Get to Know Aussie Guide “Barefoot Dave”

Between energetically leading 4WD tours along 32 kilometres of white sand beaches on North Stradbroke Island and taking visitors to Australia whale watching at the North Gorge, Dave Thelander is undoubtedly one of the most fun adventure guides out there. But being a superb guide is only one of the many noteworthy things about Dave: he’s also committed to walking barefoot all day every day, or at least until he has to dress up for his other jobs as a Marriage Celebrant and Auxiliary Fireman. Read on to learn more about “Barefoot Dave” and the story behind his adventure-and-sightseeing-focused tour guiding company, Straddie Kingfisher Tours.

Great to catch up with you, Dave, and thank you for opening up to us about your life, both current and past. First up, how did you discover your love for whale watching, sand boarding, and adventuring via 4WD?

It really started out of my hunger to do something fun in my free time. I was looking for a new adventure hobby and ended up buying a 4WD vehicle, which allowed me to drive the Straddie beaches and go fishing in remote spots. I suppose it all boils down to my love for experiencing freedom, and driving my 4WD vehicle on open white sand beaches achieves just that.

From being an Auxiliary Fireman and an electrical supervisor for a mining company to a marriage celebrant, I see you’ve undertaken quite a few jobs in your lifetime. How did you manage to turn your passion for the outdoors into a profession, and where does guiding rank in the list of jobs you’ve done?

It actually came about as a result of fate, I suppose: The mining company I worked for was taken over by an American firm, so I accepted a redundancy package and left. But because bills don’t stop when you’re out of a job (if only!), I had to figure out a new way to get some income. I asked my son what we could do as a team, and instead of giving me a direct answer, he suggested we think about it over a fishing trip. While we were packing up the rods, we looked at each other, and we just knew what we had to do: We both said, “Why don’t we take people fishing!?” It was love at first thought.

How did Straddie Kingfisher Tours come into the picture?

It all happened pretty quickly, but since we are experienced fishermen and know the land very well, our touring company came together seamlessly. Straddie Kingfisher Tours (S.K.T.) is named after Steven, Kim and Tracy, my wife and my kids.

On some of your guided tours, you stop for cups of tea and classic Aussie beachside BBQs, which must make each trip that much more fun. However, in working for Straddie Kingfisher Tours, what has been the biggest highlight?

Hands down the tour I lead for a group of blind people. Since they had lost their sight later in life, they could understand colors, which meant I had to guide them by describing what exactly they were looking at. Boy was this a lesson in appreciating humankind’s basic functions! What made this trip even more memorable was when we got out of the 4WD vehicle to hug a Grass tree, an experience that made everyone laugh and smile because of the memories it brought back. I will never forget that moving and humbling trip!

Do you have a preferred trip that you lead, or do you enjoy them all equally?

Since they’re all located in Queensland, one of the most stunning places known to mankind, and since they all entail fun activities – whale watching and driving freely down sandy beaches, to name just two – I enjoy them equally.

Trips aside, tell us more about your intriguing nickname, “Barefoot Dave.” Although I can see how going shoeless is freeing, why do you enjoy it?

I blame my high instep on my barefoot lifestyle. I have such a high instep that I can step on a cat’s tail without him feeling it, and although this is good because it saves me from getting in trouble with the local cats, my high instep makes it impossible to find proper-fitting shoes. I eventually decided to go barefoot because I was fed up of wearing big shoes — big shoes were the only ones that would accommodate my arch — that made me look like a clown. No clown feet means no ridicule, so barefoot it was, and has been ever since.

What does a typical day look like for you?

First thing in the morning I meet the first barge to collect the newspapers that I distribute to news agencies in Dunwich, Amity Point and Point Lookout. Afterwards, I return home for brekkie, and then I load the vehicle to get ready for my daily guests. Once my guests arrive, I spend the rest of the day showing them around this paradisiacal island.

Have you ever had a bad guided trip?

Nope, never, and let’s keep it that way!

What’s the most odd request you’ve ever had from a client?

One guest requested I deliver cheese and champagne to the Jumpinpin Bar. What took me by surprise is that I later received a book in the mail from the people who made the request. Turns out the chap wanted the cheese and champagne to help him put the finishing touches on a book he was writing about this area, Straddie.

Since we all know no job is perfect, would you mind sharing some of the downfalls to being an adventure guide in Australia?

The only downside is the weather, or, rather, bad weather. I’ve seen all the places I take guests to at their best, so when it’s an overcast day, though the guests still ooh and ahh over the likes of Queensland’s most photographed beaches, I can’t help but think that they’re actually missing out a little. I suppose my number one complaint is that being a guide and seeing the wonders of the world at their best can spoil you!

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Since I’m a warm-weather man, I would travel to Darwin in the winter as it’s warmer there at about 30 degrees celsius.

One final bonus question: “Aussie Damper” is what’s for breakfast on your 4WD Eco Tour, but what exactly does this dish entail?

Aussie Damper is basically flour and water. It’s like a scone, and when combined with strawberry jam it is delicious. Everyone loves our damper!

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