Guide at a Glance
North Island, New Zealand
Boat Tour, Eco Tour, Heritage-History Tour, Nature, Sightseeing
Get to Know N.Z. Guides Karen and David Walmsley
Karen: I was a late bloomer when it came to guiding, but it’s very much part of my family history back to my great-great grandmother, so it’s a historic connection. … We moved here in early 1998, so now it’s been 20 years. David and I were designers and graphic artists. Eight years ago, we started taking family and friends (around the area) to connect with the lake and the mountain; then it became clear to me that international visitors might enjoy this.
David: We started at the same time a cultural lodge … and it was a natural progression to take them out into the forest and show them the old trails.
What types of tours do you offer?
Karen: We have packaged experiences that give us a little bit of structure all based on our guests spending time with us. For me, the packages are all focused on our ancestor footprints. It starts here at Lake Tarawera and ends up at the village or goes the other way around.
David: Karen decided she wanted to have a walking trek … so the young people would come back out here and learn the stories from the old people. We actually bought the water taxi business to bring people back and forth, so we started running an eco-tour business. I take people out; we take them to a (geothermal) pool in the bush.
Karen: It’s very much about making a connection with people and the land. What I found is most often with people there’s not too much difference between us — we all have families.
David: I suppose I’m a storyteller and entertainer. I love the storytelling part of it. It’s reading my guests and being able to tell stories, and every time you do it, it’s like doing a show. You might be repeating it but you read your customers and adjust. … The natural beauty is one thing that really blows most people away. The small population — they come out on the lake and don’t see another boat. The thing about people who live in cities, because we don’t have snakes and crocodiles, they’re blown away they can walk in bare feet through the forest to a hot pool. As a guide you take for granted the beauty of your place but it always (gets) reinforced (when you’re guiding).
What qualities should a guide possess?
David: Integrity. If it’s just a job, it comes through pretty quickly. If you love the place or love what you’re doing and honour what you’re doing, I think it comes through.
Karen: For me a guide needs to be able to connect at some level, and in some way, with whomever they’re hosting. Guiding is a form of hosting; I become an ambassador, if you like, for my tribe but also for my country.
Karen: This is my standing place. My family has lived here 560 years; I’m a descendant of that. There’s a different conversation I can have based on it being passed down to me in stories and daily adventures. … I’m a storyteller as well but mine gets woven in with my great-grandmother’s experiences. When you meet my family in the village, they are my family … if it was anyone else, that connection would not be so natural. I also have things that I love to share that have been handed down to me — a lot of that is based around food and cooking, so people eat with us, we have them in our home. It’s a very personal experience.
David: You can drive past a place on the lake, (where) a village was destroyed during the eruption, and you can bring a story so much (to life) by showing them what happened — 200-kilometre-an-hour winds drawing across it and how it would have been for the people. It’s in that storytelling — by not having a guide you don’t get the opportunity to open up what those places (are about).
Karen: I try to draw them into being with me rather than me being with them, because I’m very much focused on what I call my place. When we talk, we talk as if everything surrounding me belongs to me; I take ownership of it. I think that’s my style — I own it, but not in the sense that I’ve gone out and bought it.
David: She gives reverence to it. It’s more than just a place to take people; it’s a place of great spiritual power. People sense that honouring.
Karen is a descendant of the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao tribe and regards herself as very fortunate to be living on those lands that her tupuna (ancestors) lived on for 600 years before the arrival of the Pakeha (European). Her tupuna left the area after the devastation of their lands and livelihood just over 120 years ago from the Mt. Tarawera eruption. Destroyed at the same time were the world famous Pink and White Silica Terraces reputed to have been the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Karen is passionately involved with her tribe but really enjoys the opportunity to host visitors, share her culture and stories with her visitors and most importantly share her wonderful cooking skills.