It’s a beautiful life on the far southern edge of the world. The woodstove in the corner is crackling and cuts the light chill of the late summer evening. Beers are opened as the conversation drifts cleanly from the meaning of life and yarns of past adventures to the group of Swedish girls a couple of the boys were chasing the last time they were in town. Outside, the Southern Cross gleams in a sea of stars above the small hut on the Awarua River and, if you listen closely, you can hear waves breaking in the bay. The generator out back is running smoothly and the chiller is full. A freshly shot and cleaned red deer hangs in the cooler next to a few cases of Speight’s Gold Medal Ale. A box on the floor holds half a dozen large red spiny lobsters, or “crays” as they call them in this part of the world, that we pulled up after the afternoon surf.
The salt and sun crust from a long day in the water is visible on the smiling faces of everyone present. Arms and backs are sore from hours of splitting peaks on a lonely A-frame and chasing the crays around the rocks 15 feet underwater. Several of those big bastards have already found their way into the pot and are being cracked open and devoured by the hungry crew surrounding me. The smell of fresh venison being sautéed with garlic and onion fills the small room, along with the easy laughter of contented men who have been living well and know they are in for a feast of the first order. The venison is served and glasses are raised in a rowdy cheers to the bounty the land and sea has provided, and the simple joy of being a long way from anywhere.
The area we are in is known as Fiordland. It’s New Zealand’s largest national park, comprising over 4,800 square miles and established in 1952. We’ve all come to this far removed corner on the southwest tip of New Zealand’s South Island to explore one of the world’s most remote coastlines at the behest of Warrick Mitchell. The sturdy hut that will be our base for the next 10 days was his childhood home, and it’s obvious from the moment we arrive that this land is sown into the fabric of his being, as much a part of him as his blue eyes and easy laugh.
It isn’t cheap to keep a homestead this far removed from the modern world. The simplest things need to be flown in by plane or helicopter, and maintenance is a constant series of Sisyphean tasks. To help offset these costs, Warrick has taken to sharing this remarkable place with small groups who come to surf, fish, dive, and hunt through his operation, Awarua Guides. More than any single activity, it is the chance to partake in a way of life both rare and jealously guarded from the outside world that has brought us to the southern edge of the world and this small hut on the banks of the Awarua.