The photographer, publisher and greenie looks at the world through pre-Romantic spectacles

Photographer, publisher, greenie and businessman Craig Potton is an interesting chap. I thought he would be, and there are some things about him I'd have guessed at and got right: the yoga, the meditation, the vegetarianism, the earnest conservationism. But any other assumptions, of the kind you'd think might be congruent with that list you can pretty much chuck out the window. I think.

I have a feeling he'd argue that even the assumptions that were right were wrong in some way, just for the hell of it. He kindly provided a list of his foibles to go with those I had, he noted, already written down. He said: "What have you written down?" I had written: Bossy. This was later amended to: Very bossy. He didn't mind that one. He got bossiness from his father, he said.

He said: "What are you going to write?" And: "Oh, dear. I thought we were going to talk about a book, Wild Places, that I've just published." Hint, hint. His latest book is New Zealand's Wild Places, a collection of his photographs of forests and mountains and coasts. It is a beautiful book, but not a pretty one - the distinction is one he aims for - and it would make a very nice Christmas present.

There, that's a decent plug and possibly a more decent one than he deserves. He can be rather cutting. If I was a tree, I'd be cautious about getting a hug from him. He has bony elbows and a sharpish tongue.


He asked whether I was writing this for a women's magazine. He doesn't muck around trying to charm people. He has dolphins to save and books to flog. He said, meaning this not at all: "But I appreciate the time you take." Then, meaning this absolutely: "Because, you know, publicity's good."

If sarcasm is a foible, we can add that to the list. He inherited that from his father too, along with a head for business - his father set up Zip Industries and made millions - and the multiplex cinema complex in Nelson, which he co-owns with his older brother, Richard.

Money, having it, or wanting to make it, is not a foible. He grew up with pots of it. He had a very nice childhood and very nice parents (that sarcasm notwithstanding) and having money meant that, for one amazing thing, he was taken to the World Trade Fair in New York when he was 12 to see a moon rocket.

He said: "I love capitalism ... Oh, I absolutely love it!" He said: "I love money. Money makes the world go round." Was that surprising in a hippie? No, because what he loves about it is that "it's not rigorous", not bound by the dogmas of some other systems and you're judged on "what you make, rather than how you talk. And we have always traded".

He has. He started out making surfboards and selling them, then he started sewing and selling women's clothes. I was trying to imagine him bent over a sewing machine making frocks.

I was imagining tie-dyed frocks. "Well, there was a little bit of that, but I liked to go a little bit more tasteful." He wasn't, actually, any good at frocks. "Well, I was not great at certain areas of the anatomy." What could he mean? "Well, I can't make the ... you know!" he said, making some rather peculiar gesticulations meant to indicate certain areas of the anatomy. Darts? "Yeah, that sort of stuff. Darts and ducts and God knows what. So I couldn't make dresses, but I could make skirts." He could make me a dress, he said, and I could give him potatoes in exchange. I said: "But it wouldn't fit! It wouldn't have darts." He'd have to give the spuds back. "All right, I'll make you a skirt. And you have to give me so many potatoes or oranges, whatever, a load of stuff. It's easier to just give me money and I'll go and buy the potatoes. Trading is integral to us being humans."

Money is supposed to be grubby stuff. "Well, some people have that perception and there is a whole Christian tradition around not making too much money and having a natural humility and modesty." I wasn't sure whether he had just added a lack of humility and modesty to his list of foibles. He said: "Um. I give away a lot of money." To? "The arts and conservation and cancer and the Third World."

He says he wouldn't say he was rich; he's well-off.

He lives in Nelson, where he was born, in a house full of art. He loves McCahon and Bill Hammond. He bought a McCahon for a hundred bucks when he was a student at Canterbury. He wanted to buy one for $1200, but he didn't have the money so he asked his mum, who asked his dad, who said it was a bit steep. "Well, that McCahon is now about $3 million. So that was not a good choice by either me or my father. Maybe I should have found the money. It was quite a lot but it still beats inflation!"

He lives with his second wife, Catherine, who he thinks "is the most beautiful woman in the world. That's for the record. That's because you've asked and I've answered. I don't shirk around beauty but I don't think one should judge by beauty alone".

They met - "are you sitting down?" - on an internet dating site. They have a 4-year-old daughter; she has two daughters from another relationship. His first wife, Beverly, died of cancer. They have a son, who is 25.

He was lonely, and he believes in marriage and happiness. He is quite conservative, in many ways, and a bit old-fashioned. He calls women "ladies". He thinks Mozart is far too modern. "I listen to Bach." He may have been pulling my leg about Mozart. He also loves Dylan and when he goes tramping he sometimes sings a bit of Dylan. I said this was appalling, and noise pollution, which earned me one of his little lectures: This one about how the environmental damage dairy farming does is nothing compared to him droning his way through the bush.

I thought he might be a romantic but he disapproves of the Romantics. They were far too self-indulgent - all that opium smoking and going off and gazing at lakes - and it is all their fault that we now have the me, me, me generation. (I may be overstating his case, just a smidgen.)

He showed me how to take a selfie. I can't now remember how on earth this came up, but he is the last person on earth I'd have picked to be the person to show me how to take selfies. He said: "I'm pre-Romantic, really."

"Talks too much," was top of his list of foibles. I can't disagree - for once; we had a fairly jolly time disagreeing about almost everything, at least I did. Talks too much? When I left the table to pay for the coffee, he carried on arguing with me in my absence, via the recorder.

He's good fun, although I'm not sure he comes across that way, generally. He is very tall, 1.93m, and has a lean and string-beany physique - he does yoga every day and tramps. He said another of his foibles is that he doesn't keep fit enough, to which you can only say, faintly, blimey. He has a long face, and longish hair for a businessman of 61. This gives him a lugubrious air, but it is entirely deceptive: he is not a bit melancholy.

He believes in happiness and that you have a responsibility to seek happiness and that, if you work at it, you can achieve it. He was a hippie and still is, in many ways. He said: "I was young at the beginning of the 60s and old at the end of them." Of course he used to smoke a bit of dope but he never much liked it because he likes doing things and dope is not conducive to doing things other than "Watching 2001 Space Odyssey the first three times and it was good for watching Monty Python. But the other thing, and you know this will sound pretty strange, but I actually find life extraordinarily exciting, so I don't actually need to be stoned." How lucky for him. "Yeah, I kind of feel stoned all the time!"

Sometimes, in a Census year, depending on how he's feeling (or how mischievous he's feeling, possibly) he writes "mysticism" in the religion box. I wasn't absolutely sure what mysticism was. "Mysticism is being incredibly happy. Basically, being unable to stop these outbursts of happiness as they come upon you."

He is a fan, if that is the right word, of the Dalai Lama, who he has met, as have I. An outbreak of happiness did not come upon him when I asked whether he'd managed to understand a single thing the Dalai Lama had said.

I always forget how gaga people go over the Dalai Lama, so that was not just the wrong question, it was "the most inane question I've ever been asked". Well! I was just interested, truly. I couldn't understand a single thing he said. Perhaps they met on a higher plane.

He is - big surprise - a vegetarian and has been since he was 15. I should be one too (so should everyone) because I'd feel better if I gave up eating meat. Also, it has now been proven that animals "talk to each other, they care for each other, many of them mate for life - in the same way that we mate for life and if it doesn't work out, they take another mate. They have a sense of humour".

Chickens have a sense of humour? "Definitely! If you're in Nepal and you go into the jungles - which I have - the wild chickens are very cruisy and wonderful creatures."

Hang on a minute. He has a leather bag! I was really shocked, or pretended to be. "I know. It shouldn't be. My wife gave it to me. Life is full of compromises. The thing about life that I've found - and you can also write this down - is that it's no good just being bossy and whatever the other word was, you've got to compromise all of the time. So if a gift is given, and given in a wonderful sense of love, it's to be cherished by the one that gave and the one that received. It'd be a bit churlish to say [he said, puffing himself up, mock-pompously]: 'Oh, I'm a man of principle'."

This is the point he went on arguing with me when I wasn't there, thus ensuring he won the argument. So I won't argue with him. He does talk too much and he's always right and he always knows better than anyone else.

Which makes it all the more annoying that he is such engaging company. Not that I'd tell him that. I'm counting on him not reading this far. He reads the Iliad (of course he does), not women's mags.