Dylan Rushbrook of Tourism Central Otago: As told to Elisabeth Easther
While I was at school, I worked as a kitchen hand at Cobb & Co in Dunedin. Not only did I get free food and get paid, I was invited to all the university parties by the girls I worked with. That was a bonus I’d not factored in. I also found out that hospitality was pretty cool so, after high school, I did the Hotel Services course at polytech in Cromwell. From there I worked in various Queenstown hotels and spent four years at Millbrook before returning to Dunedin to do a Bachelor of Tourism.
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I took my first proper overseas trip when I was 25 and went backpacking in Vietnam. We mainly stayed in family-owned B&Bs. They were super cheap and the locals were incredibly welcoming. In one place in Saigon, the son was the porter and the daughter the receptionist who also looked after the restaurant. We came in one day and the son was eating a roll like a dosa. I asked him what it was, but he didn’t have good English and I had no Vietnamese so he gestured for me to follow him. We walked three blocks to a street vendor. This young guy ordered for me and got a good price. It was just a really cool moment of connection and even though it happened more than 16 years ago, it has really stayed with me as if it was yesterday.
I went to India for business, so tacked on some annual leave and headed to Ladakh in the mountains that border Tibet, Pakistan and India. We were based in Leh and, being at altitude, for the first 24 hours we had to be very low key because if you do get altitude sickness, the only way to fix it is to go back down. Once we’d adjusted, we hired Royal Enfield motorbikes and did day trips around this vast, rugged landscape. It was such an incredible buzz, exploring the mountainous countryside, visiting monasteries, passing all sorts of vehicles from horses and carts to buses and trucks and meeting incredible people. There were some rather questionable traffic rules, no doubt about that, and riding a motorbike in that part of the world is reasonably risky but mostly we felt safe.
While we were in Leh, the Dalai Lama spoke to about 20,000 people at a public event. We were in a designated spot for foreigners right up the front, and the Dalai Lama was about 20 metres from us. It was the most humbling experience, and he was also quite humorous, cracking jokes in several languages.
We hired a driver to take us up to the border with Nepal, as far north as you can go. We stayed with a family and slept on mats on the floor. They didn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak their dialect but they made us an amazing meal. The son who was about 12, he had a TV in the corner and during dinner he just wanted to watch TV and his parents were telling him off. There we were, in one of the most remote corners of the world and he’s just like kids everywhere. When we woke up, the sun was rising over the lake, and people were going about their business, that was magical.
India is an assault on your senses, you see such opulence and also extreme heart-breaking poverty. I was in a taxi in Mumbai when I saw a brand new Ferrari — why the heck you’d own a Ferrari in Mumbai where you can’t drive more than 5km an hour — and on the other side of the road were two young kids aged about 4 and 2. They were dressed in rags and begging for food and money. Of course it gets to you.
I’m the general manager of Tourism Central Otago and I help to develop and promote Central Otago as a visitor destination to domestic and international travellers. Central Otago appeals to people who appreciate wide-open spaces, stunning landscapes and boutique tourism. The lakes and mountains, the stunning colours, I love how distinct the seasons are here. When spring blossoms, everything comes to life and the colours are stunning. In summer we have that dry heat that the fruit loves. When we move into autumn, the district transforms into shades of burnt orange, then winter comes with hoarfrosts, the mountaintops are dusted with snow and the air is so clean and crisp. This vast region makes you feel really insignificant but in a good way, and it really blows me away.
Dylan Rushbrook is General Manager of Tourism Central Otago. centralotagonz.com