Ukrainian native Nataliya Poshyvaylo-Towler has packaged personalised tours to her homeland through Beyond Tours, her independently operated company specialising in tours to Ukraine. The tours, personally guided by Nataliya, take in Ukraine's spectacular beauty and rich cultural heritage as well as detouring off the beaten tourist path.
Chicken Kyiv and women wearing head scarves may be all that immediately spring to mind for many kiwis when they think of Ukraine. But Nataliya Poshyvaylo-Towler is making it her business to teach New Zealanders otherwise.
The Ukraine native, and now Manurewa resident, has set up Beyond Tours - a company offering organised trips to her homeland.
Bordering countries such as Russia, Poland and Romania, Ukraine has a burgeoning tourism market, which Poshyvaylo-Towler says grew 15 percent last year.
"It's definitely an up and coming destination," she says of the country which is home to 49 million people.
"People have this image in their mind of Chicken Kyiv, or of women in headscarves, or that there's no food. But there are so many things about Ukraine that people don't know, for example, organic farming is really strong and so the organic food there is really excellent and cheap."
The company's first two 20 day/19 night tours are scheduled for May and August this year.
The Tours, which she will guide her self, are initially aimed at the more mature and seasoned traveller.
The itinerary, she says, will take people off the tourist trial and focus on the arts and culture of the country where a centuries old cathedral can be found in almost every town or city.
Coming to New Zealand from Ukraine 6 years ago, Poshyvaylo-Towler now lives in Manurewa with her New Zealand husband and their daughter.
She says she was exposed to Ukraine's potential as a tourist destination through her grandparents who were potters and set up a museum and interactive centre for folk arts.
The centre attracted hordes of tourists from places such as Canada, the United States and Europe who were keen to get a first hand glimpse of "the real Ukraine", she says.
"I was always exposed to the culture and the arts of Ukraine. It's something unique and I want to show others what I have experienced."
Some of her family members continue to be heavily involved in the promotion and preservation of Ukrainian arts.
It's these contacts and local knowledge which she says will allow her to take travellers off the beaten tourist path - a key advantage in the market.
Poshyvaylo-Towler has planned the tours herself and is now marketing her business through print advertising as well as speaking engagements at places including Rotary and Probus clubs.
A Ukraine-based cousin is also assisting her with the tour arrangements at the destination
Next year she hopes to run three tours, with one perhaps catering especially to younger travellers.
In the long term she also wants to build a small hotel on family land and set up an eco-tourism venture in her mother country.
"There's a very spiritual feeling there and such a sense of history. That's what I want to show people - the real Ukraine," she says.