Queenstown fisherman and hunter Mark Salmons was "in his element'' at the moment he died, said his wife, Sharon, at his funeral yesterday.
"He was fly-fishing for kingfish, his ultimate dream.
"He was found with a fishing rod in his hands, he was with his friends, I was there, he was in the ocean.
"If it hadn't been that time, it would have been another, or another, or another. I'm very glad I was there.''
Salmons, 49, who had heart problems, was fishing at Pakawau on Boxing Day.
Sharon Salmons saw him collapse into the water. Attempts to revive him failed.
Although his death was tragic, his funeral at St Margaret's Presbyterian Church in Frankton, Queenstown, yesterday afternoon was as much about celebrating his life as coming together in grief.
More than 150 mourners turned out, including family, friends, members of the Southern Lakes Branch New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association and colleagues from building company DCD Limited.
The hunters arranged a guard of honour for Salmons' coffin as it left the church and Sharon Salmons placed a hunting cap on it before it was driven away for a private cremation. His ashes will be scattered in Fiordland.
A love of the outdoors was a major theme of his life.
NZDA member Shaun Moloney said he was a good man and a good friend. He had recently been a lead hunter on a tahr hunt.
"I picked Mark to take new hunters because he was kind, gentle, firm and strong; he was strong right to the last,'' he said."We crossed some gnarly country that weekend but Mark did not take one step back. That would symbolise Mark.''
Employer Dennis Dowling, of DCD, said Salmons had offered to find other work during lean times for the company so other workers could stay on.
His sister Sharyn Black and lifelong friend Brett Pinkerton told stories of his youth and his life in his hometown of Tauranga before he moved south.
He had started a building apprenticeship at age 15 in Auckland and worked on fishing boats and as a builder before moving to Cromwell in 2002 after the end of his first marriage.
His son from that marriage, Emmanuela Salmons, gave two readings at the funeral.
Pinkerton recounted an under-aged trip to the liquor store, when Salmons, younger by two years, managed to get served.
"He always said to me 'life's too short to be serious all the time. So if you can't laugh at yourself, call me, I'll laugh at you'.''
Mark and Sharon Salmons married in the Cook Islands in 2014 and also travelled to the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
Those years were some of the happiest of his life, mourners said. Sharon Salmons said last year was particularly good, with hunting and fishing trips to Fiordland, Australia and elsewhere, trips to his beloved Greenstone Hut, a holiday in Tonga, a new truck and a new house in Te Anau.
They were planning to move there for Sharon Salmons' work, while Mark Salmons would semi-retire, with more time for hunting and fishing.
"Mark never saved for retirement; he always said 'I'm never going to make it', but I always thought we'd have longer,'' his widow said.
"So when Mark wanted to go out hunting or fishing, he did.''