Great working remotely from patio

Hosting hundreds of New Zealand and international visitors of all ages and with varying expectations every day takes supreme organisation and the people skills of a diplomat, as three new recruits at Queenstown's Walter Peak High Country Farm tell James Beech.


Luke Taylor (30)
Queenstown operations manager

I'm responsible for running Real Journeys' operations in the Queenstown region, so that includes coaches which connect Queenstown to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, the historic steamship TSS Earnslaw and the Walter Peak High Country Farm, which encompasses the farm itself, farm show and farm tour and the Colonel's Homestead restaurant.

I'm at Walter Peak several days a week and I like to work remotely and be connected to head office by iPhone or iPad. I love being able to sit on the patio and smash out a few emails over there, rather than sit in an office.

We're lucky the Real Journeys engineering workshop is in Te Anau and we can connect Walter Peak through the Von Valley road. It's only a 100km drive, so our engineers upgrade our equipment several times a week.

At the moment, I'm managing close to 200 staff and if there are 150 people dining in the restaurant, we'd probably have 25 to 30 kitchen, front-of-house, grounds-keeping and rural team members.

There can be between eight and 12 front-of-house and rural team members living in staff accommodation at Walter Peak, which allows us to overnight people who clean the restaurant and shut the operation down, then get the place going again early in the morning.

The biggest issue we have is the logistics of connecting a restaurant to Queenstown on the other side of the lake.

I came to Real Journeys in May this year from a 12-year career in the Royal New Zealand Navy. I resigned as a lieutenant-commander and spent the majority of my career at Devonport Naval Base, Auckland, and serving on a number of navy ships.

I was lucky enough to serve as the captain of HMNZS Taupo and most recently I came to Real Journeys from the New Zealand Defence Force headquarters in Wellington.

I'm a South Island boy, Christchurch born and bred, so being able to return to the South Island and be close to my family has been fantastic.

Real Journeys has a really strong maritime pedigree so the transition from the navy hasn't been difficult. I was in a very similar position in the navy in that I managed operations and was involved in daily scheduling, so it's all moving parts and people.

I enjoy ensuring things get achieved on time and on budget and I enjoy working with frontline staff as well, which is very much what I did in the military.

The tourism sector is a really neat sector to be involved in. Not only is it a big contributing part of the New Zealand economy, you can really positively influence someone's experience.


Justin Koen (27)
Walter Peak High Country Farm executive chef

I've been executive chef for three months and I've been in New Zealand for five years. I'm Zimbabwean and I was working around the world, loved it here and stayed.

I started in a bakery in Harare and lived for a year or so in Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, then I went to South Lodge Hotel, a Michelin star restaurant in the UK.

I started work at Wai, in Queenstown, at the end of 2008 and I was one of six chefs.

In the early days I learned the basics. Cuisine in Zimbabwe is pretty prehistoric. We do eat a lot of barbecues and a lot of meat, as it's a landlocked country.

England is where I learned the majority of what I know. The chef I worked for was a young guy, as well, and had worked with Gordon Ramsay and Sean Campbell.

It was all fine dining as well, so ever since then, all I did was fine dining. But the fine dining style of food is dying. People nowadays are looking for something more casual with a simple taste in food and a sharing element.

There's a lot more Asians in Queenstown now and they're not into the fine dining scene at all, but fine dining will definitely come back.

A major difference at Walter Peak is our diners smash in all at once and it's a massive challenge, but it's all about organisation and you can deal with it.

Different nationalities are all pretty open to try what New Zealand has to offer and our meat is halal certified.

The carvery dinner was a bit dated and every product needs refreshing. With the gourmet barbecue, we want to produce something fresh and use local seasonal food. Our lamb comes over from Cardrona - we churn through it - and I get a lot of my veg from a grower-supplier in Cromwell, and our berries and asparagus are local and sausages are made in Queenstown.

Through summer we'll be using a tonne of meat a week and 80 litres of dairy a day. We do two lunch services at 11.30am and 12.45pm and a 6.45pm dinner and, if there's demand, we could open up a 4.45pm or a 8.45pm dinner, as well.

At dinner we also serve loads of seafood - salmon from Stewart Island, clams from Dunedin and oysters on Christmas Day. There is pressure, but I love it.


Russell McKay (22)
Walter Peak High Country Farm rural farm demonstrator 

I'm the youngest of three rural demonstrators and I've been here about two months. Kingy [the sheep dog] has been here longer than me. Kingy's my boss; I answer to him. I'm from a family-owned home farm near Gore. It's been there for over 140 years now. I went to Lincoln University and did a bachelor of commerce. The majority of 2013 I spent on the home farm, then I decided it was time for a wee change of scenery.

My partner lives in Queenstown, so I thought I'd get a bit closer to her and the opportunity came up at Walter Peak.

I thought they'd need a farmer with people skills and I thought that's what I was. But you learn a heck of a lot about other people's cultures. You gain a lot of respect when you use a tiny bit of their language.

They threw me in the deep end, but I'm OK talking in front of groups. I like people and I like farming, so this job's good for me.

The old hands told me never try to bull anybody. You could have a tour group of 100 and all it takes is for one person to know what they're talking about, so you have to know what you're talking about.

I learned on the job you have to give politically correct answers. You can't talk like a farmer does to another farmer. Sometimes you have to simplify things a fair bit.

A lot of the children think eggs are built in a factory, so you have to be aware most people live in concrete jungles these days. You have to explain what a ram and a ewe are.

Probably the most common question I hear is: does the sheep get cold after shearing? - which makes sense, but I explain how we use a snow comb and they're quite tough and OK out there.

We shear two sheep a day at least, 10 times a week, but it's a far cry from shearing 200 a day.

Each rural demonstrator does two shows a day, sometimes more, and when you're not doing the shows, you're doing the farming.

We look after the water pumps and generators and it tends to be us and the groundsmen who do the odd jobs. I live here full time and I can pop over on any boat when I'm not working.

It's a really nice lifestyle here - a good view from the office.

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