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The inimitable Richard Rooney (center) is back behind the wheel as general manager of Wharekauhau Country Estate.
Richard Rooney is no stranger to Wharekauhau in New Zealand. He grew up close by (as ‘close by’ goes in these parts) – just six hours north, on a farm near Rotorua. Recently, Richard reflected on the journey that brought him to Wharekauhau – the country’s largest, still-working sheep station. Of his brief departure last year. And the energy and spirit that drew him home again…
JajofTravel: Tell us about your road to Wharekauhau?
RR: “Toward the end of high school, I decided to get a weekend job. My first choice was a local supermarket – with all of my school friends. However, as a backup, my mom suggested I visit the neighboring property to our farm – a ‘lodge’ in final stages of construction. After popping in to meet the manager (and with no concept I was standing in what would become a beautiful Virtuoso property), I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is nice. But I really just want to work with my friends at the supermarket.’ Sadly, the call from the supermarket was a decline. And so I took the secondary option – to work in this fledging luxury lodge. Nearly four years passed working at Treetops, where I learned the art of experiential travel (a new concept), and philosophy of creating experiences to last a lifetime. While working there, I studied hotel management, and took a second job at a local coffee shop. The `hospitality drug’ had hooked me. In time, I moved from Treetops to another Rotorua luxury property, and two years later, moved to Wharekauhau. I came on a six-week contract that extended to three months, then one year. And here I am a decade later. ”
JajofTravel: What do you love most about Wharekauhau?
RR: “Hands down, the energy of the property. It’s hard to describe, but Wharekauhau has a beautiful energy about it. Invigorating and inspiring. Yet with a relaxed calmness about it.”
JajofTravel: Share with us a favorite memory or special moment at Wharekauhau?
RR: “Hosting the royal family for a few days in 2014 was a definite high point. To have spent the closed door time with them was something very special.”
JajofTravel: Something about yourself that others may not know?
RR: “Coming from a farm, I am a morning person. I love waking up and coming to the property in the dark, then having a coffee and watching the sunrise over our eastern mountains. It is spectacular, and feels like a performance from Mother Nature – to be viewed only by those who are up early enough to watch.”
JajofTravel: Recently you left your beloved Wharekauhau. And, joyously to us, returned. Tell us a little about this journey.
RR: “Last year, reflecting on my nearly nine years at the property, I decided it was time to venture onward. I involved myself in another Virtuoso preferred property – Annandale – where I spent six months on the South Island working with a team of passionate individuals in one of the most stunning backdrops I have ever seen. I realized, however, that I missed my beloved Wharekauhau – which holds so much of me, as a person emotionally invested. And that I needed to see what more I could do there. The return was nice and has enabled me to view the property in a number of different lights that will benefit Wharekauhau.”
JajofTravel: Any hints/glimpses of what’s to come?
RR: “At this point, there are plenty of exciting projects, but none I can talk about just yet. Except one. I’m bringing on a lodge labrador….
JajofTravel: The mantra you personally, professionally live by?
RR: “I’m not here to create average, I’m here to create awesome…and if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”
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