One of Angus Stubbs' earliest caving memories is of being lowered down a hole as a five-year-old.
His job was to check if the holes led anywhere, since caving clubs in Waitomo were keen for new haunts.
Like any budding Indiana Jones, he quickly figured out he wanted to spend the rest of his life exploring the subterranean world.
He has spent the past 30 years working with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and this year he has been announced as a finalist in the Industry Champion category at the 2017 New Zealand Tourism Awards.
In 1987, at the age of 20, Stubbs became the company’s first official guide.
He would tie inner tubes to the roof of an old Austin ute, hang the wetsuits on the back and drive around recruiting people to go black-water rafting.
"We started with domestic tours, mainly school groups and youth groups, but it wasn't long before it turned international.
"It was amazing, because I got to meet all of these weird and exotic people from all over the world."
About 500,000 people visit Waitomo a year. Stubbs said.
"We've gone from about seven staff members to about 80.
"That’s what’s happened to adventure tourism."
Stubbs said the people he meets remain a highlight.
"Listening to stories and introducing people to this amazing environment is still what I love most."
Stubbs once took an 80-year-old Alaskan woman rafting who learnt to swim just so she could go.
He’s also taken blind people through the cave.
"They always come with a sighted helper and there’s this gorgeous moment where the blind are experiencing the cave by feeling it and hearing it and the sighted people freak out in the dark."
Like anything else, technology has changed things, Stubbs said.
"The biggest thing for a caveman like me is going from using flame on acetylene lamps to navigate through the caves to using the super LED technology we have now."
The internet has also been a big deal, spreading the word nationally and internationally – particularly when a celebrity visits, Stubbs said.
"Black-water rafting has grown from this tiny little germ of an idea to this really neat business."
The activity hasn't changed, but the infrastructure around it has vastly improved, he said.
Other experiences have been added to, like abseiling through the cave, zip-lining underneath glow worms and an eco tour.
The nomination for Auckland Airport Tourism Industry Champion was unexpected, he said.
"I feel like a caveman and somehow that doesn't fit with being nominated for this kind of award, but it’s not just for me, it’s for the whole community.
"A lot of work goes into what we do, we live and breathe tourism and it is so cool the industry is recognising this."
Stubbs still takes the odd tour, but has moved into more of a management role now.
"I've been used in the caving world for a long time, but I'm still as passionate as the day I started."
Hobbiton marketing manager Shayne Forrest is up for the PATA New Zealand Trust Emerging Tourism Leader Award.
Forrest has worked at Hobbiton since 2011, moving from barista to food and beverage manager to marketing manager.
The award winners will be named in Christchurch on September 7.