From thin blue line to wide blue yonder

Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013

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Bruce Bulmer first caught the travel bug as a youth, hitch-hiking through Japan and travelling to Moscow in 1971 when he had just turned 21.

"I decided that Moscow would be a good idea but it turned to be a terrible idea because they thought I was American and a spy. But, well, that's another story."

Exciting travel stories are Bulmer's specialty. He joined the police force as a young cadet but regularly took time out to travel, even going on extended unpaid leave so that he could live in London for a spell.

After several decades on the job, he retired as a commissioned officer after having a career from constable on the beat to detective sergeant at Lower Hutt.

"My career in the police might seem rather staid but it gave me a wide range of experiences I've used in other areas in my life. I decided I didn't want to have a career just in the police so I've filled my time in a lot of other ways, like yachting and getting involved in climbing mountains and hills, and a whole variety of other experiences while away overseas."

A chance encounter with Chris Hundleby, operations manager at over-50s travel group tour provider Odyssey, when Bulmer was due to retire led to him becoming a tour guide.

Hundleby set Bulmer up with a group of American travellers to take around Australia and New Zealand, which he found a "thoroughly enjoyable" time and wanted to do more, soon picking up roles leading travellers through 33 day tours of five South American countries, visits to Namibia and educational tours of Britain.

"I make sure they get from A to B safely and back again. I haven't lost anybody yet, thank God, that's the main thing."

Odyssey specialises in educational trips and has partnerships with several universities, including educational content on the tours. It is not-for-profit.

"That appealed to me, that it wasn't a straight for-profit type of business," said Bulmer, who usually takes active-style tours.

Leading the programmes, which were organised by Odyssey staff based in Australia, involved making sure hotels were booked and all planning done to ensure the company could deliver what people had booked for.

La Paz, Peru, and the coast of Namibia had been his favourite trips so far, with the remote Sandoval Lodge in Peru's Tambopata National Reserve jungle a memorable location.

"I think in South America the altitude always surprises people; we're certainly up over 2000 metres to start with, then up to about 2400m. That's something we have to manage carefully."

This year, he is due to take a group of travellers on a cycling trip through the historic French towns of Montargis and Moret-sur-Loing before travelling to Paris by barge. Bulmer is familiar with that part of the world, owning part of a canal boat in France with two friends who each take turns spending several months a year staying there.

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Bulmer, 66, is taking a group through Sri Lanka later this month. He believed travelling the world helped keep people youthful, engaged and curious.

"Every time I go somewhere, I have to read extensively because I need to know what's going on in the country."


Bruce Bulmer's advice to aspiring travel tour guides: You have to have a passion for what you're doing and you need to focus on dotting the ‘i's and crossing the ‘t's, making sure the organisation is tight and what has been promised to be delivered is going to be delivered.

It is a sort of monitoring role. You need to have a joy of travel. There is quite a lot of work to do before we go and quite a bit of tidying up when you get back. You've got to be fairly mentally and physically fit.


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