Time to introduce two of the most important people on our New Zealand holiday.
Suzanne by the front door of the coach, Denis by the rear
First, Suzanne, our tour guide. We first met her at Heathrow and she flew with us to Singapore, where we were joined by the others who had flown from Manchester. She was then with us through the flight to Auckland, all the travels around New Zealand, and on the three flights back to the UK. It’s hard for me to imagine the life of a tour guide. Suzanne doesn’t only do New Zealand: she has also acted as guide on tours to Japan, South Africa and elsewhere. You must have to like people a lot, and be very patient, well-organised, and efficient, to do this job. Making sure that everyone arrives at places when and where they should, that hotel rooms are ready and keys assigned, that nothing and no one gets left behind (she also had a story about the time a man deliberately left his wife behind, saying he’d had enough of her…) When Suzanne first took the job, her father told her, “You’ll never be a success at this: you’re much too bossy.” But bossy is just what you have to be. With so much to fit into the schedule, punctuality and early starts were essential. Many tours I’ve been on have one or a few people who can be relied on to be late whenever possible, and who infuriatingly keep the whole group waiting. Not Suzanne’s group! The credit goes to the good people in our group, naturally; but also to Suzanne, who didn’t allow unpunctuality.
Second, our patient and indefatigable Kiwi driver, Denis. (“Why only one N? Were your parents French?” We still don’t know the answer to that one.) Much more than a driver, he was also the principal guide and explainer throughout the tour, about where we were going, what we would see and were seeing, New Zealand history and politics, the best places to get something to eat (which may also have been his own personal favourites, or places he could get a discount for sending people – who knows?) The summer in New Zealand – just like here in the UK – is the season of roadworks. Over there driving is made even more complicated by steep mountain passes, and diversions because of earthquakes and rock falls. Denis took them all in his stride, including the steepest gradient I’ve ever been driven down, where the road passes under a waterfall… though it should also be mentioned that in most of New Zealand, “quite a lot of traffic around here” means there are two or three other vehicles in sight.
I mentioned already the early starts. In many of the places we stayed, we were only there for one night. So we lived out of our suitcases, and in the morning it was “Bags out at 7; leave at 8”. (Once or twice, even earlier.) It wasn’t long before we were saying, “This doesn’t feel like a holiday; more like hard work.” Suzanne encouraged us: “Don’t think of it as a holiday: think of it as an Adventure.” Well, it was.