Specialist on Lord of the Rings tours, Mike is a personal guide who will bring you around his wonderful country. Here, a little chat where he’s talking about New Zealand, his experience as a guide and Peter Jackson’s trilogies.
- As a Kiwi born and a guide for travelers from around the world, how would you describe New Zealand?
Mike : Oh! It’s like the biggest question of all straight away! I think as you look really small on the map, especially next to Australia, New Zealand looks tiny. But you have to see how big things is. If you go to the South Island especially and you stand at the foot of the mountains and you look up, everything is so huge and makes you feel really small. I think it’s an awazing place. Like the nature is so big you realize how small piece in the world you are which is a good thing because often we think we’re too big.
New Zealand is really relaxed you know, very honest I think, very forthright, big open-mind and friendly. New Zealand is very welcoming I guess.
It’s a perfect combination of great people and incredible scenery.
- Can you tell us how you became a guide? And especially why a personal guide rather than working with a big tour operator?
Mike : I lived in Queenstown for a long time. I grew up in Southland in a small farming town of 800 people. So I moved to Queenstown and lived there for few years before I got a guiding job and I was doing Lord of the Rings tours for the company Nomad Safaris. I kept asking them if they could give me a job and one day they said yes so I started drinving Land Rover and I worked for them for five years.
I moved to Wellington thinking I would try something different and the first job I got was as a tour guide so it’s what I did. And after ten years I decided to start my own business and because all the tours I’ve done had been in small vehicles up to ten people, sometimes two or three people and I think it’s better to have a proper conversation with someone in a small group than to huge group.
I did one of them this morning and it was a lot of fun but I wouldn’t always do it. I had about fifty English high school kids this morning for two hours. They’re all wanting play rugby so I gave them a little city tour. It’s a lot of fun but it’s really a different kind of energy.
- Do you have any anecdotes from your experience as a guide?
Mike : I do a lot of Lord of the Rings tours and I bring lots of fans where they made the movie and you get some really crazy fans! Like people throw themselves on the ground and start crying because it’s where Frodo touched the ground! People come down in costume, people come down and can speak Elvish language. And this is from any country. I had some crazy French fans, Japanese, American. So the most fun stories come from Lord of the Rings fans they’re just so passionate and crazy about it before they even get here. That’s it!
- One question seems to come back all the time in traveler’s mind: North Island or South Island? So what could be your advice to help people who have to choose and can’t do both islands?
Mike : I’m from the South Island so I use to say the South Island is a natural beauty and the most famous adventure stuff is in Queenstown, the most famous beauty is in Milford Sound and Fiordland so I love the South Island but it depends why you are coming for.
North Island has more culture, more people but you also have beaches and these things.
If you’re coming for a week and you can only do one you have to decide what is the most important. And if you want to be blown away by the scenery you go to the South Island. If you want to embrace the Kiwi culture maybe stick in the North. I aswered both, did I?!
A lot of people come here and think they’re only come once so they they want to try to do everything in a couple of days. I think it’s a mistake even if you are coming once, you just pick a few areas and see them better than to try seeing everything. It’s really possible you go home and decide to come back even if you weren’t going to. I think it doesn’t matter which one do you pick because you’d probably come back and do the other one later anyway.
- I think I understood, according to you website, you were actually in an Uruk-hai skin for a week. Did you?!
Mike : Before I was a tour guide I was already fan of the books The Lord of the Rings from high school. So when they announced the movie was coming I really knew I wanted to be involved so I kept an eye. One day in a local newspaper, they were looking for extras but they didn’t say what sort, just “do you want to be an extra? So come along on this place on this day and make it work!” I did even try hard! They just took some measurement, how long are your arms, your legs, what kind of creature would you fit basically. So apparently I was the same size than an Uruk-hai! So I got to be a short Uruk-hai for a week and my scene I was in was at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring when Boromir got killed and Merry and Pippin got kidnapped and taking away. Nothing too special! The stuntmen got pay to do the actions so we just run out to the fight and then we stop just before, we go and sit down and the stuntmen come and do the actual real fight. So we didn’t do anything too dangerous or too existing but it was a lot of fun obviously!
Oh actually! One more thing!
When they did the casting, my hair was really long, like down over my shoulders but by the time they came back I cut all my hair off and they said “where did your hair go?! You’re gonna be an Elf!!!”. If I didn’t cut my hair off I might be an Elf but I’d rather than be a bad guy! I think it’s probably cool!
- Everywhere on your website they are some mentions about Peter Jackson’s trilogies. You are a real fan, are you?
Mike : I’m a big fan! It’s almost not cool to be a fan in New Zealand. A lot of people even want to be an anti-fan! Have you heard something called the tall poppy? D’you know this phrase? The poppy, the flower?! Well, I think it’s from England but we have it too. If one poppy grows taller than the others it’s a tall poppy and you have to cut it down so it’s the same with people who don’t want to fit to the crowd.
A lot of people don’t like The Lord of the Rings, I love it. I love the books, the movies. I don’t watch the movies as much now because I don’t want to burn out cause I do tours all day and then watch the movie on night I’d get sick and I don’t want to get sick of it. I read the books every years too, couple of every two years probably. Actually I need to do it again! I like the Hobbit movie but not as much.
- Do you have any favorites Tolkien’s book?
Mike : I like The Silmarillion. A lot of people try and then give up after thirty pages but after like fifty-sixty pages and you pass the names and the creation, it gets really good!
Have you try to read any Tolkien in English ?
Yes, I’m reading Morgoth’s Ring at the moment!
Oh yeah cool! It’s challenging!
I like Beren and Lúthien, it’s my favorite story and it would make a pretty cool visual story but I don’t think as a movie. You know the Matrix movies? You know they did Animatrix? It was like ten short stories based on the Matrix and all were made by differend directors. I think it would be a fun way to see The Silmarillion’s stories like short and animated stories. Like a manga style Silmarillion! (laugh)
I talk about the Lord of the Rings all the time at work and people ask me “why I should read the Silmarillion?” Normally I say “you know the Balrog in the mines of Moria? So imagine thousand of those fighting thousand of Elves.” The scale is ridiculous! So that’s why I like it!
I didn’t read the Unfinished Tales or the History of Middle-earth. I haven’t read The Children of Húrin. I think it’s too much there. Maybe one day!
- After about ten years to guide people on Lord of the Rings, and now The Hobbit, film locations around New Zealand, you became a true expert in this kind of tour. Can you tell us this amazing story to be recommended by Ian Brodie in his book Hobbit Location Guidebook which is big a reference?
Mike : When he started writing the book he was jus a fan living in Wanaka which is by Queenstown. He knew he wanted to be involved in the movie somehow without actually working on the crew so I think he published in the studio to give permission to make his book. When they realized what he was doing in integrity, and was not just exploitation they approved his book. And he went to Queenstown first and someone to Queenstown introduced him to me because I was a fan. It was no Lord of the Rings tours yet, just a couple of guys. I was working in a video store when we met and I showed him all around the Queenstown locations. He was almost my first tour, I guess. I never thought about that before but my first tour was with Ian Brodie.
Have you seen his books? Have you read them? They’re pretty cool! His website has incredible photographies! When we were introduced we became friends. When he was working on that he was also working in an air museum in Wanaka which doesn’t exist anymore but we’d go to hear shows and hang up and stay at his house. He likes to drink, he likes good music and now we’re friends! When he did the second book I was very surprised to see that I was recommended as a private guide. I don’t think he would give it away lightly but it was a huge surprise and a nice honor to be on that book.
- What are the different kind of tours you propose to your guests?
Mike : If they come to me with an idea of what they want, I try and ask a lots of questions and see what they’re interested the most.
The Lord of the Rings, it’s easy because I know exactly what to do for people but maybe they’re wanna go hiking or maybe wanna just do crazy adventure stuff so we’re wanna balance which area they want to go to with what they could do in each place.
I customize whatever you want to do. But my specialities I guess, apart Lord of the Rings, I want to take more people to, there is a lot of transports museums like aviation museums, cars museums and things. And I’d like to do more tours they combined that with more sports events, classic cars, take people on there and then visit museums and things. And then you can combine with things like train journeys with everything else to make a real transport based tour. We have some incredible old cars both European/British and American in New Zealand from all different ages so it’s something I’ll really like to get into.
I think there is a lot of people already doing wine tour, golf tour. Possibly I could do that but only if they want to do other stuff as well because they’re been better going to the wine specialist but some of us are doing beers and food tour in New Zealand. The beer thing is really good too. Wellington is the heart of good beer in New Zealand.
- Do you discover some new things when you go back on a site? Something which didn’t catch your attention before. Are you still surprise?
Mike : I never felt like I’ve done the same tour twice. Because every time you go it’s with different people, seasons are different, the trees are always growing. But there are always different things happening.
Maybe I’ve just watched a documentary and looking things with different angles. I always try to learn more about a place. I never wanted to assume to know everything because I don’t try so hard! But I don’t get some hang up on dates and names and facts and figures, it’s more about what the heart of the place is really about and we try to find that. No one wants to remember who made these things in 1964. ‘Cause when you stuck with 50 people you’re gonna get the facts and figures, you won’t gonna get stories. Because I normally do just in a car for one or two people, you get to places faster because you don’t loading and unloading thousand of people and you can go down a little side road, you can make things up as you go. If something looks good and there is a market wasn’t here last week, you stop and check up at the market. More flexible!
- How would you convince people to visit your country?
Mike : I think if they heard of it and they’ve seen some photos, theyr probably already want to come so they just have to find a way to pay for it. I don’t have to work too hard to convince them but what I do on my Facebook page (ndl. : see link below) I post lots of links like official photos in New Zealand and other people travel’s stories. I’ve got a few people follow me on Facebook who just love to look at the photos and comment. They’ve been here or planning to come here but they need to see what it looks like and they’re wanna come.
- … and to choose you as their own guide?
Mike : That’s a tough one because my biggest problem is having people to know who I am and there are a lot of guides in New Zealand. So I have to somehow be a bit different and that’s the biggest challenge! How do you trust and know a personality over internet? So I really need to have conversations with people. If they find out who I am, I try email conversation, maybe a Skype or a chat and we have to find out a good fit before we go out on an adventure. So first they have to find out who I am online and if they’re interested then we chat. And then they can decide if they want me or not! I don’t have to convince them, they have to decide!