Published: NZ Herald 
31 August 2018

He Tangata: Douglas Keith of Southern Discoveries

By Elisabeth Easther.

Elisabeth Easther talks to the fleet and safety manager of Southern Discoveries.

I’m from a little Highland village in Scotland called Dallas, 30 miles north of Inverness with a population of about 250. Life was quiet there, and when I started primary school, there were just nine other students. When I was young, family holidays involved travelling around Scotland, going to castles, walking in the hills and enjoying the countryside. One of the foods I miss from Scotland is a delicacy known as a buttery, or rollie; basically, it’s the Scottish equivalent of a croissant, but it tastes far nicer, although it’s unlikely to be any better for you.

I was one of those kids who didn’t know what he wanted to do after leaving school. I studied nursing but found it wasn’t for me, so I decided to go into the workplace. For a couple of years, I worked as an insurance underwriter before working in the complaints department of a telecommunications company. To start with, I hated that job, having to deal with angry people every day, but it did teach me some great life skills in learning how to defuse tricky situations. Working in tourism today — and being able to deal with upset customers and make them smile again — those skills have come in handy.

At school, my cousin and I always spoke about doing our OE, either travelling across the States, or going to Australia or New Zealand. Because we had family in New Zealand, we decided to come here. It was the longest plane ride of my life, Glasgow to Manchester to Singapore. Landing in Christchurch, we bought a little van then headed to Dunedin, The Catlins, Invercargill and finally to Te Anau, where our family was. I was 24 years old and had planned to be here for only one year. Twelve years later, I’m still here.

Not long after arriving, I got a job washing dishes on one of our vessels in Milford Sound.

During that first season, I took the opportunity to “do some missions” as people say in New Zealand — climbing mountains, going on treks to waterfalls, jumping in lakes. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with New Zealand.

Living in Milford Sound for seven years, I worked my way up the ladder from a Boat Host to Operations Manager, looking after four tourism vessels, a kayaking operation, and a cafe and bar. And now I’m the company’s fleet and safety manager, based in Queenstown.

I’m probably an overly cautious individual, which is why I suit the safety role. I remember during my first season, going for a walk up Gertrude’s Saddle, just past the Homer Tunnel with a couple of the lads after work. This was one of the toughest missions I had ever completed as my Kiwi mates decided to take the more unconventional route to the summit. I remember clinging to the side of the cliff, holding on to bits of rock. A couple of times I had to stop, pretty much frozen with fear, and my mates had to come back and slowly but surely edge me off the cliff face. That’s probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done, although the view from the top was worth it.

The old travel bug has definitely got me and I’ve visited many destinations in Europe and South-east Asia. My fiancee is from Malaysia, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time with her family in Malacca. Malaysia is such a melting pot, where Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures collide. And there’s also the architecture, the food and the history of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation. One of the first meals my fiancee’s father bought me was at one of the local street markets. There were about 30 hawker stalls, including one which advertised a local toad delicacy, with the poor live toads on display at the front of the stall. To let me try some authentic Malaysian food, he ordered the toads which were turned into a lovely stew. While this may not have been my first choice, I got stuck into it and actually quite enjoyed it.

Before I became a citizen, every year I’d send all my documentation including my passport to Immigration New Zealand to reapply for my work visa. In Milford Sound, there is no official postal service with all mail being delivered on the daily tourist coaches. One day the driver comes to see me: “I’ve got some news for you,” he says. “One of the kea jumped into the bus and grabbed a courier bag with your name on it, and he’s flown off with it.” I thought he was taking the mickey but he was deadly serious. The kea had stolen my passport. I’ve never been able to look at a kea the same way since.

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