The grieving family of a hunter shot dead in the Te Urewera Ranges has paid tribute to the hardworking family man and business owner who doted on his grandchildren.
Paeroa construction business owner Michael Bennett has been remembered by his family as a “giving” person who would regularly give away meat to friends and family following his hunting expeditions.
Police said in a statement last night an investigation began after police responding to a personal locator beacon activation around 2am in Te Urewera Ranges on Friday found the 63-year-old dead.
A statement from his provided to the Bay of Plenty Times said Bennett, known as Mike or Rambo, was “cherished within both the Paeroa community and his family”.
They described him as “hard-working, driven and passionate” about his farm, his hunting and diving endeavours, and “most importantly his family.
“Mike was a very giving person, always first to put his hand up to build something for someone, to gift meat from his many hunting trips, and generally help everyone with something one may need.
“He was a loved son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, friend and so much more. Mike was so proud of all his children and grandchildren and loved talking about them to his friends and family.”
Mostly raised in Paeroa, the statement said Bennett was “proud of his small town” and well-known locally.
He had a building company, Bennett Developments Ltd, and also ran for the Hauraki District Council in 2022 to provide “a voice for the elderly”.
He loved taking wife Helyn to Australia for holidays and they had visited Cairns every year since 2005.
“This was one of Mike’s favourite places, in July of this year he took the two younger granddaughters to explore a place they heard so much about.”
A funeral notice said the couple were married 40 years and Bennett is also survived by daughters Tracey and Melanie, and grandchildren Ryan, Mykilah, Jorja and Hannah (Rogers).
The family statement said Bennett loved cars and motorbikes – “anything that had a motor and went fast”.
“He would purchase old materials and create something new with a Mike touch, possibly Trade Me’s #1 customer.”
He also loved lollies and when the grandkids came over they would be greeted with “a warm smile and him asking, ‘Got any lollies?’”
“[He] was always well-stocked, making for a very unhealthy weekend at Nana and Grandad’s, that is if he was willing to share.”
Even from a young age, Bennett “could never sit still”, the family said.
“He was always building something, in the garden, training for his many Triathalons/marathons/iron-mans, with his calves at the ranch, out for a drive or motorbike ride with his wife, hunting or surrounded by friends and family.”
On the odd occasion he was still, Bennett could be found laid up in his chair with a cup of tea and a ginger nut, reading a book or thinking about what else he wanted to accomplish next.
“Mike was so loved and will leave a massive hole in everyone’s hearts. Gone way too soon but will never be forgotten for the great man he was.
“May he rest in love, in Paradise.”
Death ‘absolutely tragic’ - friend
Family friend Ian Gray, 57, who lives in Paeroa, told the Bay of Plenty Times Bennett’s death was “absolutely tragic”.
Gray said he was on a fishing trip with some friends at Lake Taupō when his wife phoned him with the news on Friday.
”It’s been a huge shock. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and have to remind myself – oh it has happened.”
Gray said he had known Bennett more than 35 years after they first met working at the Paeroa freezing works around 1987/88, soon becoming firm friends.
Gray left the freezing works 10 years later but said he and Bennett had regularly kept in contact including doing a “lot of rabbit shooting” together over the years.
”Mike also helped me and my wife build our home after he dismantled an old half-round barn in Cambridge and carted it back to our property in Paeroa and rebuilt it.
“He was just one of those out-of-the-box people. Mike was very intelligent and he could make or do anything, he excelled at whatever he turned his mind to.”
Gray said Bennett was the sort of person who would “literally give you the shirt off his back” if someone needed it and had helped a lot of people over the years.
“If someone had a problem or needed something fixing, Mike was the first to offer help. He put everybody else first before himself. That’s the sort of selfless person he was.”
Gray said if there were more people like Bennett, “the world would be a better place”. He was sorely missed and would “never be forgotten”.
The funeral notice said a celebration of Bennett’s life would be held at the family home in Paeroa on Friday.
Police said the investigation was ongoing.
Sandra Conchie is a senior journalist at the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post who has been a journalist for 24 years. She mainly covers police, court and other justice stories, as well as general news. She has been a Canon Media Awards regional/community reporter of the year.