Meet our Team
Our Tour Leaders:
John is the founder of Escape Adventures, company director, trusty team and tour leader, bike fix-it man, new trip dreamer upper-er and vital cuppa tea boy.
Escape Adventures began one day in 1999 when an idea planted took seed and grew into a plan. John put on his tool belt, made a few alterations to an old land cruiser, put in on a ship to Kenya... and off he went!
Many years on, John continues his passionate work to finding the most amazing cycle touring routes around the world and developing relationships with people in remarkable places which has grown our cycle tours to what they are today.
I once saw an add in a kebab cafe in Motueka that said “Bike Guide Wanted for Africa”. I sent John an email that said ”You need me!”...
...and he did! Mandy joined Escape Adventures in 2004 as a co-leader on our Kenya & Tanzania cycle tours. Since then she has mastered the art of multi-tasking. Not only is she is our ‘Chief Office Hussy’ – answering all your emails and taking your bookings but she also puts the finishing touches on all of our new cycle tours, leads our cycle tours as often as possible and in her spare time... she rides her mountain bike!
Leaving 'the professional life' behind her - Leigh hung up her stethoscope in exchange for a bicycle and dived into 'a more adventurous lifestyle'. In the New Zealand summer she works as a heli-mountain bike guide in Queenstown... which some would call the dream job, and during the New Zealand winters she leads our cycle tours in Madagascar, Fiji Islands and Cambodia which everyone would call the dream job!
Leigh is a bit of a funky-nut and calls Queenstown home, where she loves living among the mountains and making the most of the adventures they offer. She is super excited when on tour and brings her cycle touring and guiding experience and excellent snacking ability...both eating and making! And by the way - if you fall off your bike, she'll patch you up like a pro... but don't expect any sympathy!
This is Brian – he's our fossil ...I mean our rock!! He's Office Hussy number two and devil’s advocate. Brian does all the jobs that no-one else likes doing, throws in ideas that no-one wants to hear, and he travels the world leading our cycling tours in places that everyone wants to visit! Brian has been with Escape Adventures since 2011 and leads our cycle tours in Kyrgyzstan and China & Tibet.
In his spare time Brian can be found riding some of the world's longest and toughest cycling endurance events.
When Ash left Phoenix, Arizona in 2005 for a study exchange to New Zealand her 'mom' thought she'd be back in 6 months. Years later... she's still here.
If you live in Wellington and ride a bike, chances are you've come across Ash. Her infectious laugh can be heard in the hills and remote mountain biking tracks around the city. Ash is the director of WORD - Wellington's non-profit kid's mountain biking programs and she runs her own business Joyride inspiring the love and joy of mountain biking to riders all over New Zealand.
Ash's been hounding our office for a few years to work with us, and now that we really want her... she's too busy! We're excited (almost as much as Ash) to have her co-leading a couple of our cycle tours each year.
Emma Lay & Jason Welsford
Every business needs its quirk and Emma and Jase are our quirky couple. Originally from the UK, they have been calling New Zealand home since the beginning of the millennium.
Emma is well known for her resourcefulness and ability to make do with what she has. (She has arm warmers made out of an old thermal!). She's a keen cyclist with a number of cycle tours under her belt and in her spare time is known to knock out the odd 'cheeky' drawing. She is a brilliant cook, able to improvise with whatever she has on hand to create the most scrumptious and healthy meals for you on tour. (Which is good news for you if you are joining us in Kenya & Tanzania this year!).
Jason, also a creative type and keen biker is a secondary school teacher in design technology and art. He loves to be on two wheels (with or without a motor!) especially if it goes past a good pie shop. If he’s got any spare time he’ll pull something apart just to see if he can put it back together again. These two have joined our team in 2017 and you’ll find them in Africa leading our Kenya and Tanzania cycle tours.
We apologise for Ian’s photo. He has not yet learned that if you just make yourself look goofy then all your pictures look great instead of looking like you have just robbed a bank or pooed your pants…..
Ian is our thinker and fountain of knowledge. Ian loves (and is great at) interacting with people, any people (he finds them ALL interesting!), reading the new scientist magazine or researching some new found fact (while drinking tea) or beer - that he has just brewed. He likes yoga, running and biking and making feasts and sharing them with people.
Ian kept his sense of humour while studying geology at university, then moved on to be a Ranger for NZ Department of Conservation. He is now a builder when he is not out leading tours with Escape Adventures.
Ian will be heading out to Madagascar this year to co-lead our tours with Leigh and the lemurs.
Barry Hughes (Baz) & Gemma van Beek
~ON HOLD DUE TO FAMILY EXPANSION~
Running their sea-kayaking company: Okarito Nature Tours by summer and leading the best cycle tours in the world in the winter... you have to admit is a pretty good lifestyle!
Baz adds balance to his lifestyle in his spare time finding the biggest and most scenic rocks he can get his tyres or boots over. He's the one in charge of the maps and 'fixing things I broke' on the adventures he and Gemma plan together. Luckily that leaves Gemma with the responsibility of looking after food for the two of them and for you too, if you join them on tour. If there was an award for 'the most flavorsome risotto cooked at an altitude of 2000m or over', Gemma will definitely take it out; but in the meantime she'll stick to delighting the bellies of weary cyclists with her delectable creations on our cycle tours.
I’m Kier, and that’s my Dad and Mum up there at the top of the page.
Kier joined us in January 2007 – and is Escape’s trainee bike guide and consultant for our family cycle tours in Fiji, Cambodia and Kenya & Tanzania. He's pretty good at cleaning muddy bikes down and we expect he will make his debut as tour leader sometime around 2025.
Our Local Team Members
Joseph Njenga - Kenya & Tanzania
Jambo, I’m Joseph from Nairobi City in Kenya. I am a family man and father of two. I have been working with Escape Adventures Kenya & Tanzania Team since 2008 as support driver, interpreter and local knowledge man. In the months that I am not working with Escape Adventures, I have been studying business law.
Joseph is an essential part of our Kenya & Tanzania team – “the glue” holding everything together. You’ll find him behind the wheel of our support vehicle, in the kitchen and anywhere that anything needs doing! He will give you a real insight into life in East Africa and the occasional Swahili or bongo drum lesson!
Dezy Randriamihaja - Madagascar
We love this man! Dezy is our man in Madagascar - born in Antananarivo of the Mirina tribe, he lives in Tana with his wife Asmira and teenage daughter and son. Dezy has been working as a freelance chauffeur and tourism guide since 2003. Along with Tuki and Erick, he looks after us for everything Malagasy, drives support vehicles and an awesome ambassador for his country.
In his younger years, Dezy managed to escape the boredom of studying economics to play football for the Madagascar National football team - so he is not only our star, but is a bit of a star with the local kids on our riding route!
(Thy) Un Chanthearith - Cambodia
Meet Thy (pronounced Tee). Thy is our local go to, fix it man and interpreter on our Cambodia cycle tours. We have been working together since 2014. He runs his own small tour company in Cambodia which he loves as he says "every 2 seconds is a new adventure!"
Born on New Year's day, Thy lives in Siem Reap with his wife Thorn Chan Tha and young daughter. Thorn Chan Tha is a cook, but Thy likes to cook as well and his signature dish is stir fry with ginger and lemon grass. In his spare time Thy goes to the gym, plays volleyball, enjoys music and riding BIKES!!
Nuraiym Syrgak - Kyrgyzstan
Based in Bishkek city, Nurai comes from a small mountain village in northern Kyrgyzstan. Born at the time of independence, Nurai is part of the new vibrant and progressive Kyrgyzstan. She studied Education, English and Tourism at the Kyrgyz National University and is now a tour guide for walking and horse trekking tours through Kyrgyzstan.
Nurai is an absolute gem. She is our wonderful interpreter and a fountain of knowledge of all things Kyrgyz. We are sure you will love her as much as we do when you join us and her on our Kyrgyzstan cycle tours.
Michael Lu - China & Tibet
Nihao/Tashidelek/Rimagenie (Hello in Chinese/Tibetan/Yi). I’m Michael. Michael has been working with us on our China & Tibet cycle tour since 2016, where he leads us through the back streets of Chengdu, helps us navigate the intricacies of the local bureaucracy and provides insight into the customs and cultures of the local tribes.
Prior to joining us Michael completed a couple of long distance self supported cycle tours in Asia, has worked in 5 star hotels and in fitness centres and keeps his english language skills in order by watching “Desperate Housewives” in his spare time!
Ananaiasa Namu - Fiji
Namu lives with his wife and family in the stunning village of Navilawa in the interior of Fiji's main island Viti Levu. Back in 2000 Namu and Mandy worked together on a New Zealand Aid initiative and Fijian Community Project whose objective was to help protect the virgin rainforest of Viti Levu. From this the Batilamu Trek was conceived of which Namu is now the lead guide and coordinator.
If you choose to do the Batilamu Trek add-on on our Fiji Islands cycle tour - Namu will lead you up and over Mt Batilamu wielding his machete and keeping the track clear on the mountain trek part of our journey.