Get to Know N.Z. Guides Karen and David Walmsley

Husband and wife team David Walmsley and Karen Walmsley offer unique perspectives of New Zealand through Lake Tarawera Water Taxi and Eco Tours. Karen is a descendant of the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao tribe and lives on the same lands as her ancestors — and enjoys the opportunity to host visitors and share her culture. David is a skipper extraordinaire, offering boat trips on Lake Tarawera, as well as nature tours, trekking and geothermal soaks.
How did you become N.Z. guides?

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.

What’s the best part of your job?

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.

What does a guide offer that a guidebook can’t?

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.

If you like this, you might like: Explore New Zealand and Explore Rotorua

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  • Patricia Conroy

    I recently bought a framed graphic print similar to one called “Harvest Moon” by D Walmsley. My print has similar colors and birds, but it has a white sun or moon. It is vertically oriented. It is #160 of 350. Is it your artwork? Can you tell me anything about it?

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