Arriving at Kinloch Lodge 20 years ago…

03 October 2020

Good morning world.  I start this first blog post with so much gratitude for the previous 20 years and with such hope for the next 20.

For those of you who have got to know us over the last 20 years you will have seen our family grow, our business change, you will have seen us through some really tough times and some really good ones.  The very essence of what makes this place so special has been the people. We have been extremely blessed with some amazing ones.  Thank you to you our people, staff, suppliers and our fabulous guests near and far.

Last year some of you may know, we put the lodge on the market to see if the next custodian might be out there with deep pockets and a great vision to take the lodge to the next stage.  The universe sent us floods and uncertainty and we took it as a sign we’re the right people to keep taking this forward, to rebuild for the future.  COVID has given us breathing space to dream, plan and do.

A little bit of history – our story so far – the early bits

John and I met in 1999 at Nguarahoe Ski club on the North Island both with a passion for skiing and the outdoors.  John was over from the UK on a career break from the perils of dealing with the outcomes of terrible industrial accidents and I had just arrived back from the UK and was managing the city foreign exchange and travel sites for Thomas Cook.  John had a job in Switzerland to return to and a house and a life in the UK so things were complicated, though, after a couple of trips to UK and Europe for me, John emigrated to NZ in June 2000.

To find out what we wanted to do we started a three week trip to ski the South Island, though came straight to Queenstown as this was where the snow was.  Saying this, there really wasn’t a lot of snow, so we sat down with a pen and paper and worked out what we really wanted out of life and the conclusion was that we should purchase a piece of land and eventually build an outdoor pursuits lodge in either Wanaka or Glenorchy.

During these bad snow days, we also happened to pop in to see Steph at the Professionals in their office on Shotover Street.  When looking at Glenorchy, I asked her what was at Kinloch?  She told us there was a lodge for sale, though she added that it had been on the market for 5 years, the owner was really particular about who he sold to and he wanted too much money for it.  Roll on another bad day at Coronet Peak and we decided to go for a drive.  Glenorchy and Wanaka had been Johns favourite spots in his earlier trip around the South Island and the drive to Glenorchy certainly didn’t disappoint.  We continued around to Kinloch with Samson my golden retriever pup.  Arriving at Kinloch we were blown away by the scenery.

Whilst staring at the lodge we were approached by two guys who had been chatting on the beach.  It turned out to be Pete Whyte and Alistair Angus the only full-time residents.  Pete piped up that he knew where the keys were and he could show us around.  Looking around was a huge shock.  Everything felt incredibly cold, rooves leaked, rotten wood in many places, graffiti, mismatched everything and the place stunk of dead things and we realised that it would be a huge undertaking.

Samson thought otherwise and voted Kinloch to be the best place on earth and after all who is ever more honest than a puppy dog?  John and I called Steph and asked if we could organise to stay and drove on up for a second time, met the owner who was hosting a group of Mosgiel school kids on a camp and we came up and stayed in what is now the Kiwi room.  At the time it was set up with 4 steel bunks.  By this stage, there was a hoar frost and despite the beauty, it was freezing cold.  Coming from the North Island I found this hard to bear and we headed straight to the pub in the morning for breakfast.  Our fountain of knowledge was another Steph who gave us a low down on the area, what was happening and what to expect.  Warmed up we returned to Kinloch and had a good catch up with ‘Buck’ – Alan Buchanan.  After 2 nights and the continuing persuasion of Samson the dog, we decided we would put an offer in on Kinloch Lodge.  After all, the early history and story were amazing and we felt we would love to continue that story.

Putting in an offer had seemed like a simple thing.  John had a house in Hebdenbridge in the UK that was on the market and under offer and I had my 6-bed house in Royal Oak/Onehunga in Auckland that we weren’t planning on selling and there were plenty of house sharers to cover the mortgage.  The year 2000 was a recessionary year and on asking the bank, they were less than enthusiastic for us to purchase a backpackers that was in their eyes in the ‘middle-of-nowhere’.  Charlie from Mortgage brokers also gave it a go and found that only ANZ were marginally interested and then said no.  Sales and marketing is my background and with the best persuasive skills, we could muster we returned to National bank.  By this stage, Buck had reluctantly accepted our offer and we sat down with the bank to talk through how we could make this happen.  ‘Get a good accountant to prepare your business plan they said’.  On the recommendation of my first boss in travel Don Foley, we went to Milne Maingay in Mount Wellington and went to see Peter Clark.  We drafted up our business plan, organised a bank required valuation of the property – thank you Auckland University inaugural online marketing course.  Milne Maingay told the bank they couldn’t add anything to the business plan we hadn’t already done, and then we waited…. Reluctantly the bank agreed to loan us 80% of the property valuation, though this still left us short despite cashing in every last thing we could other than my house and John’s.  To get this far, we had had to re-paint my house and get an Auckland valuation and to cash in insurance premiums in the UK.  My mother came to the rescue loaning us 36 thousand dollars and creating a caveat against the property in her name.

Coming back from holiday I put in notice at Thomas Cook and lined up a job as national sales manager for a new travel software company being started by one of the ex Sales Directors of Air New Zealand.  The idea being that John would run the lodge and I would bring in funds by continuing to work, though basing myself out of Kinloch.  In the end, John didn’t want to do this by himself and I said goodbye to the travel industry.

Having had our offer accepted on the lodge, it seemed folly to not make a deeper commitment and we were engaged to be married.

We took the 2-day journey back South with Samson the puppy dog at the back end of September stopping in Christchurch to pick up a second golden retriever Delilah.  We stayed at the Kawarau holiday park in the Outlook cabin that was set just below the old bridge.  After a brief stay with Steph our real estate agent and Chas Drader at their property, we were just about ready for the big adventure and we arrived to take over Kinloch Lodge on 2 October 2000.

We arrived on a freezing cold October day and I remember making toasted sandwiches in what is now the self-catering kitchen for a multitude of removals boys.  We cracked a bottle of bubbles on the wharf and settled in with the whiteboard to work out where to start.

We had asked the previous owner if there were any existing bookings though were assured that there wasn’t.  When we arrived we were handed a list of people coming to stay including school groups and labour weekend guests. Okay…. John and I lived in a bunk room with an adjoining room that connected to a kind of office and tiny kitchenette.  We shared the rundown showers and facilities with the guests.

We took over the landline and when calls came they rang on loud school style bells all over the property.  We purchased a great big book that became our guest register and I put together a booking sheet that we photocopied to get correct guest information.  Armed with a manual system and MYOB we entered into the world of business and self-employment.

Fresh out of Auckland, used to a warmer climate and a different kind of work, this was a baptism by storm.  Firstly there were mice…..Being surrounded by beech forest meant that whenever the beech trees seeded there is literally an explosion of mice and this was one of those years.  Having never taken a mouse out of a trap before I became very adept at this, lining my kill along the bannisters in front of the lodge.  Most of the day we spent deep cleaning and painting and I quickly had to hide the kill when we had the occasional visitor.  John being from the UK and me being from Auckland, we were a bit of a novelty for the Jane Campion style (Top of the Lake) Glenorchy of 2000.

Our neighbours and friends Stu and Anne Percy from Routeburn station popped over one day with a pavlova as a welcome gift.  I didn’t know they had given us a pavlova as it was popped on the table and Samson took one look and decided Golden Retrievers should retrieve…. It was a while before that story was worked out…. Apparently, their daughter Michelle watched the whole thing happen.  Anne and Stu had bets on us leaving after a year.  Not sure we can ever match them as they are pretty close to 40 years here and have some amazing stories to tell.

One of the best things about Kinloch is really knowing your neighbours.  In the early days, we would often dine with our neighbours and we’d often have drinks at the end of the week with Stu and Anne or coffee during the day as their youngest Grace aged 3 protested at having to stop for a while.

In the early days, we had so little money, so we would purchase Corbans White label at $5.99 per bottle when we could.  A glass or two after a 12 hour day scrubbing and painting was a well-earned treat.  Every other cent went into paint and equipment to gradually improve the lodge.

The first room to gain a bit of a makeover was the Heritage lounge.  We had bought some of my furniture down from Auckland and we wanted somewhere a little cosier to sit in an evening.  Once painted we invited Susan Miller and Pete Whyte over for a celebratory dinner and this was soon followed with Mike Stewart with the HQ Pure Adventure crew.  We had received a call in the afternoon from Mike saying he wanted to bring his team over.  There were around 12 super-fit guys and girls that hadn’t been told that they needed to run and swim across the delta to get to us.  Still a memorable time for us all.  After dinner, they all ran back!

Three weeks into our hard labour my mother arrived from Auckland to come and help.  Her first words knowing that we were going to get married here in April were “you can’t possibly think you can get married here”.  Eventually, she recovered and mum now calls herself the oldest woofer in the book.  Then aged 67ish she mucked in with John and me from the early morning whiteboards to the evening Corbans White Label.  From here it was straight to labour weekend.

Labour weekend was a traditional time for the Bryant crew to get together and we prepared to meet the family that had always had a place here.  Some were in cribs, some stayed in the lodge.  I found it hard with them all lining up along our fence line and staring in and discussing us in varying tones of annoyance that the property had passed from the family.  In my 30’s, I hadn’t learnt that “What others think of you is none of your business”.  Some were supportive and were surprised at how much we had done.  Bryant family became one of our yardsticks as they always noticed our improvements every time they came.  For the first three years, anyone who hadn’t been here before would say.  “Gosh, you have a lot to do”, the Bryants always told us how much we’d done.

These are my earliest Kinloch memories…. next, we move into school camps, refurbishing the Heritage rooms, Lord of the Rings and crazy Christmas parties.