying to pinpoint over the last few days. It’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach but I’ll try to put it in words…

When I was that younger, ‘invincible’ 22yo being (and I’m sure most of us, read Westerners understand), when traveling alone I was at my most free - happy and free actually. There was no one else to really have to deal with, you always met people along the way but ultimately it was your way of seeing the world, at your pace. And I really, really loved it. I still do however now, there are small differences that make it harder and on reflection about that said gut feeling, I think it’s -

A)   I’m in love – great, but not having that lover with you experiencing the very essence of these amazing places is hard
B)   It’s not my travel I’m doing now but travel for, and on behalf of others
C)   The level of responsibility as a result is quite large which I feel detracts from my own level of travel nirvana…

I find it takes more time. It takes time to settle into being alone, it takes time to tell yourself that you’re okay and can only do what you can do (for others) and it takes time to try to relay what you’re seeing each day to those you love.

Don’t get me wrong… Time away from others is amazing and incredibly necessary in this day and age to maintain ones independence and sanity - that really is something I think more people need. So, when I get it I do relish it, eventually. And once that happens, it becomes so crystal clear…

This life of mine (ours) is nothing short of phenomenal and it’s through absolute privilege slash luxury slash self-creation-after-an-amazing-life-start, that I get to have the experiences and therefore these opportunistic world views that I have.

I really do wish that every person on this globe could have the opportunities that I have however on Nepali reflection, perhaps the fact that these people have not had exactly that is the sole reason they simply smile and offer me their genuine Namaste’s…

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Habits are hard to form

Don't worry, I've seen that it's been over a year (almost to the day) since posting a blog. They are just hard to create I reckon, and I mean habits not blogs. So much has happened since then I don't know where to begin but I'll start with...

Skiing during New Zealand's winter last year (which was absolutely superb at Treble Cone) was the start to what has since then, been an amazing year. The snow fell, the turns were made and the apres-ski was had and you know the best thing? It's all just kicked in again for this winter so with luck I'll get amongst.

Come October 2010 and Bhutan was next on the list, as I was guiding some pretty high-rollers over in that mystical and ancient world of Central Asia. It most definitely seeped into my veins and was a hard place to leave however it looks like there could be a re-visiting option again soon which is highly exciting... The amazing people and their culture, the untouched nature of their Himalayan mountain peaks and chiming 'chortens' with prayer flags flapping those prayers skyward - makes you remember how young our lovely New Zealand really is.

A fantastic summer followed awhich felt like it lasted for about a decade... It was hot, stayed hot and just generally gave us Auckland folk a new meaning to the term 'Indian Summer'. If that's the case again this year, we'll be laughing all the way to the beach.

On a slightly more serious note, there was however quite the hiccup with the devastating Christchurch earthquake and all the damage that Mother Nature's carnage caused. It was quite the ordeal being in the heart of the city centre when it struck - narrowly escaping the collapsed building facade I was walking out of and seeing the Cathedral Spire crash down into Cathedral Square with a few lucky escapes that followed... Everyone has a story that was there and the effects are still being felt. They are a resilient bunch those Cantabs and the shakes are now apparently subsiding - famous last words but fingers are well and truly crossed...

The summer wrap up came and went with Kiwi Does It being extremely busy (to be expected with such an amazing country to show-off) and then Easter too, with the odd egg or two being consumed. Normally it's up around 15 - 20 however for some reason this year there was discipline...

So now, with less than 2 months out from the Rugby World Cup and a lot of international travel on the cards, saying it's all go is an understatement... Other than the price gouging that some New Zealand accommodation providers are stupidly doing and the odd, controversial stadium-jab here and there, it's shaping up to be a great event and one that I'm sure will do great things for our small, Kiwi economy. An event that size can't help but create a buzz and Auckland will be no exception - it's already starting.

Rugby aside, we have lots of clients gearing up to trip around the country on either side of their booked seats for the games and the whole country will love the opportunity to look after our travelers from abroad.

The travel industry never sleeps, which is precisely why it's an exciting industry to be part of. While the travel and the people-meets are all important, it's always nice to just get home, take it all in and work out how you can best improve your services through the new skills and experiences that you've just had.

Which is why I need more hands on deck - watch this space and I promise it won't be another year before writing another 'web-blog'... Too many good things are happening!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Samoa and her Serenity

There is such a thing as island time but in certain island destinations, that time may come at a price…

For those of us lucky enough to get the chance to escape the New Zealand winter by heading to the sun, surf and serenity of the many South Pacific island destinations, the mere act of being there is heaven on earth. Our pale bodies getting some much needed Vitamin D, those Pina Coladas that just beg to be ordered (because you can) and the reading of that now-famous Steig Larsson trilogy (again, because you can) being all par for the course.

I had yet to visit Samoa however many of my friends had, so I figured it was time to get over there and get a feel for it first hand. Despite the relaxation and much needed time out, I was also there to scope Samoa out from a work perspective as – somewhere that I could potentially send clients both on their way to, and coming from their Kiwi Does It New Zealand itinerary. When planning these top-end trips, I am often asked for stopover recommendations, especially with those honeymoon folk desperately wanting some down time…

We looked into accommodation at the top end (our target market) and found Sinalei on the southern coast of Upolu and Le Lagoto on the island of Savaii. Both of these resorts are in the luxury category with Sinalei having just reopened after being completely wiped out by Mother Nature and her tsunami in 2009.

Having trawled the net and decided on Samoa, the introduction emails were sent, the flights were booked and the commitment made – and then the countdown was on.

The experience came around quickly and finished with the same speed, and so it was that we returned from the beautiful islands of Samoa after only a mere 5 days of bliss. It was without doubt a stunning destination to visit. Yes, I did get burnt and yes, I did order a Pina Colada however I have already read the trilogy so I opted for something slightly more obscure – Paul Tordays ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ (and I highly recommend it).

Without harping on about it, the damage post tsunami was not hugely visible where we went. However, the graves in the front yards of nearly every home were testament to the depth of tragedy that was. The smiles were still given freely, the waving was clearly still a custom and the timeframe upon which we worked was clearly still relaxed. As far as I was concerned, it was a great experience.

However (and I will just remind you quickly) the purpose of my visit was to get a feel for the place from my clients’ perspective. Is it somewhere with the level of accommodation and service required for my clientele and do the prices reflect this?

To be honest, I think there would need to be some serious expectation-setting in order for their experience to be a smooth one. There are a couple of reasons I say this and I will start with the most obvious…

As a rule, my travellers would be arriving from either the continental US or on the back end of the super-lodge experience around New Zealand – their expectations will be pretty high. As a result, pricing is a sensitive issue. It’s one of those realities that everyone is conscious of no matter where you work or what you do for a crust. Money is arguably needed for almost everything and we all like to get more ‘bang’ for our buck, especially post GFM (that’s like, Global Financial Melt-down for you cyber-virgins).

With regards to Samoa, the need to get heads on pillows has understandably been the first and foremost priority however with that comes the visitor expectation. To be honest, at around USD500 per night, the Beachside Fales (albethem brand new) were not up to scratch. They lacked basic amenities such as any hint of a mini-bar, TV or sound system and, while I am most definitely not one to stay in the room watching TV, my clients may be. The photos from the old website have been used and as amazing as it looked, gone was the outdoor shower, there was no beachside hammock in sight and the rooms are now a completely different setup. Come on people, update the website – it’s only fair.

Secondly, service. Despite loving the culture and resonating with it on a personal level, I felt that the relaxed nature (or lack of training?) of the Samoan people ultimately hindered necessities at these resorts such as service and upkeep. Our showerhead hit nothing but the wall it was attached to, the roof of our bathroom was a mildew-grey (the rest was white, the compendium stated a mini-bar service was available however when asked it wasn’t, and there was clearly no communication around our check out, as we were charged full rates when I had been dealing with management for over 6 weeks. Blank stares and simple answers were common though, but all with that Samoan smile so its hard to get worked up over anything.

I really can understand it on a certain level and I have no doubt that it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have staff that are local villagers and walk down the beach to work – how cool is that? On the other, you have a luxury resort offering a luxury product, at luxury prices, with below luxury attention to detail. Again, the small things become large when you are charged through the nose for them.

One of the key issues that most operators face is the expectation of their travelling clientele and the managing of them. I feel the most pivotal factor in this process is knowledge of the product you are selling. By knowing, I don’t just mean of the website (which may or may not be current), the brochure or the location of the country. I guess the word ‘knowing’ could be replaced with ‘experiencing’ – and it has to be first hand.

Despite our initial contact with the resort being somewhat disorganised, there were just those little things that were missing – for want of a better word, the ‘polish.’ For those frequent top-end travellers among us you will know what I mean…

In order to marry together what I experienced personally with what I expect for my clients, perhaps some in-depth training angled towards the luxury end of the market would be a good start. There is obviously some training that goes on but perhaps more experienced people could get in there and call the shots. That way, the locals would know what to polish, the clients would be charged the right amount and they would recommend it to all and sundry.

Please don’t get me wrong Samoa, I still think you are beautiful. I feel like I have been hard on you, but I had my agent hat on. Take that off and replace it with my traveller hat and I loved you. I loved your lush, fruit-scented native forests. I loved your white-toothed, cheeky grins from children and adults alike. I loved your completely ‘pimped out’ public buses with flames down the sides that were overflowing and I loved your water – oh the crystal clear, brimming-with-electric-coloured-fish water you have…

Samoa, I’ll come back to you and this time I’ll have my surfboard.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

carboNZero = Green As bro!

Tonight Mathew, we're going to be... ENVIRONMENTAL.

Impossible you say (and you're not without reason), especially considering we are talking the travel industry. I mean, the words 'global travel' and 'environmentally friendly' = irony, surely. Some would even say to the point of being like rain on your wedding day, or that free ride once you've already paid. 

In this day and age, travel and the mere act of boarding a plane is frowned upon to a large degree and quite understandably too - there are not too many things out there that top the carbon emissions incurred from air travel and the associated anti-green images that go with it. However, as a result the travel industry has had to pull its socks up along with the rest of the world's industries (bar BP clearly) and despite intention and whether it's because you care or simply just want to jump on the sustainable bandwagon to look good, bettering our operations and being conscious of the old 'footprint' is surely a good thing.

To be honest, it's been quite the mental barrier getting this whole 'green initiative' up and running, to the point where as of the end of May and after our successful audit, Kiwi Does It Ltd is carboNZero!!! A very proud feeling indeed with that 90's little framed certificate to go with! Yep, here at Kiwi Does It our office and operations are green friendly (and we're working on our itineraries too) which means we do actually care. And it's not just that token care where you pay some money and get a certificate - it's that care where you have to measure your emissions (and we learnt all about these as we went), put a plan in place to manage them, and then where possible, mitigate and offset them. Did we hear you say 'that's great'? Thanks, we think so too.

Did I also hear you ask 'but what does it all mean?' 

Well, it means that from here in on we will be looking at all our emissions sources (like power, gas, vehicle usage, printing costs, travel costs etc) and making sure they are reduced where possible, excluded where we can and offset if they are a must (like flights needed to create the itineraries). As the years go on, Landcare Research and the carboNZero rope gets tightened to the point where we have to be really into it to maintain our stamp. Tough eh? 
But... the point behind it all is guilt-free travel for both our travelers and ourselves (which means we can have that extra bar of chocolate if we want).

Now it's up to us to help encourage those operators and events people we use for our itineraries to think about their options for sustainability and keeping the travel industry the amazing place of work that it is... 


Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Magnificent March AGAINST Mining

It's quite an amazing feeling when you get thousands of people congregating in one place, at the same time and for the same reason. The energy, the 'oneness' and the cause you are there for just take hold and you feel very, very powerful. It's not power of that destructive, egotistical nature - it's that people-power we so often hear about.
Obviously it's not a new thing - it's been happening for millennia however this was the first protest that I have been to, am passionate about and our cause is incredibly alarming.

'They' want to mine New Zealand. By they, I mean the National government and those that support it.  It's not just any-old-where in this amazing country of ours either. They want to dig up and effectively destroy our national parks nonetheless. Those immaculate, untouched, preserved, serene, ecological and diverse natural playgrounds. These mining folk call it 'surgical mining' but to me and 50,000 plus others in this country, there is no such thing.

To me, the Earth is like a human being. It clearly has moods, endures feelings, displays emotions, endures disease, has beautiful skin and those vital internal organs. Stripping the goodness out of the earth (be it open-cast or 'keyhole' is irrelevant as whatever the method, you get the same result) is like taking out the internal organs of a human. Over time, the human will die. Right now, AS I TYPE, there are millions of litres of oil spilling into the Louisiana coastline due to a complete BP disaster and it has already been labelled as the worst environmental disaster in US history. The earth, is literally bleeding.

What more do we need to see before we stop? How much more damage do we need inflict on this planet before it just stops spinning?

Whether or not humans are causing this climate change phenomenon or whether we are actually just witnesses to a natural cycle of solar system life, it really is becoming quite obvious that we are not helping the situation. We are most definitely doing everything in our selfish power to take, take, take and no give. Well, some of us are trying to give a little...

I was in the right place at the right time and man am I happy and proud I went. It was even more poignant because it was May 1st, my birthday. I figured if I can march against something that is very dear to me, what better day than on the 33rd anniversary of my day of entrance into this world.

I woke up and decided to catch the bus into town (something that I should do more of) but this was a day of symbols... My scooter was sitting there however the bus seemed more fitting as it was going in anyway. I chose a window seat near the back and as we went along, I noticed a few people getting on and off. It was great to see 4 adults and 4 kids all jump onboard, head towards the back and sit down next to me. They were clearly going to show their disgust at this mining proposal as well, which inspired me to think that when I become a dad, I am going to take my little one(s) to all these sorts of things as I really do believe it is important for them to see people standing up and being passionate about the things they believe in. I feel that in this current technological world we live in, of which I am very much a part of and enjoy, there is a growing feeling of complacence - an acceptance of just 'what is'. I don't like it. I want to be more of an activist that and inactivist...

So, on arriving into the Civic I jumped off the bus and followed what slowly became a steady stream of people heading downtown, towards the start of the march. I arrived expecting a fair crowd however what I saw was mind-blowing. I was immediately smacked in the face by the energy, telling me that what we were doing was important. Having this many people doing the same thing proved it...
Adults, kids, dogs, clowns, actors, cheer-leaders, musicians, police, banners and chants were all present, waiting to get going and show this government that we were not going to sit there with quiet complacency any longer.

After listening to an amazing instrumental band and hearing the loud-hailers warming up, the march started moving and as it did so the different slogans were being heard up and down New Zealand's largest street - it was sensational.
Along the way there were people taking photos, shop owners coming out in support and police trying to hold up traffic and all the while, we marched. They eventually decided that the whole road was a no-car zone - this spectacle must have looked pretty impressive. We marched all the way up to Myers park and while the first of the protesters filed in, there were still those bringing up the rear down by Whitcoulls. It was huge.

The fact that we are even having this debate is ludicrous. While the rest of the world is literally high-tailing it towards sustainability, New Zealand's leaders talk mining. I am devastated that this National, John Key led government is not listening to the people of New Zealand on this one, as we are the ones who own these lands. We are the ones (as is he) who go out into them every day, weekend or holiday period and it really is what defines us as New Zealanders. Our outdoorsy reputation, sports-based lifestyle and that 'joie de vivre' that Kiwi's do so well all stems from living amongst inspirational landscapes.

Digging up these places for a quick buck and a few 'economic benefits' (the majority of which will go offshore) is just plain unacceptable and theft from the New Zealand public. Theft in any form is illegal, so why should a whole party of people be exempt?

Stand trial John and Gerry...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

And now it's 2010

Well well well, here we are in 2010 and I sometimes stop and just think how bizarre that is...

I have this early childhood memory of being about 7 (and this is a completely true story) and I was arriving for the day at my primary school here. I had just been dropped off and was walking up the path to my classroom and I remember thinking, "Wow, imagine when I'm a teeeeeenager, I'll be sooo old." For some reason, I found the future to be very daunting and 'miles away'.

From there came the "Wow, the turn of not only the century, but the millennium. That is pretty cool to witness. I wonder where I'll be seeing that one in?"

And now, 2010 is upon us, I have traveled so much and have my own business helping others and it's all  been superb so far (I often find myself wondering if it could get ANY better?). The global meltdown appears to have stabilized somewhat (as much as one can hope), there are still travelers making their way to New Zealand's shores and I still love organizing amazing trips for a huge variety of people.

The latest folk to depart left on Sunday having had a few stunning days in Cape Kidnappers, the lovely Treetops Lodge in Rotorua and an end to their relaxing holiday with 3 nights over at The Boatshed on Waiheke Island. I believe they had a great time, took some lovely shots and returned home with the intention of coming back at some point which is always music to my ears - knowing they had such a great time is why I do what I do. I think next time I'll send them south...

The weather here in NZ has just started to turn, with the leaves on those beautifully introduced species of tree starting to boast those golden, red and varying hues of orange with a few other ROYGBIV's thrown in there for good measure. I really do love this time of year while at the same time I find it very hard to give up my standard 4 month attire of shorts and jandals (Japanese Sandals). Bidding summer adieu is never easy but that's the beauty of seasons I guess - they just keep changing and keep arriving. That is also the beauty of international travel and the differing hemispheres - we are all so spoilt if we get the chance to jump from one to the other.

Anyway, Easter is on its way this weekend ensuring we all make the most of those last summer evenings before that clock gets wound back. Then come the cold nights, the open fires, the early snowfalls and those ever soul-satisfying deep powder turns... Actually, now that I blog it, bring winter the hell on!!!

Our winter itineraries are in the making and will be up on the website soon, so be sure to have a look, take bits and pieces from them and we can build you your very own slice of NZ Winter Wonderland. Any questions, fire them our way...

Ciao for now,