Making the most of life

Aoraki-Mount Cook. Photo: ODT files
New Zealand is renowned throughout the world for its great outdoors. Mountains, rivers and the ocean are all within an easy drive of most towns and are the playground of locals and foreigners alike.

But with outdoor adventure comes risk - sadly, sometimes fatal - and that has never been more evident than in recent weeks. It has been tough for many in the Southern region in the wake of tragic accidents which have claimed the lives of people doing the things they love and are passionate about.

On Wednesday, experienced mountain guides Martin Hess and Wolfgang Maier perished after an avalanche in Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park. Their climbing companion Jo Morgan survived after digging herself out of snow and activating her emergency beacon.

All three were experienced climbers but were caught unawares by loose snow on Mt Hicks.

"We weren't being foolish or anything and we just hit a slope that ... it was laden with the type of snow that avalanches," Mrs Morgan said.

Earlier this week, South Otago workmates and friends Mitchell McPhee (23) and Malcolm Ward (51) died while diving for paua in the Catlins. Their bodies were found close together at the southern end of Purakaunui Bay after a 36-hour search involving more than 30 volunteers

Both men had a love of the ocean and were experienced divers.

Last month, Alpine Helicopters pilot Nick Wallis and Department of Conservation senior rangers Paul Hondelink and Scott Theobold were killed when a helicopter crashed near Wanaka.

The trio were heading off to begin Doc's tahr cull in the Landsborough Valley.

Mr Hondelink and Mr Theobold had a long history with Doc and were passionate about conservation. Their work had contributed to saving thousands of native birds.

Mr Wallis, the son of Wanaka aviation pioneer Sir Tim and Prue Lady Wallis, had helicopters in his blood.

The Wallis family have experienced more heartache than seems fair. Nick's brother Matthew was also killed in a helicopter accident earlier this year.

Losing a loved one is never easy but when victims are young, healthy and their death comes out of the blue it is even harder to accept.

These fatalities occurred while people were going about their everyday lives, fulfilling their dreams or, in the case of Messrs Wallis, Hondelink and Theobold, simply trying to make the world a better place. Their family and friends bade them farewell, not for one moment expecting it would be the last time they would see them alive.

It shows how fickle life can be. Each day must be treasured as though it could be the last.

It is also a reminder that, no matter how experienced, care must be taken in the outdoors. Expect the unexpected and be prepared for the worst.

It is times like these which galvanise and bring out the best in communities as they rally in support of grieving friends and family. But it is also a timely reminder we should not wait for tragedy to appreciate and enjoy our communities.


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