As told to Elisabeth Easther
I took my first trip overseas when dad, a geology professor, had his sabbatical in Cambridge. Sailing on a great ocean liner, it took six weeks from Wellington to Southampton via the Panama Canal. I was 9, so just old enough to remember. We were there for a year before coming home on the Himalaya through the Suez Canal. As kids, we paid no attention to first or second class and we went everywhere. I spent lots of time on the bridge and the first mate taught me to play chess. As we went over the equator our family dressed as characters from Peter Pan and we won the prize for best costumes. England in the 1960s was very exciting. The wildlife was amazing - squirrels, woodpeckers, badgers and foxes. I remember seeing puffins on the Welsh Coast, thousands of them, and it was magical. In Cambridge we lived round the corner from the public library. I was there every day and read every single Tintin book. Being largely about travel, they inspired me to be an intrepid explorer.
When I was 10 my parents bought a crib at Warrington Beach. We lived in Dunedin but had no car because mum and dad didn't drive. I was the oldest of five and somehow we'd get ourselves to Dunedin railway station on a Friday evening, and to Warrington by train. It was at least a kilometre to the crib, downhill fortunately, and we'd run because the train would leave at six and we'd want to arrive in time to listen to The Goon Show. I'd dash down and mum would be last with my little sisters trailing behind. There were such great adventures, making huts, gathering pine cones and wood for the fire, puddling round on little boat or lilos, collecting mussels, crabbing and fishing, although mostly my hook got caught in the kelp.
Growing up in Opoho, in Dunedin, I would look to the north from my bedroom window, to Flagstaff Hill on the horizon, and I always wondered what was on other side, so I became a boy scout as soon as I could. For a city slicker this offered the chance to go camping and tramping. When I was 15, in 1968, I went on my first long-distance bike ride. Two of us went up to Mt Cook before they tarsealed the road. We had three-speed Raleigh bikes and it took us two weeks, staying with family friends and in youth hostels, and we organised it all ourselves. We made several bike trips – another time we took the train to Picton and rode from Nelson to Murchison, Westport to Greymouth, over Arthur's Pass, then Christchurch and back to Dunedin by train. I couldn't do that now.
When I went to university, I intended to work in forestry, studying botany and economics but I did a geology paper to find out what dad did. After that first lecture by Professor Doug Coombs, I was hooked. It was mind blowing. He explained so many different things that relate to the environment. Why we have hills and what they're made of. What underlies the ocean and how we know these things. And it meant I could communicate with dad.
In the 90s I made two trips to Bolivia, which is the most interesting country. I was part of a geological project that went with two burning questions. When did South America become bent? And why is the Altiplano Plateau so high? We solved both questions and the answer of course, is plate tectonics. I was also there as a palaeontologist looking for Bolivia's youngest marine fossils which would tell us when Bolivia was last at sea level. We determined that it was the Cretaceous Age, about 100 million years ago. Did you know there are more than 200 varieties of potato and more than 80 sorts of banana in Bolivia?
I first led a tour party to the Chatham Islands in 2002 as part of an international Gondwana conference held in Christchurch in August. As part of that, I was to run a field trip to an outer outpost of Gondwana. I remember complaining and saying it'll be miserable, it'll be winter, but they said - the conference is in August so the post-conference field excursion is in August. We had perfect weather. There was no rain whatsoever. There was one really windy day but otherwise it was brilliant blue sky and sun and it was a blast. When word got out, I was asked to run another trip by The Geological Society of New Zealand and I've been taking people ever since, along with my co-leader Chris Adams. We do a five-night, six-day trip, staying in Hotel Chatham and visit places of geological interest. The Chathams are wonderful, there's such a sense of freedom there. It's invigorating and rural yet with all the amenities of modern life. The internet, beautiful wine, fine food, all the creature comforts.
I got the travel bug when I was 9 years old. After that amazing trip overseas and reading books about travel to other countries, I've wanted to travel all my life, and I have.
To find out where Hamish is next leading tours email: firstname.lastname@example.org