A musician, an entrepreneur, a linguist, and a dreamer: Mark Oremland

By Alina Suchanski

Reading time: 13 minutes

Mark Oremland is a high flier who achieved success in business. Ironically, it was flying that led to his financial demise when he purchased a DC3 aircraft on a whim, with the intention of recreating Jean Batten’s historic record-breaking flight from England to New Zealand. Alina Suchanski writes about the man and his sometimes outrageous, ideas.

A musician, an entrepreneur, a linguist, and a dreamer, Mark Oremland divides his time between his beloved Paris and his native New Zealand. With his diverse interests he’d fit well in the Renaissance epoch with his idol, Leonardo Da Vinci.

He travels a lot and wonders sometimes whether he travels because, “I like languages, or is the need to move instilled by my migrant parents?”

By Alina Suchanski

Reading time: 13 minutes

Mark Oremland is a high flier who achieved success in business. Ironically, it was flying that led to his financial demise when he purchased a DC3 aircraft on a whim, with the intention of recreating Jean Batten’s historic record-breaking flight from England to New Zealand. Alina Suchanski writes about the man and his sometimes outrageous, ideas.

A musician, an entrepreneur, a linguist, and a dreamer, Mark Oremland divides his time between his beloved Paris and his native New Zealand. With his diverse interests he’d fit well in the Renaissance epoch with his idol, Leonardo Da Vinci.

He travels a lot and wonders sometimes whether he travels because, “I like languages, or is the need to move instilled by my migrant parents?”

Mark was born and raised in Auckland. His father, Joshua (Charles) Oremland was a Polish Jew from a small town Pruzhany (in Polish Prużana) – home to a large Jewish population. During WW2 the town was occupied by Germans who created a Jewish ghetto there. Joshua left Poland in 1938, aged 11, and was brought to New Zealand where he spent a few years at Deckstone House in Wellington – an orphanage for Polish children of Jewish extraction. Had he stayed in Poland, he would’ve shared the fate of the 10,000 Jews of the Pruzhany ghetto, who in January 1943 were transported by the Nazis to Auschwitz and murdered (Pruzhany, n.d.).

Ilona Bokor, a Hungarian Jew from Budapest, left Hungary in 1948 at the age of 16. She also ended up coming to New Zealand, where she met Joshua (who later changed his name to Charles) at a Jewish community ball.

Charles and Ilona married and had three children – Paul, Claire and Mark. From a young age their youngest son, Mark showed aptitude for music. His parents signed him up for violin lessons at the age of 6. He continued learning throughout primary and secondary school, and in later years under the tutelage of Mary O’Brian, one of New Zealand’s leading violinists at the time and a Senior Lecturer in violin at the University of Auckland. But after a year he had a change of heart. Deciding that being part of an orchestra was not for him, he switched to a three-year arts and commerce degree and graduated with a BA, BCom Degree in French, German, and Marketing.

During one of his holidays, Mark embarked on a tour of the South Island, which brought him all the way to Te Anau, where he played his violin at a restaurant in exchange for a meal. “This was the first time that I played for my supper,” he remembers.

Te Anau made a good impression on young Mark and he returned to it later in life to make it his part-time home.

Having completed his degree, Mark embarked on a four-year trip around the world. His travels took him to Germany, where he joined The Heidelberger Kammerorchester (Chamber Orchestra, HKO) for one of its three-week tours. Mark’s association with HKO lasted for several years. During that time he toured with them in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, in between his private trips to more exotic destinations.

He returned to New Zealand in 1987 and landed a job as a guide for German tourists, where he acquired not only guiding skills, but also learned how such businesses operate. However, his search for the meaning of life continued.

In 1990, Mark travelled to Switzerland to work at the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, “because I wanted to change the world”, he says. He volunteered for the Swiss WWF in Geneva for six months before returning to New Zealand. Two years later he went back for another three-month stint of volunteering, this time at the WWF International office.

An opportunity presented itself in March 1994 when Mark attended the Paris Tourism Expo and realised that “nobody was selling New Zealand in France”. He moved to Paris in August 1994 and started a travel agency under the name Ecotours New Zealand, which he later renamed to Nouvelle Zélande Voyages (NZ Voyages).

He bought a tiny apartment in Paris comprising just one room without windows (except for a skylight), and a bed that folds up against the wall when not in use. Mark calls it a ‘shoe box’ and still uses it for his visits to Paris. Later on, in a small village on the outskirts of Paris, he bought a lifestyle block with two barns; one which he converted into living quarters, and the other to store his growing car collection. “My father loved old cars and we always had unusual automobiles at home, so I started collecting them in France as a hobby,” he said. At one point he owned 15 cars, with a Peugeot 203, 1952 model as his most prized possession.

 

The business was a huge success, and it grew. Next to the travel agency, Mr Oremland opened a bookshop, and a store selling New Zealand and Australia-themed souvenirs, such as paua shell jewellery, boomerangs, manuka honey, vegemite, and more. In 2005, he started a restaurant called Kiwi Corner offering creative Kiwi cuisine made with New Zealand produce, wine, and beer.

The tours sold by NZ Voyages took their clients to New Zealand’s major tourist attractions. Mark travelled to New Zealand every year to visit his elderly parents who would sometimes join him on his tours. On one of those trips he decided to buy a property in Te Anau. He purchased a large block of land on the outskirts of the town and relocated an old Catholic convent from Nightcaps (a nearby settlement) to it.

This was a major undertaking, as the building was very large and clad in bricks. It had to be cut into four pieces to be transported. An expert in old buildings was called upon to painstakingly put it together at the new site, bringing it up to date with New Zealand building code standards, and adding an ensuite to each of its nine bedrooms. Te Anau Lodge, as it is called, was another successful venture with a steady flow of guests provided by Mark’s travel agency in Paris.

On his annual trips to New Zealand Mark would spend a few summer weeks in Te Anau. His love of music prompted him to organise biennial mini festivals of chamber music. There have been seven of those to date, each with a different theme and often dedicated to specific composers such as Mozart, Schubert, Hayden, Beethoven or Brahms. Each concert was an opportunity for Mark to perform with top New Zealand musicians he invited to each event. For classical music lovers in the small community of Te Anau these festivals were rare treats.

 

At the peak of its operation, NZ Voyages had 30 employees with branches in Madrid and Rome, and the business was also selling Australian tours.

Unfortunately, Mark’s good run ended in 2011, when he bought a DC3 aircraft and flew it from England to New Zealand following the Jean Batten route.

Jean Batten was New Zealand’s greatest aviator, celebrated around the world for her heroic solo flights during the 1930s. In October 1936, Jean Batten made the first ever direct flight from England to New Zealand, although she had to land and refuel at numerous locations across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia (Bargas, 2019).

Inspired by his amazing compatriot, Mark decided to re-enact her flight, though in a bigger plane and not flying solo.

If buying the aircraft was expensive, he completely underestimated the cost of flying it halfway around the globe. The plane cost $3,000/hr to run, and although he managed to find a few passengers prepared to pay $2,000/day for their experience, that income was just a drop in the ocean of expenses associated with his adventure.

“It was just a crazy idea. A big nightmare and a financial black hole,” Mr Oremland admits.

To plug that hole, and to finance another project he’d been working on, he sold his travel agency.

As a fluent speaker of German and French, with a good knowledge of Spanish and Italian, Mark was fascinated with languages and always dreamed of starting a language museum. He consulted world famous American linguist, philosopher, and historian Noam Chomsky who thought it was a great idea, as there was no proper language museum anywhere in the world, except the National Museum of Language in Washington DC, USA which officially opened in 2008, but closed its physical facility in 2014 and became a virtual museum (National Museum of Language, n.d.). “And Chomsky said that Paris would be a great place for it,” Mark adds.

Mark Oremland’s language museum – Musée Mandolingua – opened its doors in Rue Servandoni, Paris in 2013. Although his dream came true, it wasn’t an instant success. “It loses lots of money. To counteract the loss I had to come to New Zealand and work as a guide, and then as a manager at Te Anau Lodge,” he declares. However, he is philosophical about the museum’s financial performance.

“It is my child, and children cost money, and you have to work to support them. My museum is possibly my greatest pleasure, my pride and joy, and like most children, it will ultimately become self-sufficient. After all, it is only 7 years old,” he says.

These days the DC3 is stored at Wanaka Airport. Mr Oremland is trying to get a commercial certification that will enable his plane to carry passengers. He is also learning to become a pilot and had his first solo flight not long ago.

Although in recent years Mark had to somewhat curb his flamboyant lifestyle, he still has his music, a few good friends, and continues to enjoy spending time at his properties in Paris and Te Anau.

Who knows what his next idea will be and where it will take him?

 

Sources: 1. Pruzhany and National Museum of Language, Wikipedia 2. Jean Batten Biography, New Zealand History, Ministry for Culture and Heritage

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