Work is play for hunter and sportsman

Cromwell-born Lee Murray now spends his time between hunting in Central Otago and playing rugby...
Cromwell-born Lee Murray now spends his time between hunting in Central Otago and playing rugby in Germany. PHOTO: REBECCA NADGE

It is a tale of two countries for Cromwell-born Lee Murray, who divides his time between playing professional rugby in Germany and hunting in Central Otago.

Mr Murray started playing rugby when he was about 3 years old and growing up he played in Cromwell and Southland.

It was his time playing in Southland that gave him the chance to travel to Spain for a season to play, and in 2015 he was selected to play for German team TV Pforzheim, based in a city of the same name.

His team - made up of Germans, Kiwis and an Australian - trains every day and plays every week.

After morning training, the players travel to nearby schools to coach.

He has been able to see a lot of the country and tries to make the most of his weeks off by visiting neighbouring countries.

He is quick to point out he is not at the pinnacle of the sport, and notes most young rugby players aspire to play for the All Blacks.

“If that’s not going to happen, there’s still opportunity to make a living and travel, even if you’re not at that level.

“This isn’t huge success for rugby .. but it’s still opened up doors for me to travel the world.

“I never made the main rep teams when I was younger. I guess just if you want it enough, you can get there.”

Although he was passionate about rugby from a young age, he did not immediately take to hunting in the same way.

“I couldn’t see how hunting in the hills was fun.”

But his friends were keen hunters, and a few years ago he was encouraged to have a week’s trial for a pest-control company.

He is now contracted for Xcel Biosecurity and hunts over a 30,000ha range around Central Otago, where he spends up to 10 days at a time out in the hills.

“Now I just love it - when I’m not in the hills for work, I’m out there for fun.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re the only person who’s ever been there. I like being in the Central Otago hills. I’m from here. It’s pretty special.

“It’s not only about the hunt, it’s about the views. Sometimes you take that for granted in New Zealand.”

The challenge of outsmarting an animal was one of his favourite aspects of hunting, he said.

“Deer are intelligent; you’ve got to know how to read them. That’s what I find cool. It’s not just walk up and shoot something in the paddock.”

It was while out hunting in 2012 that he came across a sick baby goat alone in the Roxburgh hills.

Mr Murray said he expected the kid would perish by the end of the day, but decided to keep him warm in his backpack and see if he could be saved.

Five years later, “Rocky” happily lives in a paddock at the property Mr Murray returns to each year, where he is free to munch on the grass and occasionally chase the sheep.

It was also while hunting that Mr Murray started posting pictures to his Instagram page @NZHunting to show his family back in Western Australia what he did for a job.

The page has steadily grown in popularity and now has more than 8500 followers.

“Every week it just keeps getting bigger - it’s crazy. It was pretty much intended to show my family what I do for a job.”

Although interest in the page was initially unexpected, he hopes to continue to increase his followers and see if there could be business opportunities, such as guided hunts, to come from the page.

He is aware both his jobs require him to be fit and healthy, and in the future he may consider running his own hunting business.

“My body’s fine. I don’t have any injuries and I’m able to play pretty decent but I don’t know how long it will last.”

In the meantime, however, he plans to continue playing in Germany as long as possible, and if he stays in the country long enough, he could be eligible to play for the national team.

Even so, Central Otago is home.

“Germany is pretty cool - but it’s not New Zealand.”

- By Rebecca Nadge

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