The partner of one of two mountaineers killed in an avalanche in the Southern Alps this week has spoken of her heartbreak at losing the man she first met when he was her guide on a mountaineering course — and made her cry.
But Tracey Bell told the Herald she also took comfort from the fact her partner of nine years, Wolfgang Maier, and the man who was like a brother to both — Martin Hess, who died alongside Maier on Mt Hicks Wednesday, were together in death.
"I'd rather that none of them died .... but I do console myself with, if there's an afterlife, I'm glad they've got each other, that they didn't go there alone."
The men, both from Germany but who worked between Europe and New Zealand throughout the year, remained together, Bell said.
"Both of our families, we are keeping them together the whole way through now. They're going to the funeral home together, they're going to be cremated together, the service is a joint service together [where they'll] stay side by side.
"That's what they would've wanted, because they were like brothers."
The service in Christchurch this week would be for close friends and family only, but everyone was welcome to a public memorial being organised at Lake Tekapo next Saturday.
Bell, who lived in Lake Tekapo with 58-year-old Maier before the pair moved to her native Perth in April, said Maier was an "incredibly skilled and strong guide" whose sternness sometimes upset people before they got to know him — herself included.
"He did make me cry the first time I met him, climbing out of a crevasse. Only because I was being a sook ... people think he was this big tough guy — he was — but he also had an incredibly sensitive and tender side that few people got to see, so I was the lucky girl."
The devoted father of two and grandfather of one played classical piano and wrote poetry about "his love for me", Bell said.
The pair always made a point to kiss and hug each other goodbye, because of the risk involved in mountaineering, she said.
"But I never really did believe I would lose him, because he was so strong and capable."
Hess' brother, Jochen Hess, also spoke of his family's loss.
The 50-year-old was meant to be driving an ambulance for St John this weekend, but his brother had to call St John and tell them one of their volunteers had died in the mountaineering tragedy that took two lives, and nearly that of third climber Jo Morgan, wife of economist and philanthropist Gareth Morgan.
His brother, a trained baker and pastry chef who came to New Zealand from Germany after getting the travel bug while working on cruise ships, was also involved in search and rescue in the mountains where he died.
"He was with the helicopter team at Mt Cook and saved lives .... he always was of the opinion that he needed to give back to the community."
Bell said her partner's great gift was that which he gave to the hundreds whose dreams he helped come true.
"He brought so much joy and happiness to hundreds of people because he brought the mountains to everyday people and gave them this opportunity to experience something extraordinary, and something they could take with them for the rest of their lives.
"The tributes that are coming from friends and clients is about how he brought out in them a strength they never knew they had. He led the way and he made them believe in themselves and that, as a result, you can face the rest of your life and know if you can climb this mountain, you can do anything."