Sue Gunn is seiz­ing the mo­ment

Trekking in the foot­steps of the woman who’s seized every ad­ven­ture life’s whizzed her way

Rotorua Daily Post - - Our People -

The phrase “in­trepid trav­eller” could have been tai­lor made for Sue Gunn. By her mid-20s she’d seen a good part of the globe, in­clud­ing Europe as a tra­di­tional Kiwi “OE” in a Kombi van and fair slices of Africa and Asia.

Sue’s trav­els have never been of the five-star kind. A lot of Africa was seen from the tray of an an­cient Army truck.

Ad­ven­tures have com­pounded upon ad­ven­tures: She’s climbed Mt Kil­i­man­jaro to see the sun­rise (“a per­sonal chal­lenge”), fought off a would-be mug­ger by hit­ting him over the head with a baguette in Ad­dis Ababa (“the scari­est place I’ve ever been in”), has “lived like a hip­pie on a beach”, sailed the Nile on a “not very clean” lo­cal boat, and been grounded in Bangkok by a mil­i­tary coup.

Her hair-rais­ing travel log’s far from over. A stint at home and she was on the move again, cov­er­ing much of Asia.

There she hitch­hiked into re­mote hill re­gions, trekked in Nepal, “savoured the awe­some colours” of In­dia and Sri Lanka from trains so crowded “I’d go one way, my back­pack the other as I fought my way on board”. In Madras (now Chen­nai) she was roped into a Bol­ly­wood movie as an ex­tra and ex­pe­ri­enced ha­rass­ment in Karachi “be­cause my travel mate and I were white women”.

Add-ons are suf­fer­ing amoe­bic dysen­tery and sci­atic nerve prob­lems that hos­pi­talised her in Cape Town and Tur­key.

In­ter­spersed with New Zealand breaks she trav­elled on, camp­ing across Canada and, in a touch of un­char­ac­ter­is­tic semi-lux­ury, has taken a Grey­hound bus from Van­cou­ver to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

All of which is far dis­tant from Ro­torua, where she and hus­band Don Gunn set­tled in 2004.

Her Ro­torua years are what Our Peo­ple had in­tended to talk to Sue about — she’s be­come an in­te­gral part of this town in a clutch of con­texts, most re­cently as Hospice’s vol­un­teer ser­vices man­ager.

But with so many pre­ced­ing high­ways and by­ways to tra­verse, it took quite some time to reach the “here and now” part of the Sue Gunn story and we wouldn’t have missed a word of it.

She’s one of those per­son­al­i­ty­plus peo­ple for whom life’s all about liv­ing and giv­ing.

Psy­cho­an­a­lysts could spec­u­late her wan­der­lust can be sheeted back to her ear­li­est years spent in the South Is­land’s re­mote Ne­vis Val­ley, best reached on skis.

She was 2 when her fam­ily moved to an ever-so-slightly more ac­ces­si­ble sheep sta­tion in the Clutha Val­ley’s up­per reaches.

What­ever the rea­son, Sue grew up want­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the world be­yond, fol­low­ing that in­grained Kiwi over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence rite of pas­sage.

In Lon­don she worked in of­fices, bar­maided and be­came a swim­ming in­struc­tor. “They just fig­ured be­cause I was a Kiwi I could swim.”

She in­dulged her love of the moun­tains by work­ing as a cham­ber maid in the Swiss Alps’ In­ter­laken “ski­ing when­ever I could”.

The idea for her pro­tracted Africa trip had its ges­ta­tion at a “crazy Lon­don party, a whole group of us de­cided we wanted to do it . . . all my travel flowed from there”.

Even­tu­ally the time came to take a re­al­ity check. “With all these ad­ven­tures you get good at mak­ing de­ci­sions. Mine was to come home

"She’s one of those per­son­al­i­ty­plus peo­ple for whom life’s all about liv­ing and giv­ing."

to work and de­velop, that knight in shin­ing ar­mour rid­ing a white horse hadn’t come along.”

It wasn’t long be­fore he did, his ar­rival came while both were study­ing busi­ness man­age­ment at Christchurch Polytech. The knight’s name was Don Gunn.

They mar­ried in 1984 on her fam­ily’s Tar­ras farm. “It was the best party I’ve ever been to.”

The mar­riage was has­tened by Don se­cur­ing an Auck­land-based job with Newman’s Tours.

There Sue’s ca­reer took a new path as pro­mo­tions man­ager for the St Luke’s shop­ping cen­tre; over the fol­low­ing 20 years she had var­i­ous mall man­age­ment roles in Auck­land and Christchurch.

There are a slew of mar­ket­ing awards ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­no­va­tive pro­mo­tions she in­tro­duced through­out those years.

Don’s 2004 ap­point­ment as Tourism Ro­torua’s gen­eral man­ager opened a new Gunn fam­ily chap­ter.

“We’d al­ways dis­cussed our two daugh­ters hav­ing an ad­ven­ture some­where else — friends in Auck­land thought we’d lost the plot. We cer­tainly haven’t had any re­grets mak­ing a new life here.”

Sue’s big-city mar­ket­ing ex­per­tise was snapped up by the Buried Vil­lage, “a great in­tro­duc­tion to Ro­torua”.

In 2006 she was ap­pointed mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at the then Wa­iariki In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (Te Ohomai).

“It was a fan­tas­tic time to be there. We tripled stu­dent num­bers, tripled rev­enue. For me I ap­pre­ci­ated the pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and lead­er­ship.”

The in­sti­tute’s Char­ity House build­ing project be­came, and re­mains, her baby. It dove­tailed per­fectly with her com­mu­nity com­mit­ment through Sue’s Sun­rise Ro­tary club. Stu­dents build the house, it’s auc­tioned, Sun­rise dis­trib­utes the pro­ceeds — “$120,000 since 2013”. That was the year Sue was in­ducted as club pres­i­dent.

An­other project that has her burst­ing with pride is the Te Wa Korero a nga Ta­mariki Oral Lan­guage Pro­gramme the club in­tro­duced to Western Heights Pri­mary School in 2014 and Owhata School this year.

Vol­un­teers teach young­sters oral skills. “Some come to school at 5 with the speech abil­ity of a 2-yearold.”

She’s a Lake­side trustee and reg­u­lar vol­un­teer at ma­jor events, Crankworx and the 2011 Rugby World Cup in­cluded.

When Wa­iariki merged with the Bay of Plenty Polytech Sue took vol­un­tary re­dun­dancy.

Her hospice role started this past Fe­bru­ary. She came to it with a per­sonal insight into lifethreat­en­ing ill­ness. Her hus­band was di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer in 2015. “It’s spread into his bones, he’s got an amaz­ing at­ti­tude, he’s do­ing well.”

An­other tragedy struck the Gunns last Christ­mas Eve. Sunny Hu, the Chi­nese stu­dent they’d home-hosted for more than a year, was killed in a crash on the Ma­makus.

“She was a dear mem­ber of our fam­ily, we think of her every day.”

Host­ing peo­ple is se­cond na­ture to the Gunns. They’ve cared for many stu­dents over the years, both na­tional and in­ter­na­tional. At present they’re build­ing a gar­den cot­tage des­tined to be an AirBnB. Both are nat­u­ral flow-ons from Sue’s trav­el­ling days.

“Peo­ple were so hos­pitable, kind to me then . . . I guess like my par­ents and grand­par­ents I’ve al­ways been in­volved with peo­ple, the com­mu­nity; I think as a com­mu­nity we can share ideas, col­lab­o­rate.

“Life’s about seiz­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered to us.”

PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

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