Plenty to keep busy with in retirement

Retired farmer Gordon Wilson (left) and semi-retired builder Geoff McHardy enjoy knock-off time...
Retired farmer Gordon Wilson (left) and semi-retired builder Geoff McHardy enjoy knock-off time after a day's work refurbishing Big Hut atop the Rock and Pillar mountain range. PHOTOS: ALICE SCOTT
At the age of 72, Gordon Wilson reckons he feels  busier and  more connected in his life than he ever has. The retired Strath Taieri farmer talks to Alice Scott about life after farming. 

In 2010 Strath Taieri farmers Gordon and Hilary Wilson handed the reins over to the next generation; they both felt it was right to move away from the area and "leave them to it".

Buying a property near Alexandra, Mr Wilson knew he was not ready to stop working, and promptly got a job as a shuttle driver along the Otago Central Rail Trail.

"I didn’t like the downtime in the winter though, so I saw a job advertising for a tractor driver on a vineyard and I thought ‘I can do that!’."

Mr Wilson thoroughly enjoyed the role for eight and a-half years before "officially retiring" two years ago at the age of 70.

He now fills his week with various commitments and community groups.

"I am part of a gentleman's singing group, I cut up trees and split firewood for the Salvation Army, there’s tramping club on a Wednesday, golf Thursday and Friday, Saturdays I am out with the Winter Harriers Club which is a walking and running group. And Sunday is a rest day and usually church."

So when good friend and builder Geoff McHardy asked Mr Wilson if he was keen to come and be his hammer-hand refurbishing a tramping hut at the top of the Rock and Pillar range, he of course said yes.

Built in 1946, the large hut, aptly named Big Hut, was a ski lodge built by volunteers after World War 2.

When the more appealing Coronet Peak skifield opened, the hut became disused and run down. Several mountaineering and tramping clubs have taken on its stewardship since 1980, and it is now owned by the Strath Taieri Agriculture and Rural Tourism Trust.

Mr McHardy (left) and Mr Wilson spent much of January stationed 1325m above sea level while...
Mr McHardy (left) and Mr Wilson spent much of January stationed 1325m above sea level while refurbishing Big Hut, bringing it up to specifications and ensuring its life span will continue for many more decades to come.
The duo have been volunteering their time, vehicles and tools through the summer months, hauling materials up a steep four-wheel-drive track and staying a week or two at a time while they work on bringing the hut back up to specifications; modernising its and making it warmer and weather-tight .

"I am learning a few things, too! Never did I expect to be a builder’s labourer, but here I am," Mr Wilson said.

Mr McHardy said he too was retired — then added that he still works four days a week.

"Well, I should be retired," he said.

Having owned and operated a Central Otago building and roofing business for many years, the 70-year-old now takes on smaller projects, and has been volunteering his time and resources at Big Hut since 2010.

"It’s a good project to be a part of; it’s nice to know people will get to keep enjoying this place for many years to come. It’s a real legacy what has been built here."

Alongside working and family life, Mr McHardy has also committed many years to St John as a volunteer first aid responder, and recently stepped back from working on the "front line".

Partaking in a whisky or two at the end of each working day, the duo were rarely alone at the hut, enjoying the company of various tramping groups who arrive for the night.

"We’ve met some fantastic people," Mr McHardy said.

Mr Wilson is a member of the Alexandra Rotary Club, and enjoys being involved in the various projects which generously give back to many in its local community.

"We do a lot of good for others, which brings great satisfaction. I have met some fantastic people through the club."

Asked what advice he might give others who are looking towards retirement, he said "make sure you have outside interests before you finish, and if you don’t, find some".

"True happiness comes from helping others and feeling that sense of connection and community.

"It’s good to be generous — there’s no use being the richest man in the graveyard."

 - By Alice Scott


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