Cyclist in Paradise Valley

Life in Paradise

Kate and Matt Belcher are the proud owners of Revolution Tours, a cycle tour company in New Zealand’s South Island. The company runs trips on the Paradise Trail near Queenstown and has a very fair claim to the most beautiful guided bicycle and walking tours in the world. However, it has not all been an easy ride for the couple who have finally created their own life in paradise, and their recent success at the Enterprising Rural Women Awards has made the long and arduous journey all the more worthwhile.

I first met Kate and Matt in 2007 in a noisy bar in the adventure capital of the world of Queenstown, New Zealand. They had recently made the move from Auckland to escape city living and try out life in the mountains. The initial draw of the snow and party scene soon turned into a desire for creating a life for themselves that many dream of but few ever have the courage to actually make a reality.

Since then, they have embarked on an epic journey of hard work, sleepless nights and a romantic vision to set up an extraordinary life for themselves. Well, they did it and I have been lucky enough to talk with Kate about their story:

How did you and Matt meet?

Matt and I first got together about ten years ago at Rhythm and Vines music festival in Gisborne – we have a lot of mutual friends and had been crossing paths for years but never really said much more than ‘hi’ to each other. I knew he’d cycle toured around Asia and I’d just bought a road bike so I got chatting to him about bikes.

What
 first brought you to Queenstown and then Glenorchy?

I grew up in a city and over time this underlying sense of 
unhappiness was creeping into my life. I was really in a ‘city life’ rut 
that was just so routine, run of the mill and dull. Matt and I decided 
to tour around for a year in the motorhome he’d built and just see where we ended up. Queenstown (QT) was attractive due to the snow, beauty and 
nightlife.

We ended up taking a scenic drive to Glenorchy one day and falling in love with some land and the rest is history!

Did you know straight away that you wanted to be there and what was it that drew 
you to it?

Instantly! It sounds really cheesy but I felt a sense of calm living amongst the mountains – it’s almost like everything is so open I feel really free but the mountains surrounding me 
make me feel protected and secure at the same time.

What was your first step to getting life set up in Paradise?

We found an amazing bit of land near Glenorchy which we bought and then built ‘stage one’, a tiny 
granny flat. We built a very small house so we could live on our land 
but not have a killer mortgage. We saw a lot of our friends bogged down with huge mortgages which looked stressful and really restrictive. We still wanted to be able to go off on adventures and enjoy ourselves. The plan is to build ‘stage two’ sometime in the next couple of 
years.

Cyclists looking over Lake Wakatipu

You were both holding down jobs in Queenstown but you knew that would have to change. Did you have an idea early on of what you were going to do for work instead?

When we arrived in QT we both just took jobs we could find – me as a radiographer and Matt had a variety of jobs. Matt had been self-employed before in Auckland and knew he preferred it to being an 
employee. His background in outdoor recreational leadership, our 
mutual interest in bikes and QT’s strong tourism industry lead to us starting 
Revolution Tours. We looked around QT and all the people who were doing 
well were self-employed.

The idea of 
starting a tourism company kept popping up in our ‘life’ discussions – it took us a 
while to get to the biking idea though. We both wrote a list of things we 
liked doing and biking was the one thing on both our lists that seemed like a 
commercially viable business opportunity.

Someone once said to me “don’t be afraid to branch out – it’s where all the fruit is.”

It was pretty scary but we had to take the 
punt. We could talk about it for years wondering if it would have worked or just give it a good crack and see what happened. Matt was always so 
reassuring especially when I was stressing out – he always said “We started 
this business but if it doesn’t work we’ll just close it down”. When someone simplifies something to that level it makes 
starting and running your own business, especially in the early days, so much more manageable.

How long did you do the commute for?

Quite a while. I 
remember Matt had to leave at 4.30am on his scooter to get to Arrowtown (about 60km) by 6am. The Milford tour bus was based there. So he then had to be ready to be back in QT picking 45 people up from 7am! Thankfully I didn’t do that much commuting as I stayed in the cottage over the road from the hospital if I was working.

Once you got settled into your home, did it take you long to get used to the 
isolation? Or was it never much of a problem?

Being 
a couple of recluses, we loved the isolation! However, I definitely took longer to adapt. I missed my good friends back in Auckland (but not Auckland itself). Glenorchy has such a great community feel though and were made 
to feel very welcome.

Lake Wakatipu

What were the main barriers to setting up the business and how did you overcome 
them?

Finance! We wanted to start up when the banks just weren’t lending to anyone. We’d worked on our business plan for 
about 8 months then approached bank after bank after bank only to be turned down each time. The last bank manager to turn us down said he was very sorry – his boss had said no BUT he said “this is a great business idea, I can see it being a success so I really hope you find a way to finance this”.

It was hugely demoralising and there were definitely 
tears

Thankfully a couple of weeks later we found a private financial backer.

The financial barrier was the biggest thing for us – we’d 
got to the stage where we couldn’t go any further without money. Once we 
had the funding we started the ball rolling with trademarking, resource consent 
application, department of concession application, website design, accounting etc. I really had no idea how to run a business so fortunately I had 
Matt who knew what he was doing. We were on a learning curve (mine 
steeper than Matt’s) and we just naturally chose parts of the jobs that were our strengths.

You say it’s been a long road but it’s all paying off now… talk me through what you love the most about your setup and why.

I love 
the fact that we created this from scratch. The tour was designed by us 
and is so well received – it’s a huge compliment. We work really hard 
to make our tour a personalised, rural experience, so when we succeed it’s a 
real buzz.

Cyclists on the Paradise Trail

If you could do anything differently on your journey to where you are now what would it be?

That’s a tough one. Looking back, we probably should have moved our business off-site earlier – we were working from home with bike stuff absolutely everywhere. It’s really hard to relax at the end of the day 
when you have bike related stuff in your face. Now that we operate off-site our home is now a home, a real treat to come back to at the end of the day.

How is it working with your other half?

Working with Matt is awesome. He’s the only person who really understands how much we have invested into Revolution Tours being a success. He has the same drive and desire to make our tour/s an experience that people remember forever and I trust him implicitly. We also know each other so well that guiding together is a breeze. We communicate very well, verbally and nonverbally. It’s often just a look from him, or the tone in his voice and I know 
what’s going on. A few of our married friends work together and they 
suggested setting some ground rules which we did. No talking business in 
the bedroom, keeping fights fair and relevant to business (not bringing 
personal stuff into a business discussion) and no business talk after 6pm.

What is your role within the company?

I guide our 
cyclists with Matt – mainly on days one, three and four and also drive the 
support vehicle (day two normally). I take care of logistical operations 
(booking accommodation, organising food, transport), admin (emailing clients, 
suppliers), accounting (fun, fun), social media. I also do bike work – 
cleaning bikes, helmets and tuning bikes between 
tours.

I guess there’s not such thing as a ‘typical day’ so talk me through what you did today.

We have a tour in a couple of days so today I have:

  • emailed clients to let them know final details of their first day and pick up time
  • confirmed all our bookings for the tour (Earnslaw water taxi, 
lunch from Fergbaker)
  • loaded all the bikes on the trailer (spent yesterday tuning and cleaning them all)
  • half an hour of accounting to try and keep up with 
it
  • answered email enquiries
  • cleaned out the van ready for the 
tour

If you could give any advice to others brave enough to also take the plunge and 
follow their dreams, what would it be?

Someone once said to me “don’t be afraid to branch out – it’s where all the fruit is” and I firmly believe that having a go and failing is better than just talking about it forever. As far as a business goes – do your research, plan well and make 
sure you know who your target market is. Is there actually a market for 
your product? Be prepared to work harder than ever before and be kept awake at 
night stressing – A LOT!  Keep the reasons you went into business in the first place in the back of your head at all times and work towards 
that.


Big thanks to Kate and Matt for sharing their inspiring journey and we hope that life in Paradise is as good as it looks. You can find our more about Revolution Tours on their beautiful website – which we love. The gorgeous photography is courtesy of Matt’s Dad, Lawrence, who runs photography tours out of Glenorchy.

About Kate and Matt

Matt and Kate

Kate holds a Medical Imaging degree and has an extensive history as a Radiographer, so if you decide to break something on the tour you can bet your life she can call it by its correct name and quickly implement the best course of action for getting it fixed. After hours, Kate's interests include baking, swimming and knitting (not all at once)!

Matt holds a Diploma in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and has an extensive background in Outdoor Instruction and guiding. His last cycle guiding job was on the famous 'Death Road' in Bolivia (he hasn't told his Mum about that). When he's not out riding his bike, Matt likes to eat sugar in any form, read a book in his hammock and relax in front of The Simpsons with an ice cold beer.

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