By Jodi Bryant
You'd think, living in the Far North would generate less recognition for renown medium Kelvin Cruickshank. But he still gets bailed up at his local supermarket by fans asking if he can see their mum and selfies in his hunting gear are a common thing.
Not that he's complaining. In fact, since moving to the Bay of Islands nine years ago, Kelvin has fully embraced the Northland lifestyle and has no plans to leave.
"I'm a Northland boy now," says the former Waikato lad. "There's something about the Bay of Islands that I just love."
Kelvin was living in Auckland when he swapped the city life for one that involved more of his outdoor passions – hunting and fishing.
"When I came here I knew nobody," he recalls. "But I'd spent many years fishing up here and wanted to get out of Auckland. There's so much to do – fishing, diving, hunting, beaching with the kids, camping, kayaking, getting tuatuas off the beach. I love this place."
He's also made some friends who are 'absolutely loyal and basically my family now'. His home, on a small block of land, which includes a horse, four chickens, a dog and a cat, is his sanctuary to return to after his fortnightly Soul Food Tours, with the next one landing in Whangarei on Friday.
"I always seem to have a really interesting night in Whangarei. Everyone's pretty excited to be there and so am I. Because it's close to home, I seem to be really relaxed in Whangarei.
"We're dealing with some serious, sad stuff but we always have some laughs. It's about a celebration about those who've gone before us."
Kelvin remembers first sensing spirit as a small boy. Confused and frightened, he chose to ignore the extra company and later pursued a career as a chef. It was many years later he stopped to listen to what he was hearing and discovered that the messages were intended for others.
Accepting his gift was life-changing and Kelvin subsequently dedicated his life to working fulltime as a medium passing on messages from those who have passed over.
Kelvin credits the late well-known medium Colin Fry for helping kick-start his career after Colin asked him to guest star on his UK tv series The Sixth Sense.
Kelvin went on to work on New Zealand's popular Sensing Murder tv series, with two other mediums, where their role was to provide evidence towards famous unsolved murder cases by communicating with the deceased victims. Alongside this and wanting to reach out to others while getting the message out about how the afterlife works, he began his Soul Food tours, visiting as many places as possible, including far-flung locations on the New Zealand map.
"Passing on messages from people who have died and are in spirit is what I was put on this earth to do. However, since the incredible success of Sensing Murder, there's been such a great demand from people on this side wanting private readings that it is just not physically possible for me to do them anymore. So, the best way for me to be able to put people in touch with the loved ones they've lost – and also help them to understand how the afterlife works – is through my live shows."
Kelvin's shows have the audience in both tears and fits of laughter with many gaining closure as he passes on messages from loved ones. Even the cynical blokes, who have clearly been dragged along by their partners, often leave open-minded.
Kelvin also holds seminars and spiritual retreats and has recently released his eighth book about his experiences and featuring some of the stand-out moments from his shows with those involved contributing to the chapters offering their points of view.
In amongst this, he is filming Haunted Hollywood in America – a show he was head-hunted for amongst many other mediums from around the globe and which involves a mix of detectives, scientists and mediums.
"It's fascinating but dangerous. It's incredibly draining and incredibly sad. Basically, it's horrific. At one point they rang and said, look you can pull out if you want but I said: 'Nah mate, I started it, I'm gonna finish it boots and all.'
"It's pretty cool working together and it's been an absolute privilege to be involved. We're just trying to help people who've got people who have disappeared and we're tracking them down."
When he's not on location, Kelvin works from home and is dad to daughter Jade, 8, who, like her older brother, who has left home, is showing signs of Kelvin's gift.
"From what I understand from my daughter, she picks up things before they happen but children all have the ability, it's whether they choose to follow it," he says, adding that it usually wanes around age seven due to distraction.
"I think the key is to let them speak first and not get in their face about it and, when they're ready for the answer, they will ask and when they ask, I will explain."
Many a time, Kelvin says, he has seen horrific images he'd rather not have and it's the cases involving children who've been harmed which affect him the most.
However, a stand-out case occurred only months ago and is one Kelvin cites as a career highlight.
Eighty-four-year-old Hamilton man Raymond Stirling had been missing nearly a month when his daughter-in-law attended one of Kelvin's shows and he told her Raymond was not in the river where they had been searching.
"Apparently, he talked to me all night because I was talking in my sleep," says Kelvin. "So, I got up and brought up Google Maps. He said: 'I'm here'. He just wanted to go home."
Following Kelvin's new locations, Raymond's son finally discovered his father's body.
When Kelvin got the news that Raymond had been returned home, he burst into tears, then drove to Hamilton out of his own pocket just to give the family a hug.
"It was a very special time of my career for sure and there was no exchange of anything but a hug."
But then, Kelvin points out, he does a lot out of his own pocket, something his critics - and he's had his fair share – probably don't realise. His ticketing prices have remained the same for the last 15 years. "I always use the koha that comes from that to go to places like Greymouth and Hokitika because the koha puts me in a place to go and help those people. It's swings and roundabouts."
In addition, Kelvin is in the throes of setting up a non-profitable trust called the Kelvin Cruickshank Missing Persons Trust, which will be based solely on donations.
"Often, people are so stressed out that they can't work or they can't work while they are searching for a missing family member. The trust will take the pressure off by stepping in and paying the bills for them while they are out in the field looking for their loves ones," he explains.
A common assumption is that he can predict lotto numbers and Kelvin finds it hilarious when he hears himself referred to as 'That Sensing Marlin Fulla'.
"I mean, because I can communicate with dead people, how does that make me able to speak to fish?"
He does, however, believe more people are becoming more open-minded.
"I think Sensing Murder changed the minds of a lot of people but also I think people who have met me over the years now understand. It's supposed to be a taboo subject but our loved ones don't turn into monsters when they die. It just so happens that I can see them, it's just the way I am. I can't be anyone else.
"At the end of the day, we're all striving for happiness and balance. I've had a lot of cool stuff but also a lot of rough stuff happen. I've lost a lot of friends and family, just like everybody else. You can't change it but it's the way you manage it. Helping people and seeing their sadness leave them is the best thing about my gift. It's like their dark cloud disappears and that brings the most joy for me."