“As I get older and remember all the people I’ve lost along the way…
maybe a career as a tour guide wasn’t for me” anonymous
Over the past year, I’ve been volunteering at Zealandia. I started as a weekend volunteer guide back in September last year, working most weekends over the summer. In the winter season, I also helped out during the week as well as weekends, as a number of the summer season volunteers only stay for a short while; many are students or visitors to New Zealand who aren’t planning a long-term stint. The volunteer guides' duties aren't onerous: we give one short talk (5-10 minutes) per shift, and spend the rest of the time roving – helping visitors see the wildlife, pointing out birds and animals, answering questions, giving directions and advice about the best way to see the sanctuary.
This year, the call went out for more trained tour guides for the summer season. This is due to the increasing numbers of cruise ships that will visit Wellington over the coming months. Zealandia doesn’t have enough permanent guides to cope with this influx, as our tour is one of the most popular shore excursions for cruise ship passengers. I answered that call.
In September, therefore, I attended an “interview” – actually more of an audition – where we were all invited to give a short talk to our fellow interviewees on the subject of one of the animals in Zealandia. We were given a choice of four, and I picked tuatara. So, of course, did many of the others, so there was a certain amount of repetition in the process. What they were looking for was how well you could present to a group of people, rather than specific esoteric knowledge. One of the better presentations was basically just the contents of the Wikipedia page on tuatara, but it was delivered well. We only had one “choker” who literally could not get their words out.
Those who passed that stage, and subsequent references and police check, were invited to a training session in October. As I would miss the first day of training as it started on the day we returned from Tonga, I decided to go for the second session of training starting from 15th October. I found myself in a room with nine other guide candidates, and one trainer, called AJ. Over the course of the next two weeks, we learned about giving a tour in Zealandia, with again the concentration on giving a good tour rather than filling people’s heads up with facts and figures. This included Te Reo pronunciation, learning the mihi, introducing the film that’s shown in the exhibition before we go out into the valley, health’n’safety, caring for our guests, and practising giving a tour. Despite the weather being a bit dodgy on some days, we were out in the valley every day at some point.
At the end of two weeks I booked a slot for my assessment. I’d originally planned to use this slot for a co-guiding session with an experienced guide, but decided to switch it so that I could get my “wings”. We took a group of 11 people from a cruise ship out on a tour. The experienced guide, Julia, was there to assess me but otherwise took no part in the actual tour. I had the “leisurely” group (tours are triaged so that the fitter guests can take the tour at a faster pace), so we didn’t get as far into the valley as some, before we had to turn back. But we made Rule Two of guiding – get the guests back before the bus leaves – so that was OK. (Rule One, I’m sure you know, is “always come back with the same number you started out with”. If they’re the same people, that’s a bonus.)
Afterwards I sat down with Julia and we went through the assessment form together with AJ. Long story short, I passed, and am now a tour guide at Zealandia. The next cruise ship is due in next week and I’m on the roster for taking a tour! As the season ramps up, I’ll be working more and more frequently, but to start with I have four tours scheduled for November. Woohoo!
p.s.Kārearea is the New Zealand falcon.