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Elisabeth Easther talks to Amy Hodgkinson from NZ Māori Tourism.
I grew up in Hawke’s Bay on an orchard, the eldest of four. Working in the orchard from an early age, we were known as The Kids Under The Tree. Sitting out under the big old oak tree, selling nectarines, plums and apricots — 3kg bucket for $8, it was the best summer job. Because four kids was a handful, for some holidays one parent would take two kids and the other parent the other two kids. I should’ve realised that was a sign divorce wasn’t far away. Going to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast with Dad and James, I loved supermarket shopping with Dad because he had no idea what to get and would just buy junk food.
In the holidays, we used to visit a cousin’s farm in Taihape. We’d travel over the Gentle Annie, and stop at a ford to have a picnic, based on a tradition that began when Mum was little.
One Christmas Eve, travelling with her brothers and parents, Granddad knocked a hole in the petrol tank and someone told him to just drive like the clappers. They made it just past the ford when the car ran out of petrol. Granddad went to get help and, because the car was full of mince pies, presents and togs, everyone else swam in the river and ate mince pies and Mum thought it was awesome, so she wanted to pass those memories on to us.
When I was 14, our family went to Europe for a year, back when Air New Zealand offered “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” in Business Class. So all six of us flew Business Class to Australia, Singapore, the UK, France, Spain and Hawaii. I’m sure this horrified some of the other business travellers, although it spoiled me too: now I know what it’s like to turn left rather than right when going on a plane.
Mum had been training as a teacher so wherever we stayed we had school for two hours each morning. But Mum and Dad were big on real-life experiences, learning maths by calculating exchange rates, and Mum made us keep a journal and scrapbook every day.
Sometimes we’d write pages, other days two sentences. We’d been travelling since January and were in England with extended family for Christmas when Mum decided we needed some girl time. We took the train to Paris for a long weekend. We went to the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre but what I remember most is Mum buying me the most beautiful full-length black coat. I felt like a true Parisian. Six months after we got home, Mum and Dad broke up (there’s a lesson somewhere there) but the boys and I have great memories of that trip.
I rode the Otago Rail Trail by myself, but chose the worst season — magpie-breeding time. The first day I had them dive-bombing me and I got very close to being knocked off my bike. The next morning at breakfast, I spoke to a family who were also on the trail and asked if magpies had attacked them. They hadn’t, so I asked if they’d mind me riding with them. Spending the next three days together, we went hurling in Naseby, ate meals together and, talking to the mum and dad of the family, we discovered we’d been at the same wedding in Port Douglas two years earlier. I love that about New Zealand.
I’ve just come back from three weeks in Italy, visiting my partner’s family. It’s the first time I’ve seen serious snow (in the Dolomites) and I’ve now become a snow convert. Next on the bucket list — learning to ski.
Mum always told me to find a career that enabled me to travel and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have two careers that have allowed me to travel around New Zealand. I worked in Parliament as a media and communications advisor where I visited places like Invercargill, Huntly and Hamilton. Working for Māori Tourism, I’ve visited Taranaki, Kaikoura, Taupō, Kapiti Island and the Hokianga. They’re all amazing places and I’ve met and learnt from phenomenal people.
I’m learning Te Reo Māori. I love learning the meaning behind place names, why an area is sacred, and the history that’s happened there. I think sharing those stories with visitors is important, and I feel ashamed that it’s taken until my 30s to learn. But I’m making up for lost time now.