After training in adventure tourism at Waiariki Polytechnic in Rotorua in the early 2000’s Brad joined Walking Legends Guided Walks as a junior hiking guide and began a journey that would take him to the most spectacular scenic spots the North Island has to offer, all in the name of “work.” Guides walked, talked, drove and cooked for guests from all over the world who had one thing in common, they loved hiking in the New Zealand outdoors. He discovered he had a passion for sharing the unique, fascinating geographical, ecological and cultural histories of the North Island. He laughs when he tells me that his job is better than most peoples’ holidays.
Walking Legends has offered multi-day guided hiking tours since 2003 and has seen their product range grow from the flagship, the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, to seven guided tours that sample of the wide range of biodiversity unique to the North Island. From the remote, pristine Great Barrier Island to the ancient podocarp forest of Te Urewera and the fragile, alpine landscapes of Tongariro National Park, their walks give a thorough sample of North Island hiking at its’ best.
After 5 years as a hiking guide, Brad was ready to ‘stretch his legs’ and took the contract opportunity, offered to him by then-owners Rob Franklin and Hilary Sheaff, to develop two new guided walk itineraries under the Walking Legends brand. He designed, developed and launched multi-day guided walks of both the Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island. ‘We took off with a hiss and a roar. We were blown away by the number of Kiwi’s who said they’d always wanted to go to Great Barrier Island but weren’t quite sure how to make it happen,’ he says.
Everything is organised in advance; meals, accommodation and transport so guests aren’t wasting precious holiday time on sorting out the functional aspects of travel. “Our guests want to show up and switch their brains off for four days. They want everything taken care of so they can stop thinking and just enjoy themselves,” Brad says, ‘That is the beauty of a guided tour, it’s maximising your precious holiday time.’
Supported by wife, Cathy, the two make a great team.
“We’re very different people, each with very different skills,” says Cathy, “I love getting out on the trails with our guests whenever I can, but I’m far more productive in the office helping guests arrange their itineraries and managing the huge number of moving parts.” An accomplished individual in her own right, joining Walking Legends represented a sea change for Cathy. After 4 years working as an architectural technician, she began to notice some worrying trends in the industry. “I was just a small, insignificant cog in a very big machine. I was overworked, underpaid and had knots all through my neck and shoulders from too much time spent staring at a screen. I had to make a change and quickly!” she says.
Call it luck or serendipity but shortly after, their long-time business partners and friends offered up their share of the business to the surprised pair, and they jumped at the chance to become fulltime promoters of North Island ecological tourism. They have a talented team of 8 hiking guides spread across the North Island, who are local experts in their respective areas. ‘We choose our team really carefully,’ explains Cathy, ‘The quality of your hiking guide makes all the difference when you’re spending 4 days with them. Our guides are entertainers, educators and ambassadors for New Zealand conservation. Each person on our team has an impressive range of skills, not only in guiding, but in life as well. They’re genuine Kiwis, they’ve seen the world and want to share their passion for the great New Zealand outdoors with all of our guests and above all, they’re out to have fun too.’
Over the past 9 months the focus of the business has changed dramatically. ‘We have always supported local accommodation and food service providers in all our respective tour areas and we love to sponsor trap lines, plant Kauri seedlings and manage our waste. Our goal for 2020/2021 is to support the ‘Kaitiakitanga, Whanaungatanga, Manaakitanga’ principles of sustainable tourism. We’re looking for ways to support social initiatives and build mutually beneficial relationships with our people and our guests.’ Brad says.
New challenges arise every day and as they now find themselves negotiating a tourism industry in tatters following COVID-19, Brad and Cathy remain resolutely optimistic about the future. ‘Travel, adventuring and exploring are so deeply ingrained in our culture, a time will come when we emerge from this chaos and refresh our connection to our own country. We’ll explore further into our own backyards within this little slice of paradise at the bottom of the Pacific that we call home,’ Brad says, ‘There’s a wonderful community of hiking explorers in New Zealand who love getting out amongst it and Walking Legends will continue to connect them with the best North Island hiking trails, like we’ve been doing since 2003.’
Whatever the future might bring for New Zealand tourism, you can bet that these two will be right there representing North Island hiking adventures at the forefront of the industry.