Growing Up At Gorge River
I was raised at Gorge River, in the wilds of South Westland, New Zealand. 2 long hard days walk from the nearest road, in a small house overlooking the rough Southern Ocean.
My family is known as “New Zealand’s most isolated family” and my sister Robin and I grew up here without the internet, TVs, computers, play stations and game boys. Instead we had fishing rods, wooden toys, tree houses, a river, a kayak, snorkeling gear, surf boards and books to keep us entertained as kids.
Our closest neighbors are 50 km away, the closest shop 100 km and the closest small city 120 km.
Why We Live At Gorge River
Dad moved to Gorge River in 1980 after travelling to Europe and India and realising the world is to unsustainable. He wanted to live a life where you use less and live off what you can hunt and grow yourself. We try to live as sustainable as we can.
When I was a young child we lived on $2000 NZD a year. Most things that we couldn’t get at Gorge River had to be carried in from the road. Slowly over the years Dads art work has become more popular and we have been able to afford more luxuries. When I was 3-4 and my sister was born we would still walk out to the road but we started to fly home by airplane. Now as Mum and Dad are getting older they usually fly both ways.
We have a small airstrip that is perfect for small air planes like Cessna 180 or Piper cub.
How To Get To Gorge River, Walk Or Fly
This is a video blog that a friend and I made of the 50km hike into Gorge River
The other way of course is to fly. This is a video of the flight from the nearest road at Cascade River south of Haast.
How We Get Our Food
For food we grow a huge vegetable garden, we fish most days in the river and ocean for blue cod, kahawai, yellow-eyed mullet, crayfish (lobster) and paua. When I got older I started to hunt deer but as a child we almost always ate fish for dinner.
Every month or 6 weeks we get a supply plane load of dry foods that you can’t grow at Gorge River. The 4 seat airplane lands on our small grass airstrip in front of our house and its always very exciting unpacking new food and supplies from the outside world, as well as our last 6 weeks of mail.
How My Family Makes Money In The Wilderness
My Father originally works as a deckhand on board local fishing boats in the area. Not long after I was born he turned his focus towards his hobbies, carving greenstone/jade and painting the local scenery, oil on canvas. This proved profitable and over the years he has made a living selling his artworks to people passing through the area. We are isolated but its still normal to have a visitor every couple of days. These people come by helicopter, airplane or tramping the coastline.
We also do a lot of possum hunting. Possums are introduced pest in New Zealand and their fur and skins are worth a lot of money. As a teenager I would always run a possum trap line and this is how I made my pocket money. And in recent years I have used money from possum hunting to travel with.
Mum has a sewing machine especially designed for skins and makes the possum skins into luxury throws, bean bags and cushions. Most of these get sold to the people who visit us at home.
You can see more of Dads artwork on our website: www.GorgeRiver.org
Mum and Dad have New Zealand’s most isolated art gallery!
Going To “Town”
Twice a year when we were young we would leave our home by the sea and complete the 50 km walk out to the nearest road. When we were young this would take 5 days to walk the 50km and as we grew older it would take just 2. Now my sister and I can do it in just one day!
We would stay in Haast, a small South Westland town, and then go to other towns and city’s around New Zealand. Sometime we would visit family in Brisbane and Auckland.
So even though I lived in the wilderness, by the the age of 17 I had been to Australia 7 times.
Going To School
I did home schooling and later Correspondence school (school by mail) until at the age of 17.
For my last year I left home, at the age of 17, and completed my last year of high school in Wanaka, at Aspiring College.
My first year at a normal school was challenging but very successful. I had to get used to living in a town and making friends and all the social challenges of school. This was made a lot easier at Aspiring College because about 1/3 of the year 13 students are new students to the school and I wasn’t the only new face! I made friends and had loads of fun. That was in 2009.
In 2010 I decided to go to Dunedin and study at Otago Polytechnic for one year. The course I chose was very relevant to my life: A Diploma in Outdoor Leadership and Management, which I passed easily and moved straight into a job sea kayak guiding in Milford Sound, one of the most stunning places on Earth.
Why Have We Become Famous
We have always had a lot of people interested in our lifestyle. Even before I was born Dad was featured on a TV show in New Zealand. Every few years another camera crew would come to make a story.
We have become an example of how you can live a successful alternative lifestyle and it nice to be able to share this with the world. We never wanted to become “famous.” But its also nice to lead by example and show the world how to live differently and not be so caught up in the huge world of consumerism that rules so strongly in the modern world.
In 2010 Dad was asked to write an autobiography, A Life On Gorge River, and it was shortly followed by Mums side of the story, A Wife At Gorge River.
Both books were on the best sellers lists for months and there was a lot of publicity. Since then Dad receives emails (we have satellite internet now) from TV stations all around the world wanting to do documentary. Most of the time we say no.
To date the best documentary about my family was made by for Channel 5 in the UK and presented by Adventurer Ben Fogle. Its 40 minutes long and has been shown on National Geographic in many different countries around the world. I have had people recognise me in Czech Republic and Alaska!
I Was So Lucky To Grow Up At Gorge River
Looking back now growing up in the wilderness has given me so many skills and opportunities that other people my age haven’t had. I feel very lucky. Its easy to learn the skills needed to live in a town or city and I never had a problem adapting to this sort of lifestyle. However for others who want to leave the city and live an alternative lifestyle like my family its very hard. That’s why I am so lucky.
I can now live in any environment anywhere in the world. Not many people can say that.