An open-air boardroom in a sanctuary surrounded by native birds: that’s the vision taking shape in a special piece of Waikato nature.
The brainchild of Nature and Nosh’s Kylie Rae, the offering sees corporates taking a guided mindful hike on the slopes of Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari before knuckling down to work at a boardroom table constructed from native timber.
It’s entirely possible the distractions will consist of birdsong from the likes of saddlebacks or tui, rather than the hum of an overactive airconditioning unit or the bleeping of cellphones.
“The bird song on Maungatautari is pretty special,” Rae says. “You can go for a meeting in a regular room with four walls, or you can come into the middle of the bush with us.”
The full experience can also include a foraging workshop, mind set coaching, facilitated leadership training and glowworm kayaking.
The corporate package is the latest addition to an offering Rae and her husband hit upon in South America. They wanted to set up a business on their return to New Zealand, they enjoyed walking, they knew that was a great way to solve problems – and the idea came to them while they were out hiking.
“I’ve since done a lot of research, and there’s a heap of science behind it. There are proven psychological and physiological benefits from taking the outdoors and a bit of exercise,” Rae says.
The couple would also spend on good local food and lodgings during their hikes, rather than camping. At the end of 2017, they put it all together by setting up Nature and Nosh, originally focusing on the leisure market and offering a range of tours from one to seven days, across Waikato and Coromandel.
Even during that time, Rae says, the idea for a boardroom table in the bush was on her mind though it was hard to see how it could be achievable.
“It seemed impossible to me because, obviously, getting a huge table in the middle of a bush mountain is quite difficult.”
The impossible became possible when, like so many other businesses, Nature and Nosh had to adjust quickly as Covid-19 struck. Until then, they had been marketing their offerings to the overseas leisure market, particularly the east coast of Australia. The firm was just over two years old, and was seeing good uptake.
With borders closed Nature and Nosh went from having revenue to refunding customers to having “really tough conversations about, is this viable?”
“And we just thought, well this is our passion and it’s worthwhile. We know that eventually we’re all going to be able to travel again. Can we just be really creative and try and tide it over?”
They were helped by the fact Kylie Rae’s accountant husband, Steve, has a separate job.
They switched leisure focus to the domestic market, using social media and word of mouth to attract Kiwis to see their own backyard. About half come from Auckland but Rae is pleased that there is also a sizable contingent from the greater Waikato.
They also kickstarted the corporate packages on Maungatautari, where native species are thriving thanks to the pest-proof fence encircling the mountain.
“This idea of walking meetings, or bush boardroom table, wasn’t something I came up with magically because of Covid, it was more like, well now it’s time to see if we can access the corporate market.”
She quickly realised a site would need to be found within the more accessible southern enclosure – a fenced-off area within the larger fence – and they needed a clearing that was readily accessible but secluded enough not to be interrupted by anyone walking past. They found it in a clearing close to the event centre. The nearby centre is covered, meaning meetings can go ahead there in the event of rain.
A handsome table, 3.5m by 1.2m, made to seat 12-14 people and constructed from locally and sustainably sourced tawa and rata, now takes pride of place in the clearing, and the first corporate meetings have been held.
It is an offering that may be unique worldwide. Rae has “googled and googled” and found nowhere else offering a bush boardroom table for corporates.
The package always starts with a mindful hike, guided by Rae, in which participants walk in silence to start with. Other parts of the package are led by experts in their area, and firms can turn it into a two-day retreat if they choose, with accommodation at nearby Sanctuary Lodge Maungatautari, formerly Out in the Styx.
The corporate packages can incorporate activities outside Maungatautari, but Nature and Nosh is contracting to the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust to offer the guided mindful hikes, foraging workshops and the bush boardroom table on the maunga.
A percentage of the fees for the corporate team and leadership packages goes back to the mountain.
“This is a great way that they [companies]can actually also support local, and get back to conservation at the same time.”