I’ve always loved being outdoors from when I was a kid. My dad is also a director of the outdoor education organization, Outward Bound, so I grew up on the national campus in Sydney. He inspired me to get outside and make the most of life, so working outside was a natural progression for me.
Wow! How did you come up with the idea of running eco-tours in the Australian bush?
I always wanted to start a tour business and went on to study tourism management at university. I also used to bush walk a lot in the Royal National Park and I thought it was crazy no one was running tours there. I did a research thesis based on running tours in the national park, and the rest is history. I remember making that first decision to pursue tourism as a career… I couldn’t choose between property economics or tourism and on the last day I had to decide, I was in the Royal National Park with my dad. I had a piece of paper and put ‘E’ on one side for economics and ‘T’ on the other for tourism, and I kept flipping it to see where it would land. Of course, it kept coming up with the letter ‘T’.
Well, we’re obviously stoked that you chose tourism over economics. Was it tough to get the project off the ground?
I was 21 years old when I started out, but I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do. That being said, the business has really evolved over the years. Originally I started with one-day bush walks where we would catch the train, do the bush walk and catch the train back. Then as the company grew, we got a minibus and started going to places other than the Royal National Park, and then we branched out to other places doing charter tours.
I started out by myself, but my dad has really been involved. He’s got an impressive background in outdoor education, so we got him in as one of the main tour guides and advisers. It’ s definitely a family business in that sense. We’ve had a really strong focus on providing unique experiences and memorable guides from the get go – that was my goal from the start.
What has been the biggest challenge in getting everything off the ground?
In the early stages it was hard getting permits and dealing with red tape, and after that the biggest challenge was the business planning and marketing. We’ve changed a lot since the beginning; we started off with a strong focus on the backpacker industry and these days we cover a range of different markets. For example, we recently started running tours that are like sightseeing tours for more active people.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No two tours are ever the same, but our most popular tour is still the Royal National Park Highlights day tour. We generally start off with a canoe trip and then we stop for an Aussie BBQ and do some didgeridoo playing & spear throwing. Then we head to the lagoon and do some beach bush walking and learn about bush tucker and Aboriginal culture. After that we stop off at some scenic lookouts and head down to the rainforest to try boomerang throwing. Then we finish off the day with great views from the Seacliffe Bridge. It’s still my favourite tour.
I’ve gotta ask – do you ever get sick of doing the same tours?
In the early days when I did the same tour over and again, it did get pretty tiring. But my personality isn’t suited to doing the same thing, which is why we offer so many different tours. Each tour brings different people, different itineraries and different wildlife, so no two days are the same.
I’ve been on Moonwalks where I’ve had to pinch myself and ask ‘what am I doing here in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, sitting in a waterhole and looking up at a full moon?’
I would have to say the best part is getting out into the bush and sharing those experiences with other people. That’s where the joy comes from. I also get a real kick out of our Moonwalk tours when I have people who haven’t been camping before or haven’t been to Australia.
Worst part of your job?
Admin stuff! I spend a lot of time at my desk when I’d rather be outside.
Most memorable tour?
I never tell a group they’re the best I’ve had, because I always feel like each group is the best. Each tour is memorable in different ways, but the ones that stand out in my mind are the ones where strange things happen or the weather goes pear shaped.
Can you give us an example?
I’ve been on Moonwalks where I’ve had to pinch myself and ask ‘what am I doing here in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, sitting in a waterhole and looking up at a full moon?’ I was once on a tour where we startled a huge goanna lizard and he tried to get away by climbing up a tree next to us. He got about 8-10 meters up and lost his footing, and it seemed like forever that he was falling out of this tree and splattered on the roots at the bottom. It was all good and he came out fine.
Sounds like you love your job! Why do you think tour guiding is so appealing to people such as yourself?
I think the sharing aspect of what we do draws a lot of people to guiding. The best guides are people who are passionate and inherently motivated by what they do, and they want to share it with others.
Definitely the tour guide. There is more to guiding than just taking people out to do something – there’s a lot of research and skill involved. The most important thing is to get to know your client, relate to them, and give them with what they need in a friendly way. The tour also needs a theme and a structure so people know why they’re there and what they’re going to see. It’s all part of the adventure.
As an experienced guide yourself, are there any travel tips you can pass on to our readers?
I’m a big believer in hiring a guide, because they can add so much to an experience by interpreting it. There are just so many things you can miss without a tour guide. My tip would be to consider who you are hiring as your guide beforehand and read up about the quality of your guide. The itinerary isn’t the only thing that makes a tour successful – the guide is also important. First and foremost you need a guide with a good personality, and everything else will come from that.
While we’re hassling you for tips, are there any recommendations you can pass on to guides who may be considering going out on their own in the guiding biz?
I would say the key is trying to pick a unique theme and stick with one idea, rather than take them all on. You’ve also got to be flexible and prepared to make changes as things evolve.
And finally, if you could travel anywhere in the world without a budget in mind, where would you go?
Everywhere! It gets too tough when you start playing that game. I have big plans next year to go running around Europe with whatever I can fit in a backpack. But I’ve also had my sights on a 20-day trek in Nepal, but we’ll see what happens.