A new private touring business with connections to the original Maori escort for the Southern Lakes' first European explorer is taking root in Wanaka.
REKO Private Guides kicked off at Tourism Rendezvous New Zealand in Rotorua this week. The guiding company creates off-the-beaten track tour and transfer packages that cater to the premium market; the experience prices are tailored to individual requirements.
Mark Orbell, owner of Wanaka's Ridgeline Adventures, co-founded the company with his sister, Cate Gibb. Orbell's family has lived in the region since the 1860s gold rush.
He said that authentic, value-over-volume experiences are the future for the country's tourism industry and Wanaka community due to their positive impact on customers and the environment.
Orbell told the Wanaka Sun, “We will have a very strong conservation focus for REKO Private Guides; we're already working with local conservation groups on a number of projects and plan to build on that to help protect our unique natural environment we are privileged to live in.”
He said REKO’s formation is supported also by a growing list of trade partners searching out absolute unique, tailored experiences for their high net-worth clients. "Tourism New Zealand has also identified the biggest growth opportunities exist with the top 10 percent of the world’s wealthy. REKO offers bespoke tourism experiences with genuine Kiwi hospitality, delivered with passion by authentic local storytellers."
REKO is named after the Ngai Tahu guide Reko, who led Nathanael Chalmers to Wanaka and Queenstown in 1853. Reko was a Maori who had established a ferrying business for European explorers from his home in Tuturau, and Chalmers was the first European to see the Queenstown Lakes area during his exploration. Reko agreed to help Chalmers explore some of the South Island in search of farmland in a trade for Chalmers’ three-legged cast-iron cooking pot, which has since been donated to the Southland Museum.
Through Orbell's research of Reko’s story, he made contact with Reko’s 84-year-old great-grandson, Alexander Reko Hesselin, who granted permission to use the name after the two men visited Reko's grave in Tuturau.
"After some correspondence, Mark and I met in January 2019; by this time I had been doing my own research and found that Mark’s family was on a similar basis to mine regarding early settler establishment in the South Island of New Zealand," said Hesselin. "We got on well, and I agreed to the use of Reko’s name with Mark as I see it as another way of ensuring that Reko’s story will be positively retained in the future. So far there are two in my whanau bearing the Reko name, so long may it go on."
Orbell said it is a privilege to have received the family blessing from a significant person in the New Zealand’s early history.