Australia/New Zealand 2007: An expose on tour guides

Hi there. The Lovely Wife here with my first blog post. I’ve heard a lot about this blog and decided to finally contribute something to it given that my name may have come up a few times in passing.

As you may have read previously, my hubby and I have just completed a whirlwind 3-week trip to Eastern Australia and the South island of New Zealand. After lots of discussion, analysis and jokes about the quality of our various tours we took I volunteered to sum up our impressions of the fearless, and sometimes surreal, personas that have braved the waters of the tour guide world. It can be a harsh world out there and everyone is a critic so hold on to your hats cause we aren’t short on opinions around here!

On our first excursion from Sydney to the Blue Mountains three weeks ago we had a great tour guide. (For the purposes of this exposé keep in mind that tour guide is usually synonymous with bus driver). He was an Aussie that lived in the area, had a family, knew the Country and all those interesting things that only the locals would know about (housing prices, local politics, standard of living, etc.). He was also genuinely excited for us tourists that we were going to see all these amazing sites and even proclaimed that he had “the best job in the world”. On top of all that he was extremely friendly and we had no doubt that we were going to be well looked after for the day.

Little did we know at that time that such guides were few and far between and as the trip progressed we began to eagerly anticipate what the next guide had in store for us.

Over the course of the many, many day trips we took for the rest of our vacation we quickly found out that immigrants from all over the world had found their special niche in the tourism industry. Whether it was a bus, boat, train or van it was clear that there was simply little space for, or desire of, the local people to share their corner of the world with visitors. In total our trips were led by: two Brits, a German, a Frenchman, two Aussies, five Kiwis (one of them in Australia) and a Dutchman. The Kiwis definitely did better than the Aussies as far as employing local people but just barely.

This made for an interesting experience but was definitely disappointing at times. I can’t honestly say that the local tour guides were better at their job than the foreigners. It was obvious that some had lived there for quite some time and/or had made the effort to get to know the place.

Australia was by far the friendlier place of the two countries. No matter what the nationality the tour guides they were alwayd happier and livelier. The only exception being our one Kiwi, which brings me to my second point: New Zealanders are not as hospitable as their reputation would have us believe. Now, don’t get me wrong, no one was ever rude to us per se, but they weren’t jumping up and down to make us feel welcome either. In that respect, it was like many of New Zealand’s other attributes that were so much like the UK.

But back to the tour guides. Like I was saying, Australia did a better job showing their guests around. The German girl on our Kuranda rainforest trip in Cairns was super sweet even though she didn’t speak great English, and the British lady who showed us around the Sydney opera house was also very nice. The Australian bus driver who drove us from Brisbane to the Australia Zoo was funny. He cracked some great jokes in the stereotypically dry humor kinda way that the Aussies are famous for. He managed to do this throughout the two hour drive where he started off by telling us he was gonna tell us “a little bit” about Queensland history during our trip and then proceeded to give us a chronological blow by blow of the European settlement. Let me give you an example of how some of this undetailed dialogue might have gone:

“People in England decided in 1811 that they should establish a penal colony in Queensland. In 1812, King Greg the 4th or Parliament or something sent a letter to Governor Henry in New South Wales saying to do this act. When the letter got there in 1813, the Governor told his wife Margaret to send her Cousin George and his best mate Jerome to get some horses and scout out the land. In 1814, they found the area around Brisbane, named it Moreton Bay and decided it was a good place to start a prison. But somehow the name Moreton was changed along the way to include an “e” which it didn’t originally have. That happened sometime before 1820. George and Jerome split up in 1818. One made it back ok and one stayed and to fight off the aborigines…” blah blah blah. You get the point right? It was somewhat interesting but funny how he would stop every so often to insert a joke, interrupt himself to point out a historic landmark, or avoid running a motorcyclist off the road. Really.

The Frenchman that took us on our Wooroonooran Safari was by far the best guide. His accent was so heavy you would have thought he was right off the boat but he had actually lived in Australia for more than 10 years. He had quite a job on his hand doing a bilingual full-day tour in English and French. He didn’t complain about it once even though he rarely had to do something like that and it made his job twice as difficult. Just think, he had to tell each and every fact twice, translate questions and answers from both languages all while driving a van to a swamp, crocodile farm, and the Wooroonooran rainforest national park. When we were at the Johnstone Crocodile farm he even jumped in and showed us around the animal enclosures as the keepers were busy with a large group that had just come in on a bus. He could’ve just sat back and taken a break while we were in there. Not only did he do all this but he managed to make us all feel like we had the most personal tour guide on the planet as well. He did an excellent job making both language groups feel like he was their friend and available for any question or conversation you may want to strike up. We asked him questions about the places we were visiting, politics, his family, his job, the environment, aborigines, history and so on. And all with a smile on his face. Honestly, the man deserves a medal.

New Zealand brought its own flavor to tourism. We had some average friendly Kiwi guides on our excursions to the glowworm caves in Te Anau, Milford Sound and Kaikoura whale watching. And we also had one very, very sweet local lady from Twizel who showed us around “Pelennor Fields” (you Lord of the Rings freaks – I mean fans – will know what I mean) on our impromptu Lord of the Rings tour. I would definitely recommend all of these, especially the last one as it seems pretty good value for money based on some of the other LOTR tours we saw advertised.

On our second “Brit experience” the guide’s name could have been I’m-only-here-because-I-can’t-find-another-job man. Seriously, he was alright when you approached him with a question but I’ve never met a less talkative person whose sole job in life was to show people around a place they were seeing for the first time. He picked us up from our hotel for our swimming with dolphins trip to Akaroa, and didn’t say anything until the van was full. He then got on his microphone and told us it would be about an hour to our destination and then didn’t say a word until we got there. Well, I lied. He DID make a couple stops on the way there where we got a few words out of him. The first stop was at a vista point. He told us the name of it as we were driving up to it and then let us out to take a look. I guess he figured the sign posted there would tell us everything we needed to know. I decided to approach him with a question to see if I could coax a personality out of hiding and to my surprise he engaged in a response! My hubby jumped into the conversation, as I’m sure he, like myself, recognized that this might be our only opportunity to get some valuable information out of this guy. He played the obvious “I’m British too” card to try to make a personal connection, which worked a little bit. His reaction to our attempt at breaking down this wall of ice was to maneuver the dialogue onto how bad British people are. At that point I think I named him glass-half-empty man. I’m not kidding but the man had a cynical response or comment about everything! Some classics were: “the Brits complain about everything” (yes, the irony here is overwhelming, I know), “not everything the Brits brought over here was good”, “in 1915, they renamed that bay from German bay and I bet you can guess why THAT is”. But the cake goes to the story he told us about when he recently visited the British museum of history in London and took it upon himself to tell one of the workers there that none of the stuff was theirs and that they had just “nicked” everything from around the world during Imperialism.

But, the grand prize of tour guide weirdos has to go to the “flying Dutchman”. Now, I’ve never met a real Dutch person before (unless you count some older relatives that moved to the U.S. over 70 years ago) but I doubt they are all like this guy. This mid-thirties “dude” was definitely one who likes his cars fast and his women pretty. He was a smoking, promiscuous flirt with spiky, blondish, thinning hair and a wicked sense of humor. He had no trouble dropping the “f” bomb in conversation along with other choice swear words as if it was just a normal thing you did when you engage in casual conversation with perfect strangers. He promptly told the entire bus, as we were beginning our day together, that he came to NZ to follow an ex-girlfriend but then dumped her because she turned 30 and that was far to old for him. But not to worry, he assured us, he obtained a younger model shortly thereafter. Other highlights of the day included him joking about pushing me off the cliff, running after a pretty girl on the street while smoking a cigarette, and when I asked him if he was ready for us to get back on the bus the famous response, “I’m always ready, just ask my girlfriend”!! To top it off, when we got back on the bus for the final time he asked the two of us why we were on an “old people’s trip”. I’m not sure what I said but it was one of those moments that you wish you could’ve said something clever. I mean, come on buddy, you can’t pay money for a surreal experience like that!

Well, those are the highlights. It’s funny that no matter how much planning you put into a trip like this there is just no way to account for all the variables a tour guide can bring to your activities. The weirder the guide the funnier the memories I think so it’s better to embrace it, sit back and enjoy!


  1. Stuart Said,

    December 9, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

    Hey! Great write up Mrs!

  2. Andy Kirk Said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 1:49 am

    I’m jealous! Didn’t know you were going. Andy

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment