Get To Know NZ Guide Peter Birchall

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Join guide Peter Birchall of Fish Far North Ltd – Peter and Xiaoli Tours, and tour the beauty of New Zealand’s beaches, waters, and remote locales.
Did you have any jobs or a career before becoming a tour guide?  If so, how did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?         

I left school at an early age and joined the publishing industry. By the time I was 20, I was national advertising manager for five well known consumer magazines. That was the only job I ever applied for. After that I was head hunted. The next job presented to me was to join Saatchi & Saatchi at 21 years of age in their media department. After 5 years I had 8 staff working for me and I was New Zealand’s largest advertising/media buyer. I then worked in various advertising agencies ending up in senior management before starting my own at 44 years of age.

At 54 I semi-retired and moved to the far north of New Zealand to follow my hobbies of fishing and photography. Met my wife who had been in very big business in China. We married in 2009 and started our tourism business. Both accommodation and tours. We are considered to be the fastest growing tourism business in the area.

How would you describe your style as a guide?

I am a people person. I am laid back and have a very warm personality. I have a personal saying, have fun and be happy. One minute sad or stressed is one minute lost forever. I have people from all around the world that have toured with me and continue to write to me as friends long after the tours are over. I entered tourism because I love people but even more important, I am passionate about New Zealand as to me, it is the most beautiful tourism destination in the world. 

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is showing people my country and listening to the expressions as each new bit of scenery comes before them. I enjoy making people happy.

What’s the most bizarre experience or odd request from a client you’ve had on a guided tour? 

I don’t think I have ever had what I term a bizarre request. Once I learnt the different nationalities and what they do and expect on a tour, the bizarre part went away. I find it interesting that people all think they are different but if you view them as a nationality you will find traits are similar. China, a land of 1.3 billion people on the official count, yet go on tour and I could write a book about how they will act, what they will do. And 99% of the time I would be right. The same goes for other countries.

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?

Yes, every job has its ups and downs. If I ever disappoint my tourists it would be the occasional nights accommodation booking. But generally, I know in advance and warn them that because of availabilities certain nights are not perfect. I hate seeing my customers stressing or disappointed. The ups are the last day when they depart. I get the handshakes. The cuddles. The emotion. The thanks. I hate the emptiness after my customers have departed.

When you’re not busy guiding tours – what’s your favourite thing you to do?

When not doing tours, Xiaoli and I lead a reclusive lifestyle on our farm with our 4 beautiful Pomeranian dogs and many, many other animals. But for us – our real escape is fishing up Ninety Mile Beach at the top of New Zealand with a great mate who is also a tour driver, but in his case, buses. Fishing is our escape as we both lead busy lives. Mine with tours, Xiaoli running the accommodation business.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?

The benefit of hiring a ‘private’ guide is that you see the country one on one with a person that knows the country well. I make it a point in the first 24 hours of a multi-day tour to watch and try to learn my customers so I can restructure the tour as we go to make it their dream tour. In advance of the tour I ask my tourists for a brief of what they are seeking, and that first day is so important in ensuring that brief is totally met. A private guide will show you places a general tour cannot. You will see places not necessarily in the travel books.

What is a delicious local specialty that all visitors must try?

A delicious local specialty. Interesting question but if it’s food then it’s obviously our meat and seafood. We are a country of 4.4 million people yet larger than the United Kingdom in area. We are an Island nation with the nearest large neighbor being Australia, 3 hours by air away. So we are unpolluted. Our seas are clean for the seafood. Our animals are not grain fed but raised on the feed that grows in the paddock. So the taste of our food is different. But if like me you like a wine, then our white wines are up with the best in the world. Our Pinot Noir is to die for.

Tell us something about New Zealand that only a guide would know.

The best place to capture the best photograph, no matter where you are.

In your view, what makes a good tour guide?

A good tour guide is one that does it as a love and not just a job. They should exude warmth and be someone you want to share the experience with. But one that also knows when to pull back and not be in your face. Let you have ‘your time’.

And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?

I know many tour guides. I guess I have met some that I would not tour with personally. You need to select one that you genuinely believe you could get on with. Watch their profile videos. Don’t look at how good the video is but decide if they offer that genuineness you seek. Most will offer a good tour. You just need to decide if it’s a good tour for you. Remember that you are going to have multiple days with the guide.

Every tour I do I photograph and on completion put together a short video of their tour with me. While they are photographing the scenery I capture them. It’s my little memento for my customers. A point of difference to any other tour guide I have met to date.  

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