What an honor to chat with you, Anna, and thank you very much for fitting us into your busy schedule. We’re excited to learn more about your past (and present…); after all, between having been a Lieutenant in the New Zealand Defense Force, a Police Officer in the Northern Territory, Australia, and having had a career in emergency management across Australasia, you are clearly quite the fascinating Jack of all trades (…master of the outdoors). To begin our get-to-know-you, would you mind sharing how you got involved with guiding, and how your previous professions may have influenced that career choice?
Life in the military and police force is very disciplined and physically demanding. Being a Lieutenant was pressurizing; I had to look after those under my service, but also take measured risks. Likewise, in the Emergency Management field, I had to weigh up risks, and work out how to avoid, mitigate, or deal with them, a second profession that most definitely paved the way for my passion for wilderness guiding; after all, to keep my clients safe out in the mountains, or rock climbing in the middle of nowhere, I have to draw on all the skills I learned in all my former professions. Honestly, however, the real challenge is ensuring safety without losing the thrill inherent with perceived risk!
Former employment aside, I stumbled upon guiding through my own personal rock climbing adventures, adventures that morphed into something more because I wanted accompaniment. I also realized I wanted to help more people experience the beauty of the outdoors. In turn, I ventured off to the Yukon in Canada where I became a Certified Wilderness Guide.
What do you prefer about being a guide than being a lieutenant or police officer?
Fortunately, the careers share many traits, so I have never had to sacrifice much, but one thing guiding gives me is freedom and flexibility, as well as more time to plan and focus on the needs and interests of my clients. Most of all, however, I am grateful there aren’t so many emergencies to tend to!
Are you originally from New Zealand, and if so, what do you love most about the land?
Yes, I was born in Christchurch, which is where I’m actually based now. It’s a beautiful and majestic country with pristine landscapes and not too many people around to destroy it. For climbing and hiking purposes, I’m all about the rocks and mountains, and I love that there is no shortage of peaks to scale here. I’ve traveled the world, and while there are many beautiful places out there, nothing feels as homely as New Zealand, so I keep coming back. I would certainly take the opportunity to guide somewhere else, but only for the short term. I’m fond of Colorado and Alberta, so we shall see!
In your profile, you mention you spend your time traveling the globe, rock climbing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, ocean swimming, sea and sky diving. First off, wow, that’s an impressive list, and second, what’s your favorite of all outdoor sports, and what’s your favorite location for your sport of choice too?
Without a doubt, rock climbing. And as for location, it’d be The Arapiles in Victoria, Australia. The Arapiles is known as the mecca for traditional climbing, and climbers like this giant rock because it offers everyone a place to challenge themselves…for at least a month!
With all the energy you expend, you must know the best places to refuel. What’s your favorite local refreshment, and where can we find it?
Burgers and Beers- It’s an edgy, tasty, and fast refuel joint. What I love is that the burgers are made fresh, and they’re accompanied by some fantastic local craft beers, neither of which can be beat after a big day out on the hills!
What are your three favorite things about New Zealand?
- The variety in our landscape
- The indigenous people
- The locally-grown organic foods
What has been the biggest highlight of being a tour guide?
Every time I guide, I get such a rush from helping others face something challenging. When my clients get to the top of a mountain, or to the top of a cliff after nearly giving up because they doubted their own ability, I am left 100% stoked. At those times, it’s more than just a good day out; it’s a life-lesson in maintaining confidence.
What does a typical day look like for you?
06:30 I’m up and about! First, I confirm the latest weather reports, and then I gather the tour group’s equipment and meals for the day. At 08:00, I meet my clients at their accommodations in the city, and I brief them on the day’s schedule. After, I enjoy a good coffee (that’s mandatory, wink wink), and I check all the gear to ensure we’re totally equipped before heading off into the hills. By 10:00, the group and I are at the trailhead, raring to go. When we begin walking, I talk about the area’s history, and we often venture off trail to navigate incredible rivers and mountains that few tourists ever get to see. Come 13:00, it’s time to tuck into an organic and gourmet lunch (enjoyed with a spectacular view!), and by 14:00, we’re back at it, walking away. Just under two hours later, we complete the tour, and I congratulate everyone with local beer or wine, as well as a cheeseboard. The day ends at 17:00, at which point the clients are dropped off at their accommodations, and I return home to prepare for the next day’s excursion!
Have you ever had a bad guided trip?
Not really, since I’ve never had any medical accidents happen. That said, due to poor weather, I’ve had to cancel some tours, and that’s always a bit of a bummer, though also always the right call, for safety reasons; the New Zealand mountains are dangerous because they are often underestimated by people who are unfamiliar with our changeable climate. Sadly, every year tourists die in our forests and mountains, so it is important to read the forecast, opting to enjoy a movie day when things look risky. Not a bad opt-out, if you ask me!
Since we all know no job is perfect, would you mind sharing some of the downfalls of being a guide in New Zealand?
Recently, the NZ adventure industry underwent a major overhaul, since becoming highly bureaucratic, and it is now very expensive for solo operators and small guiding businesses to go through the audit process required to do any adventure activities that involve risk. Even being able to drive your clients around is a big process that entails much paperwork and payments, which isn’t the most fun. Fortunately, I’ve been through it all now, but it does put a bit of a barrier up for those who just want to try it out for a while. Shame, really.
As an experienced guide, can you think of any tips people should know about before going on a guided tour?
There are a lot of tours around NZ where you will be one of 10-15 people travelling in a big bus, eating bland cucumber sandwiches, and staying in big noisy huts. If that’s your thing, go for it, but if you are the more discerning traveler who likes to learn a bit about the culture, the history, and get a small, tailored experience, then go with the smaller guiding businesses. You will then get all the best local knowledge, plus have an extraordinary wilderness experience, and all while being just as safe (…and you don’t get left behind!).
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Antarctica. It is such a mystical continent and I would do anything to be able to climb some mountains and go kayaking around the icebergs.