FINDING HIDDEN TAONGA
WORDS Sue Hoffart PHOTOS Neil Macbeth
Unlikely career choices are Cate Grace’s specialty.
The former investment bank employee worked as a construction project manager before becoming a wellness coach who is fiercely determined to live well with her many chronic illnesses.
Her latest venture, in partnership with husband Riwai Grace, involves a Christchurch city walking tour business. Not an obvious side-line for a woman whose rheumatoid arthritis-induced mobility issues mean she needs crutches when walking.
But it all makes perfect sense to Cate. “Every part of my crazy world involves caring for people,” the qualified nutritionist and part-time motivational speaker says. The Hidden Gems business aims to show tourists and locals where to find the city’s lesser-known treasures. These might include a particularly good cocktail, an intriguing piece of Māori history or hidden poetry that has been etched into concrete and is revealed only when sprayed with water.
The tour concept sprang from numerous encounters with lost people trying to negotiate their way around the city’s ever-changing, quake-damaged streets. The staunch Christchurch advocates were also fed up with hearing their city was boring.
“Riwai and I made a point of going out in the weekends and discovering really cool things to do, where to eat, places to go downtown. “But other people don’t know about them. We’d be out walking our dogs and constantly meet tourists who couldn’t find their way around, or locals saying they didn’t know where to find a decent coffee now.”
So, the couple decided to kill two birds with one stone; promote the city they adore and turn their weekend hobby into a business. “And when I have a bee in my bonnet, I’m going to make a thing work.”
For five years, while working full-time in her own business, Cate has spent spare hours talking to friends’ parents and grandparents or fossicking through library archives, seeking stories and facts. She is the researcher and booking agent, while Riwai – who works for the New Zealand Fire Service and also on another business with Cate – is the tour guide.
Their customers can choose a ‘hidden taonga’ walk that unveils Māori and European history or one that focusses on offbeat culinary. Their guide will also tailor suggestions to his audience.
“We might promote the street art app, or we can show them the oak tree planted from an acorn brought back from Gallipoli. If someone’s really interested in the James Cook statue, we can tell them where the marble came from and why a bookmaker gave money to have it built.
“Eventually I’m going to have a knee brace so then, hopefully, I’ll be able to lead a tour for people with disabilities.”
The business has relied on word of mouth promotion, but its founders have recently launched an online booking system and website and are developing online apps. They have also trained additional guides in anticipation of growth.
In May, Hidden Gems was named among seven fledgling tourism businesses accepted into a prestigious national business accelerator programme, with Lightning Lab.
For Cate, business growth means being able to spread the word about her city’s charms. “Imagine if people wanted to go to Christchurch like people go to New York. Then I could leave the planet happy.”