The New Zealand Herald

He Tangata: Shane McKay

Elisabeth Easther talks to Shane McKay from Pelorus Eco Adventures


Growing up on the West Coast, we didn’t go on many family holidays and, as a kid, my favourite pastime was trapping possums. For Christmas we might go to my uncle’s in Golden Bay, which is where I learned to ride a horse and a motorbike. I remember being bucked off his horses, and I gave up horses after the third time. After school, I fled the nest to go logging in Port Underwood, near Picton. It was pretty hard to make a living and we often did just three days a week because of rain. After about six months, I moved to Canterbury where I met a guy from Rai Valley who was heading north to go pig hunting and raft down the Motu River. He asked if I wanted to come too. So I got in his truck with a load of dogs and we drove up to Whakatane where we met some other blokes and jumped in the raft. And it was the most dangerous thing ever. There were four of us and just two wetsuits and two life jackets, and two of the guys wore all of it and me and the other guy wore nothing. I’m pretty sure there were some Grade 5 rapids, but we didn’t walk down any of them. We lost rafts and gear, dogs were ripped up by boars. It wasn’t even a proper raft, all our sleeping bags got saturated, our packs were underwater — it was a proper disaster. But back then I was young, fit and hard and I didn’t care. The first time I went overseas, I went to Aussie with a mate. We went to Port Douglas where we stayed at a backpacker­s called Dougie’s. And we’re down on the beach, out on a catamaran because my mate knew how to drive one. I’m just a passenger, and we’re flying along, up on one ski. I ask if it’s hard and he coaches me and gives me a go, and we’re flying up the beach the other way. When we tip it over, that’s when we remember there are sharks and crocodiles and all sorts and we’re upside down in the salt water. Thankfully, my mate knew how to flip it back up. Then we see this kayak and it looks like it’s on a collision line with us. And the guy’s yelling and screaming, but we can’t hear what he’s saying Shane McKay takes to the air. but we know he’s talking to us. And he says, “That’s enough of that cowboy stuff. You blokes get off that thing and bring it in.” Turns out it’s the guy who’d rented it to us and he wasn’t impressed. I met my wife at a wedding in Hamilton. She’d travelled to 54 countries, and lived in London for 10 years and I caught the travel bug through her. Once we lived together, we planned a six-week round-the-world trip. We stayed with my wife’s sister in London, then went on to France and Switzerlan­d. At that point I was into flying hang gliders big time and I ranked No 3 in New Zealand. I’d made some connection­s through the sport and they jacked me up with some equipment to fly in France. And I flew every single day from five different mountains over 11 days. I’ve always enjoyed dangerous things. Today we run mountain bike shuttles on the Nydia, Wakamarina and Whites Bay Tracks. They’re all about the same distance from Havelock, in a triangle around us. We also own the Blue Moon Lodge and seven years ago we started a company called Pelorus Eco Adventures, doing inflatable canoe adventures on Pelorus River, which is famous for being one of The Hobbit locations. Although we get more people who’ve read the book than have paddled kayaks. The river is safe, like a purpose-built playground, with big rock walks, and if you fall out, generally you just get wet. Half the time with tourists you ask, have you done this before? And they say, ”yeah, yeah” — but probably it was just once, when they were 4. We take that with a pinch of salt and imagine they’ve done nothing. And always we’re prepared for the worst. I love what we’re doing so much. I’m always in a good mood, and always hanging around with people who are having a good time. They’re on holiday, no one’s whinging about the boss or the guy who gets paid more or does less work. Havelock is pretty much the middle of paradise for me.

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