Any locals who still fantasise about jumping on a plane and exploring the world during the current pandemic but are put off by Covid complications like managed isolation (MIQ), can now fulfil their dream adventure thanks to a mobile travel company who recently rolled into town in a painted-up Mini.
World Travellers Mangawhai – owned and managed by Caro Imrie with support from her husband, Auckland Chamber of Commerce director Mike Lightfoot – ‘kicked off up here’ officially on April 1, offering wannabe travellers a helping hand to design trips around New Zealand, to the Cook Islands as well as further abroad.
“In the middle of a pandemic, who would open a travel business?” asks Caro. “We would! Crazy I know, and that shows how much faith we have in Mangawhai. We are a mobile business and we’re working in the community, our Mini is all painted up and she is running all round Mangawhai… we can come to you.”
Founded in 2009 by New Zealand travel industry professionals who wanted to create a new way of offering adventures, World Travellers is a co-operative and enables agents to get the best deals. They don’t have to use one company or one supplier, ‘which makes us quite nimble’ Imrie says.
“A perfect example is the ongoing situation in Australia. Right now I have 15 people stuck over there, I just wait for the government updates and then go into action. I’ve changed every one of them, got them new tickets, new itineraries, didn’t cost them a cent because I have an ‘I’ve got your back option’. It does have a small fee, but those 15 clients are incredibly grateful!” she says.
“I also do MIQ for people too which is a nightmare for the average traveller, however it’s all part of the service. I have the world at my finger tips and I’ve always got my client’s back… one phone call and all the pain goes away.”
An avid traveller herself since her late teens, Imrie has set foot in many countries around the world, tripping from New Zealand, Africa, Hawaii, the US, South America to Europe and Canada, and lists some of her most memorable experiences as witnessing an active volcano in Sicily, watching a ‘massive pride of lions’ wander towards her in Zimbabwe while sitting on the back of a truck ‘with a gin and tonic’, and ‘eating the world’s best hot dog’ in New York’s snowy Central Park.
“Travel-wise I’ve done some amazing stuff this year. The wilderness trail from Hokitika to Greymouth is one of New Zealand’s best hidden secrets and we even pulled into Bernie Monk’s pub in Greymouth to say what a great job he is doing for the community down there,” she says. “I’ve done a wine tour group this year to Blenheim and among other wee gems of that trip, we had a private tasting with winemaker Jules Taylor for a group of ten which was extraordinary.”
Imrie has also worked in the travel business for 34 years and was happily operating World Travellers Milford for five until Covid hit, leading to dealings with ‘a horrid landlord’ over payment of the lease during the 2020 lockdowns.
“I sub-leased the office in Milford and even gave the landlord an option of a 20-year lease for someone which he declined… I still have to pay $1000 a month until the lease ends,” she says. “We have had a bach up here for quite a few years and it was always a plan to move to Mangawhai later, however Covid changed all that and we decided to ‘flip’ our lives earlier, and moved here last September.”
The couple swapped their Mangawhai bach for a home – including sponsoring the local golf club and taking up lessons – and Auckland house for an apartment, so Imrie can still service her numerous city clients for World Travellers Milford.
“We make the best of both worlds, though needless to say looking out the window to the surf bar is much more appealing than looking out the window to the Auckland traffic!”
Despite Covid being an ‘an absolute nightmare’ Imrie says she is upbeat about it, ‘and has adapted, going mobile with her two travel businesses as well as taking on a part-time job helping to protect Kiwis as a Covid tracer for the Ministry of Health, ‘which is really interesting’. However, her passion for travel and providing memorable and exciting adventures for clients remains the frontline of her focus.
“I can’t change the impact of Covid so I’ve had to adapt myself and my business to be more fluid, and have done that incredibly successfully,” she says. “I feel lucky to have this job, it is a buzz to be able to change people’s lives through the enrichment of travel, gives me fuzzy tingles every day and gets me out of bed. I’m a dream weaver and I absolutely love it!”
“In the middle of a pandemic, who would open a travel business? We would!”
Armed with a painted-up Mini and laptop, World Travellers Mangawhai operator Caro Imrie is ready to get adventurers back overseas. PHOTO/MEL TITO