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February 2016 Issue
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At home in the hills

Geoff Spearpoint has spent his life outdoors and now gives back by fixing up old huts. Photo: Hugh van Noorden

Tania Seaward meets Geoff Spearpoint, tramper, writer and tireless volunteer

When I visit Geoff Spearpoint at his Birdlings Flat home, a southerly storm is in full swing and the clock on the wall shakes whenever a colossal wave hits the beach.

It might seem strange that Spearpoint, so well-known for his connection with the hills, would choose to live a stone’s throw from the ocean. Yet to him, the appeal is simple. “It’s actually a wonderful counterpoint to the mountains,” he says. “Being based on the coast for a life in the hills is a wonderful balance.”

Spearpoint’s love affair with the mountains started nearly 50 years ago in the Hutt Valley. As part of a youth group he ascended Climie, an 862m hill in the Rimutaka Range.

“Getting up Climie was a revelation to me,” he says. “From there I could see other ranges, and I found maps with other local hills that were even higher.”

Later, like many Kiwis before and since, Spearpoint joined a local tramping club – in this case, the Hutt Valley Tramping Club. “Suddenly, I had friends and mentors within the club and a whole new range of opportunities,” he says.

Invigorated by his experiences with the club, Spearpoint embarked on a life that revolved around the mountains. During the 1980s he took up various roles within Mt Aspiring National Park.

“I had quite a strong outdoor philosophy of seeing the mountains as our place, and where we came from, with the rights and responsibilities that come with that,” he says. “It didn’t entirely gel with some of the national park thinking at the time, which was more along the lines of providing for tourism.”

Realising his future lay outside the national park network, Spearpoint found himself contemplating a career in writing. An avid writer since childhood, he had been a regular submitter of stories to various journals and outdoor magazines. His first book offer literally arrived on his doorstep.

“I was living in Glenorchy when author Peter Radcliffe arrived and said he had an offer for me,” he says. “He offered me the chance to write the sequel to his book Land of Mountains. He spent a couple of days with me, sold me his car, and then left me to it.” Spearpoint laboured over the project for several years, and Walking in the hills: Tramping in New Zealand was published in 1985.

Several other writing projects have occurred over the intervening years, most notably three editions of Moir’s Guide North, considered a necessary companion for those tramping between the Hollyford Valley and Lake Ohau. Each edition has built upon the work of its predecessor.

“When you start a writing project, you never know where it will lead,” he explains. “Each project takes you to new places, and then suddenly it’s out there in the public arena. It’s both exhilarating and daunting.”

In between writing projects, Spearpoint has also taken over the restoration and management of both Tunnel Creek Hut and Roaring Billy Hut in South Westland.

“Like many outdoor people I got saddened and frustrated with the Department of Conservation choosing not to maintain our backcountry hut network,” he says. “Tunnel Creek is one of those huts I’d watched go downhill for a long time. I talked to DOC and they were happy to make it my responsibility.”

Having enlisted the help of friends, family and local helicopter pilots, Geoff has replaced rotting timber, cleaned the mattresses, built a new woodshed and repainted the entire hut.

“It’s like I’m giving something back,” he says. “It’s returning to other people some of the pleasures I’ve had from being in the hills.

“For me, one of the great joys is being up high, in isolated places. Without the hills, I am just a hollow shell.”

A man at home in the hills, indeed.

 

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