Its kind of funny when I look at my life now and my first 17 years. Look one way and I’m a world traveller who has visited over 50 countries on 6 continents. And the other you have a boy growing up in this incredibly special isolated place called Gorge River in South Westland, New Zealand.
Welcome to my life…. You’re probably wondering how do these two go together.
Growing up in isolation until the age of 17 has given me such an amazing platform of experiences to build my life on. We lived 2 days hiking from the nearest road by the Tasman Sea and next to the Gorge River mouth. It’s a wild rough place where few others have attempted to live and even less have succeeded. There’s not much distance between you and nature. My family are relatively self-sufficient. We have a big vegetable garden and catch lots of fish in the river and ocean.
As caretakers of the area we rely a lot on the environment to provide food for us and in return we only take what we need. It’s a balance between us and nature. Take advantage of it and there is nothing to eat next month.
My father, Robert Long and mother, Catherine Stewart make a living by selling their artwork. Jade carvings and Oil on Canvas paintings, possum skin products and knitting. The single main reason we have been able to survive somewhere few other people have succeeded is that they can work inside. Dad doesn’t rely on catching fish commercially, hunting, flying helicopters or airplanes to make a living. In a place where it rains at least 1/3 of the time, often with wild storms, this is very important.
You can read more and see some of my family’s artwork on www.GorgeRiver.org
My parents received a lot of criticism from other people about raising my sister Robin and me in such isolation. Everyone was always very concerned about the poor kids growing up without TV, computers, internet, normal schools, cell phones, shops …..etc. Instead, these 2 kids were hunting, fishing, hiking in nature, living in a wild environment, studying birds, jade carving, doing handcrafts and homeschooling. They thought we were deprived! But actually we were the lucky ones!
Robin and I learned a totally different range of skills that 99% of kids in the modern world have never learned. Skills like living sustainably, avoiding accidents, survival skills, the ability to fix things rather than just throw away, the ability to think differently and to not be influenced by consumerism.
We also grew up without junk food. We are healthy! Neither of us have food allergies. Instead we have very strong immune systems and have never stepped foot in a hospital…(touch wood). Sounds good to me??
Every year we would usually spent 2-3 months away from home. By the age of 17 I had been to Australia 6 times to visit family. The outside world was completely known to us and we always had the choice to leave and go to boarding school in a town if we wanted to.
It wasn’t until I was 17 that I thought the time was right. It will probably be the hardest decision of my life, whether to leave or not. In hindsight I’m glad I did. Correspondence School (by mail) was getting difficult and I was ready to get out and experience life somewhere else.
I moved to Wanaka, a smallish town, in 2009 and attended Aspiring College for my last year of school. Of course it was a huge change for me! I think the first 2 weeks at school were the hardest. For sure I was different – in many ways. But the best thing about that school is that about a third of the 110 students in the final year are new at the school through the Outdoor Pursuits program they have. Most importantly, I wasn’t the only new kid!
In the next 10 months I adapted to life in a town, with unlimited internet, Facebook, email, TV, lots of friends, teachers, sports, adventure sports like skiing and rock climbing, mountain biking, parties, “hanging out”, school formals and everything else that goes with being in your last year of school. The hardest thing was being a part of groups of friends. It is kind of intimidating when you’re not used to it. I was luck that I was very well respected and liked. The biggest surprise came when I was voted to be a part of the student council for the year. It was my first time ever talking in front of a crowd of people and it was terrifying. Apparently I got the second highest count of votes out of 12 members!
For sure it was difficult at times being quite “different” to other people my age but over that year I embraced everything and adapted very fast. That year people could definitely tell that I was different but when I went to Polytechnic in the city, Dunedin, the next year, people didn’t really notice anymore. At the end of 2011 I worked as a face to face fundraiser in Australia. For my job I talked to random people 8 hours a day for 3 months.
By the end of this I could say that I had overcome any differences from my life in isolation and had fully adapted to a new type of life in the outside world. So that took about two years. By the the end of that 2 years I can safely say that I could happily live anywhere in the world. That made me one of the luckiest people. I could now live in the wilderness, survive in the wild, live sustainably, fit in in small towns and live and work in a city.
City life is generally easier to adapt to than life in isolation/wilderness. That’s why I was so lucky to have that first. It’s much easier than if you start in a city and want to take on life in the country or wilderness. It’s possible but much much harder.
We didn’t have internet at Gorge River until I left home but we did have a radio. Living like that, you are always looking outwards at what else is going on in New Zealand or the world. As teachers, my parents did an amazing job teaching me about the world, social studies and geography. As soon as I took one step away from Gorge River it was only natural that I would take more.
In 2011 I worked on a Russian icebreaker ship on two voyages to Antarctica. Then Fundraising in Australia and a winter ski patrolling at Porters Ski Field.
One day towards the end of the ski season I sat down and booked a plane ticket to London in a month. Just like that. I actually hardly thought about it. It just sounded like a cool idea so I went.
That’s how it started. From there I haven’t looked back and the world has slowly got smaller and smaller for me. Over 50 countries on 6 continents, 80 flights and two full trips around the globe later, here I am. Now I’m exploring a different country, experiencing a new language and making new friends every day of the week.
I have still spent a lot of time at Gorge River since leaving home, just not permanently. I met Graceie in Turkey in 2013 and we travelled together for 3 years. She absolutely loved Gorge River and the lifestyle there. In total we have probably spent over a year in New Zealand and most of that time at home. Coming from a “city” background, she adapted incredibly well. We hunt possums and deer together, swim out in the ocean on body boards and catch fish, hike the mountains and adventure far beyond where most people go. It has been amazing to show someone else, first hand, nearly everything about this lifestyle and she was incredibly open to it.
No one ever thought the boy from the bush would bring a girl home haha!!
In the past few years since I left home our sort of lifestyle has slowly become the “cool” thing to do. Not many people go to the extremes that Mum and Dad did, but for sure, people are much more open to the idea now. Interest in our life at Gorge River has increased tremendously. In 2010 Dad was asked by Random House Publishing to write an autobiography, ‘A life on Gorge River’ which was a huge success selling over 20,000 copies. Naturally people were curious about Mum’s side of the story too and she released ‘A Wife at Gorge River’ in 2013 with a lot of media attention. Everyone was suddenly so curious about this different sort of life that was previously looked down upon and discouraged in many ways. We quickly became known as “New Zealand’s remotest family.”
Since 2013 we have had several overseas TV programs come to make documentaries on us. One in particular, by UK adventurer and presenter, Ben Fogle has played on National Geographic and other channels in at least 20 countries around the world.
We never searched for this type of fame. It has just happened over the years. The original reason that my parents chose to live there was to be an example of how you can live differently away from this modern world of consumerism. People have become interested in this way of life and it has been nice to show it to others around the world.
Right now, sitting in Latvia writing this, I honestly have no idea where my life will take me. All I know is that with my incredible experiences in the first 17 years of my life, and with the crazy world experience of the last 5 years, anything is possible. And it will be good. If I want to be a successful business man, Antarctic tour guide, alternative lifestyle promoter, or just simply live in the middle of nowhere for the rest of my life, I am ready for it. And I will give it my best shot!!