She sells high-end furniture, but knows how to gut a pig, meet a hunting guide with a difference.
There he is, take him!" urged Raewyn Hellier. The Remington roared and the tahr tumbled out of sight among the dense matagouri scrub.
It was a good bull tahr, or more correctly, the Himalayan tahr, a mountain goat which was transplanted from its native Asian range to Mt Cook more than 100 years ago. Today, the stocky animal with its dense mane and stubby backswept horns is among the most highly valued big game trophies in the world.
Hellier was our guide as we stalked this bull in the snow, high among the peaks that soar over the valleys that feed the headwaters of the Rangitata River in Canterbury.
She is one of those South Island women who grew up with a rifle in her hand and spends her spare time running down wild pigs, stalking deer, and shooting tahr from a helicopter in the culling operations which keep the population under control. Like all goats, the tahr has a fondness for the native vegetation which cloaks our mountainsides. But the higher you go, the more fragile the flora becomes. So the balance between the animal population and the demands of the Department of Conservation is always at the forefront of discussions among hunters and helicopter operators in the high country.
DoC wants numbers kept under control and employs shooters in choppers to cull animals on public land, while private land is monitored to ensure sport hunters are doing the job.
Land-owners and safari outfitters prefer to see trophy hunters - who come from all over the world - and local sportsmen trim the population, rather than chopper-borne cullers who leave the carcasses to rot, for unlike venison there is little value in the meat.
Hellier is different from the rugged hunting guides who work in the tourist industry. She understands hunting and can remove the bull tahr's head for taxidermy, but can also whip up a casserole in the camp oven back in the shearers' quarters. When not looking after visiting hunters she sells high-quality furniture at an exclusive shop in Christchurch, and on the weekends you are likely to find her astride her Harley Davidson, perhaps with a pig strapped across the handlebars.
Hellier says she is simply "an outdoors girl" who enjoys nothing more than introducing other people to the hills and the hunting. When it comes to following pig dogs around the low hills and through the tussock in the foothills of the Southern Alps she leaves the city boys far behind.
"They're on to one!" she yells, and breaks into a run down the slope. There's barking and squealing but then the excited yelping fades: "Its broken, and the dogs are chasing it," explains Raewyn. Then the noise rises again as the dogs bail the pig in a stream bed. By the time the Aucklanders catch up with the action, it's all over. The black boar lies dead and Hellier is quietly wiping her knife on the long tussock grass.
With her partner, John Newell, she runs 2Horn Hunting. They specialise in arranging hunts for trophy tahr and chamois in the Canterbury mountains. John has been a professional hunter for 30 years, working mainly out of helicopters throughout the South Island, and he knows what game each high country station offers.
"The high country has to be treated with respect," he says, loading an electronic distress beacon, a harness and crampons into his day pack. "Some hunters came down here from the North Island to hunt tahr and we recommended they take a guide with them but they said they knew what they were doing," says John. "One had an accident up in the snow and was killed."
It makes sense to employ a local professional guide, not only for the local knowledge in finding the quarry, but for the experience in the mountains which can be unforgiving. And that guide may well be a lady with a knife on her hip.By Geoff Thomas