Sitting in booth 1059 at this week's Trenz tourism extravaganza in Dunedin is a recent recruit to the industry - Richie McCaw.

His company's site is among the attractions Canterbury has to offer almost 400 buyers at the event. He's with Christchurch Helicopters, a firm the All Black great became a partner in towards the end of his playing days in 2014.

The firm is looking to tourism to build on its recent rapid expansion into commercial aviation, rescue work, training and sales. The fast growing visitor sector offers great potential for more expansion yet.

''Hence I'm here at Trenz looking to grow the tourism side,'' says McCaw.

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Richie McCaw at the Christchurch Helicopters stand at Trenz in Dunedin. Photo / Grant Bradley
Richie McCaw at the Christchurch Helicopters stand at Trenz in Dunedin. Photo / Grant Bradley

Over three days, there are more than 16,500 meetings, lasting for 15 minutes each, between sellers and buyers from around the world. And thanks to McCaw, it's fair to say the chopper firm is in higher demand than it might otherwise have been.

At the Trenz welcome event in Dunedin, the queue for a picture with the 148-test All Black stretched 60m

It's a bit the same when flying tourists, McCaw says. ''I do get a few requests from quite a few Kiwis - I put aside a day a week when going to be the pilot - on other days it may be pot luck.''

He's also got international appeal, especially among Japanese fans, who McCaw says have a special affinity with the Crusaders.

''I had three people the week before last who wanted to come flying with me and see the rugby. That was their four days - they'd saved up for ages to do it.''

Brits are another group who are keen to go flying with the man who mastered their rugby teams. He was also in demand with English cricket supporters down under for the Ashes in summer.

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McCaw is modest about the ''Richie effect'' and says flying tourists who are fans beats making small talk at a function.

''We did events where people would come and say 'hi' - you have that interaction, but that was it. You can have that too, but you can give them a thrill by flying - you've got something to talk about and you're not just twiddling your thumbs,'' says the 37-year-old.

His firm has been awarded an international humanitarian award for its work during the Port Hills fires and Kaikoura earthquake, when McCaw was one of the first to fly in a rescue team. He found those missions far more satisfying than when supporting Cantabrians during earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

Richie McCaw in a rugby field near Kaikoura helping out with aid efforts following the 7.5 M earthquake that struck North-Canterbury in 2016. Picture / NZME
Richie McCaw in a rugby field near Kaikoura helping out with aid efforts following the 7.5 M earthquake that struck North-Canterbury in 2016. Picture / NZME

''Around the Christchurch earthquakes I did a bit of PR to give them the right sort of message - to be fair, you felt like 'who was I to tell people'. This time in Kaikoura I was doing something that was really needed. It wasn't just turning in when you're not needed.''

McCaw says there a few similarities between flying a chopper and the white heat of a test match.

''When you've got to make decisions or when you have to get things spot on, because you're in an area that requires a lot of thinking and the pressure could come on and you get something you don't expect,'' he says.

''That's what keeps you safe in aviation. If you're in the back country and the weather is coming in, you've got be able to make those decisions before they arrive - rugby was the same; when you lost the ability to make a decision then you're well behind the eight ball.''

But business contrasts starkly with rugby in that the weekly result is harder to see.

''Every week [playing rugby] we got a plus or minus as to whether we were on track or not with the result. With business, it takes a while to see,'' he says.

And that's what keeps McCaw fully engaged.

''One thing I really enjoy about it is there is so much to learn - the essence of being motivated in whatever is the learning. That's why I loved rugby - you couldn't sit back and think I've got this mastered - you're always thinking.

''As a pilot you've always got to be thinking like that - if you think it is easy today, that's when you become unstuck.''

Flying has always been a passion for McCaw, who relaxed in the off-season by piloting a glider around the lower South Island.

He began flying as a private pilot in 2003, gained both his fixed wing and helicopter commercial licences and is now an instructor.

Christchurch Helicopters' prices range from $300 for a city tour to a "World in a Day" tour - price on inquiry.

He says he is lucky to have something he is passionate about, that he could go straight to when he ended his career in 2015, after leading the All Blacks to a second successive World Cup triumph.

It was still ''a hell of an adjustment''.

It would have been really tough without a next step in the career path, and he says other players need to think hard about what they'll do when they finish rugby.

''One of the things I've seen is that people float along waiting for that to come along and years go down the track and they think they're not going anywhere.'' he says.

He says other ex-players should get their teeth into something. ''It may not be what they end up doing - but give it a crack for a while.''

McCaw also has an advisory role with a new tourism venture, the All Blacks Experience, which is due to open in Sky City within the next 18 months. He and fellow All Black Keven Mealamu were on hand at Forsyth Barr Stadium to meet the long line of fans among the 1500 Trenz delegates from around the world at the opening function.

Richie McCaw with women's rugby star Selica Winiata and Keven Mealamu with a fan at the Trenz opening event in Dunedin. Photo / Grant Bradley
Richie McCaw with women's rugby star Selica Winiata and Keven Mealamu with a fan at the Trenz opening event in Dunedin. Photo / Grant Bradley

McCaw opted not to take the big money option overseas at the end of his career, and doesn't regret it.

''A lot of these guys think that going overseas and earning a bunch of cash is going to set them up - it might do from a financial point of view, but it doesn't give the fulfilment and purpose of getting out of bed each morning.''

McCaw says networks shrink back home when players go overseas. ''That's been one thing I've been lucky with - I've still got that network of people that you stay relevant with.''

Christchurch Helicopters chief executive and business partner Terry Murdoch jokes that ''shaking'' is the first reaction of some passengers when they see McCaw at the controls -but New Zealand is lucky to have him.

''One of the things that blows me away is that they say not only have we met Richie McCaw, but he's taken me up in a helicopter,'' said Murdoch.

''Richie could have gone anywhere in the world and be swept up - we managed to keep him in Canterbury, keep him in New Zealand.''