One of the things which makes us different in New Zealand tourism is that we are hands-on. We are hands-on with our clients, guiding them and walking into lodges with them, seeing their immediate reactions and answering for every aspect of their time in New Zealand. That can be quite stressful at times, when some people are off form or have new staff.
A less stressful, more enjoyable part of what we do is working with talented people throughout the country to help develop their product into what luxury travellers really want. We have been developing such experiences for eight years now and have proudly been at the leading edge in global terms, well ahead of bandwagons, wannabees and shonky imitations.
Over this last year I have been privileged to work with Tom Loughlin of Kai Waho. I was introduced to Tom by Delanie Brown, renowned Tuwharetoa master carver, and our own carver of choice. Tom has single-handedly brought to life an ambitious, deep and totally authentic Maori food experience.
He took the blank canvas of a 5,000 acre high country block of Maori-owned land and on that has, largely with his own sweat, introduced one of the finest eating platforms I have seen, transformed a hunting hut into a pah, and developed an interactive food experience which has seen superb feedback from New Zealanders and tourists alike. He puts together a real hangi, including all sorts of delicacies - in the past we have had freshwater crayfish, muttonbird, wild pork, eel, paua, and various forms of Maori greens. He has cooked food underground, aboveground, smoked, steamed, boiled, fried. He has developed food gathering experiences, eel trapping, a historical overview of wood pigeon trapping (no longer legal to actually perform of course), has dug and developed traditional Maori gardens with food planted in raised mounds to minimise the effects of frost.
He has put a lot of this
together on his own, consulting tribal elders, spending time
researching archives, bringing back to life the old ways, and then
sharing them with anyone who is interested. Then he disappears for
weeks at a time, back to his remote paradise, and brings it into
reality with spade, chainsaw and sheer determination.
A number of us have been on the sidelines, helping in whatever way we can, and enjoying our involvement and our own learning experience. I helped from a luxury tourist perspective, explaining what our travellers are looking for and seeing what we can do to further delight them.
Tom is a really excellent human being - warm, compassionate, humble, hardworking, and always with a glint in his eye. It is impossible not to laugh in his company, and any visit to Kai Waho becomes an enriching, cleansing and extremely enjoyable experience for all of us who enjoy people and discovering.
Tom has many excellent plans for the future which will continue to propel Kai Waho forward as an example of a leading edge experience. But the present is already highly recommended. Both our clients and ourselves have established and are keen to maintain strong links with this remarkable individual and enterprise.