Inspirational tales can be spark for new risk-takers
INNOVATION TALK: I recently visited the South Island of New Zealand for the first time – an achingly beautiful part of our planet. My most memorable day was a trip to Doubtful Sound, in Fiordland (the south west of South Island) – reputedly named by Captain Cook in 1770, who doubted whether he could extract his sailing ships from the narrow inlet and fjords.
To reach Doubtful Sound, you are brought by bus from the local town Te Anua to Lake Manapouri, then by boat across the lake to the West Arm hydroelectric station, then by another bus over the 670m high Wilmot Pass (the only road in New Zealand not connected to the rest of its road network), finally down to Doubtful Sound and the Tasman Sea. The travel company involved is Real Journeys, founded by Les and Olive Hutchins in 1954. They have received many honours, and Sir Leslie died in December 2003.
Real Journeys is a pre-eminent tourism company in New Zealand. It runs the vintage Edwardian steamship TSS Earnslaw; many day and overnight cruises in Fiordland; sight-seeing flights; a ferry service; treks; and tours and lodging.
However, back in 1954, Fiordland was extremely remote, and tourism there was almost non-existent. Les Hutchins, aged 29, a demobbed second World War air force pilot, sold his furniture business to found a new tourism company with his wife Olive. They bought two old launches, two crumbling huts and a dilapidated lodge, all needing refurbishment.
They also upgraded the 18km trek across the Wilmot Pass. What I recently experienced as a day trip to Doubtful Sound was then launched as a four-day expedition by the young Hutchinss.
A major challenge to their business came in 1960 when the national Government formally decided to undertake what became New Zealand’s largest construction project, the Lake Manapouri hydroelectric station at West Arm.
This involved an impressive 230m vertical tunnel from the lake down to the 68 cubic metre main turbine hall, and then a 10km long tailrace tunnel, all of which had to be excavated from hard granite.
But in particular the plans involved raising the depth of Lake Manapouri by a further 30m to merge it with the neighbouring Lake Te Anau, which then would obviously have flooded the surrounding land and almost certainly ended the Hutchinss’ fledgling business.
The couple campaigned vigorously on conservation grounds, and eventually won: the lake depth was not to be increased. The hydroelectric station became operational in 1969, and today an underground visit to the impressive station is included by Real Journeys.