A woman inspects a leaf on a bush walk.
I think often people overlook how small conversations can have big ripples. When I am out there guiding, it’s not just like, “Hey, come and follow me.” It’s, “Look at this beautiful rata tree. Did you know that it started as a tiny little vine up in the tree in the canopy and it’s taken over this tree and basically strangled it?” Or, “Look at the understory coming back because of the pest-control work that has been done. This time last season, the birdsong wasn’t this loud.”

I grew up on a beef farm in Pukekawa, so I’m a farmgirl at heart. I live on the outskirts of Kirikiriroa Hamilton, with my husband and my two kids. Nora is twenty-one months, and Madeline is four-and-a-half. They keep me pretty busy, and I run two businesses on about three-and-a-half days a week.

Nature & Nosh Tours is the original business, launched in 2017. It’s agritourism and is focused on leisure travellers. It was born out of my love of the land and helping facilitate other people to have shared connections while walking and eating outside. We get quite a lot of international hikers, but also some domestic tourists. The Bush Boardroom was a beautiful spin-off out of Covid. When the borders were shut and the travellers weren’t coming, we decided, “We can’t sit around and cry about this; we need to do something.”

The main kaupapa of The Bush Boardroom is about getting people outside into nature, to appreciate these beautiful spaces that we have. My husband and I often went for hikes together and we noticed that our ideas floated freely when we were walking in the bush. Solutions and ideas came to us without a lot of effort. We might have had a business problem or a challenge, and more often than not, we got to the end of the walk, and we would have had clarity. I thought, let’s take the conventional meeting in a stuffy room and get people out in nature; put a boardroom table in the middle of the bush, take them for a mindful walk so that they can clear the clutter of every day and focus on now.

We were already taking people out to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, south of Hamilton, as part of the Nature & Nosh tours. I approached the CEO of the trust there at the time and pitched my idea. He said, “Go for it,” so I commissioned the table. We had to get it made in six separate pieces because it was so huge. We managed to drive it halfway in, and then one of the rangers and myself – with Maddie, who was one at the time, in a carry pack – carried each of those bits in by hand and put it together.

After having Nora, I experienced severe anxiety and didn’t know what was going on with me. I went to the doctor, and I knew enough to say, “This isn’t me.” They told me they could prescribe some pills. I was, at the time, quite in need of help, but I didn’t think the solution was medication. I needed to talk to someone and try to get myself outside, because what I noticed was I wasn’t getting myself into nature and that was having a huge compounding effect on my anxiety. So I went and stayed on my parents’ farm for a while and every day they forced me to go for a big walk around the farm and through native bush. It was like magic.

That got me even more fascinated in the link between nature and neuroscience. I was able to move past my severe anxiety basically through getting outside. That helped me to develop the programmes that I offer and to have authenticity relating to people. I can personally testify how beneficial this is.

We are currently in a rebuild stage, like many tourism businesses, and it’s not something that magically happens overnight. We had a great season last year – there was a lot of pent-up demand for travel, but it’s something we’re going to have to work hard at. I’m focused on sustainable growth in the right direction. We have recently opened a new Bush Boardroom in Waitākere. The focus is on getting the word out to Auckland companies. It’s been really neat to get people’s feedback: “Wow! The team said it was one of the best things they have ever done, we were the most productive we have ever been in a meeting.”

I have a really great team of guides. It’s a small team and they’re contractors because it is a seasonal business – we run from October through to May. I’m yet to crack how to entice people outside in winter. I’d like to find somebody that can be me up at the Waitakere Bush Boardroom. It’s not sustainable for me to travel up and host groups up there. I love taking the groups at Maungatautari, and I think I’ll always want to. The whole reason I set up the businesses in the first place was to get away from a computer screen. There’s got to be a balance though; you can’t be out there five days a week in the bush when you are a mum, or running seven-day tours.

What’s really important to me is making sure that we have a strong conservation give-back element, because we are lucky enough to explore these spaces. Often, companies just don’t know where to start to help. I give them an opportunity to contribute in a way that’s meaningful. There are lots of community groups out planting trees, but sometimes what these huge projects need more than anything is financial support. With our Bush Boardroom packages, eight to fifteen per cent of the revenue goes to conservation projects. That’s not just a token few dollars – that’s quite significant.

Spending days out in the bush with people, you really get to know them. I had one particular lady on a girls’ gourmet hiking trip who commented afterwards that I basically changed her life. Like, wow! You just don’t know the impact you have on people. Two times recently, I’ve had grown men cry happy tears – revelation or gratitude for opening their eyes. I’m not a trained ecotherapist, I simply give them the tools to look at nature – and themselves within it – differently. I’m always blown away by how much people connect with it.

Glossary. Kaupapa, topic, project.

The NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards celebrate the creative and innovative women running rural businesses and their contributions to rural communities. Visit ruralwomennz.nz/business-awards/ for more information.

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