In our first Discovery Q&A interview, we chat with Lisa Pagotto—Founder of immersive small group tour operator, Crooked Compass.
Tell us a little about Crooked Compass.
I launched Crooked Compass in May 2014 from a small head office in the Sydney CBD. With a background in touring, I saw an opportunity in the market for touring beyond the norm.
When I travel, I don’t like doing what everyone else does. I love to go remote, beyond the tourist traps and really get under the skin of a destination and, where possible, experience a true connection with the local culture. The ability to meet and support endangered cultures and diminishing tribes totally fascinates me, and there was no-one in the Australian market offering this style of travel.
Crooked Compass is essentially based around my style of travel. I figured that if I like to travel like this, then surely others would too.
The first Crooked Compass trip I developed was our Snow Leopard Tracking tour—partnering with the Snow Leopard Conservation Fund, and trekking on foot in the winter snow through the Himalayas with a tracking team and naturalists.
We now have just over 100 small group tours covering 75 countries with New Zealand adding to that soon!
Tell us a little about what makes a journey with Crooked Compass unique?
We really focus on taking travellers further than where anyone else goes. We look to push boundaries, and change travellers perceptions through our experiences. We provide deep and meaningful experiences for our guests which are authentic and not contrived for tourism.
The vast majority of our tours have a strong theme of cultural exchange. Not only do our guests learn from the cultures they engage with, but we too are educating the locals about us and the importance of retaining their traditions.
Many of the tribes we spend time with and the experiences we offer, cannot be found with any other tour operator, due—in part—to the support we offer many of these tribes beyond tourism dollars.
How big are your groups?
Internationally, our groups sizes are maximum 12.
For our domestic product, due to current social distancing restrictions, we are keeping group sizes lower at 8 which will also offer a more intimate and exclusive experience for travellers.
With the world in COVID-19 shutdown, can you tell us about your expanding range of domestic Australian experiences?
We are in the process of crafting 15 domestic journey experiences across some of the most remote and hard to access reaches of our country.
Catering to a range of travellers, our journeys includes yacht charters through the Wessel Islands and Torres Strait Islands; hiking adventures through outback Queensland, the Kimberley and Lord Howe Island; through to foodie and nature experiences in destinations like the Eyre Peninsular and Tasmania.
All of our tours have an Indigenous connection to first people culture and history, with many of our tours operated by traditional landowners themselves. We are also curating an exclusive range of Australia by Air experiences that take travellers to some of the country’s most luxurious and remote lodges by small private aircraft .
Do you have a favourite indigenous tourism experience? One particular, unforgettable moment from your domestic travels?
Gaining permission to access the homelands in East Arnhem Land was pretty special. Very few people have the privilege to access this part of our country.
Spearing for mud crabs amid a tangle of mangroves with the local Aborigines was incredible. I couldn’t see any bubbles emerging from beneath the tree roots, but our host’s expert eyes saw every telltale clue in the water and he was accurate with every launch of his spear.
Cooking our catch over the glowing coals of a beach fire was an exquisite experience.
Hunting with the Hadzabe tribe in Tanzania.
This hunter-gatherer tribe wear baboon skins as clothes and whittle their own hunting arrows. Extracting poison from trees, they mimic the call of birds to perfection. Sourcing their water from the trunks of baobab trees and fearlessly shoving their arms down mongoose holes to see if they can grab one was just the start of my hunting experience.
They can hear creatures scurrying in underground mud tunnels and know where to piece their arrows into the ground to trap the critters mid journey. I felt like I was part of a National Geographic documentary.
What type of traveller sets off with Crooked Compass?
They are typically well-travelled, well-educated people.
They have curiosity to learn from their travels, are young at heart, open minded and prepared to spend a little more on unique and exclusive experience over luxury bells and whistles. We often refer to our travellers as Cultural Purists.
When international borders open again, where would you like to travel to first?
If I can make my October international trips happen, I will be off to Rwanda followed by Socotra.
If that’s too soon, in January I am meant to exploring the three Guyanas at the top of South America followed by Easter Island, Tahiti and Pitcairn Island. But realistically, it will probably be New Zealand.
Fingers and toes are crossed!
Crooked Compass has a real focus on responsible travel, can you tell us what that means and how it shapes the journeys you create?
We have a strong focus not only on community engagement but also on strengthening communities.
We work with local guides to ensure we are supporting local economies. We stay in sustainable accommodation where possible, and select properties that make the conscious choice to lessen their impact on the environment.
In terms of experiences, we choose low-impact, ecotourism experiences like hiking which is also low omission. We work with expert local guides and, in the case of our Australian tours, traditional land owners where possible. This delivers the best possible experience for our travellers and the local communities we visit.
We have a primary focus on exploring natural areas that foster environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.
For more information, simply leave us a note in the form below, or CALL US to discuss your specific requirements.
We’d love to hear from you.