Air New Zealand's Great Walks winner Richard Harrison
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 13 May

The World According to Richard Harrison

Richard Harrison is one of Air New Zealand's Great Walkers. After taking on a huge journey (and losing 200lbs along the way), here he explains what he loves about travel

Mountain/ocean/jungle/desert – which are you and why?

I’m a mountain; I love the physical challenge of going up mountains and then fun of snowboarding down them. I think whatever the season they can put you in your place with their beauty and majesty.

What was your first great travel experience?

In terms of first travel experiences I have fond memories of my family beach holidays back in the UK. I have quite a big family so that was always fun. But my first independent, proper travel experience was my first trip to NZ where I toured the country in a campervan following the English rugby team. I think that trip and the people I met on that trip have changed my life.

What was your favourite journey?

My favourite or at least most memorable journey would be the first time I got on an aeroplane since losing a significant amount of weight. I flew from the UK to Geneva, for me that was the start of a new life of travelling. I can remember the feeling of relief that I could actually fit in the aeroplane seat. And then excitement and anticipation of what life had in store beyond that point.

What are your top five places worldwide?

Top five places, that is pretty difficult. San Fran would be on the list for its counterculture and technology. Ferny in British Columbia in Canada a small mountain town, that’s where I learned to snowboard for a season. Abel Tasman in NZ is a pretty special place for me, Wanaka in NZ again is a very special place. I hurt myself snowboarding when I was there and had to spend the week doing something else. Which was amazing. It taught me that sometimes plans change and you have to experience stuff in a different way. South Australia has a soft spot in my heart as well and perhaps Bath in the UK because that is home.

Name a special place to stay. 

For me any of the Department of Conservation Huts here in New Zealand particularly those on the Kepler Track were pretty amazing. Amazing hospitality from the DOC rangers there. Kepler was my first experience of NZ tramping and I think it is the most spectacular place to spend a night. Kind of perched up on a hut overlooking mountains and lakes. Something like that really puts you back in touch with nature and makes you feel good.

What three items do you always pack? Why?

Pen and paper, they are the best tools for reflective writing.

Running gear. I love running in the different places that I travel to, for me it gives me a bit of a buzz to do something I love with a different backdrop.

And the third one, sounds a bit cheesy but packing an open mind when I travel, is pretty important just to let the experience happen and not to have too many preconceptions of what is going to be.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

My first visit to Australia, I was in New Zealand and I met an amazing Australian girl. I had planned to keep travelling into South-East Asia, I scrapped those travel plans so I could follow my heart and the girl back to Australia. I took a chance, threw caution to the wind, did something different and haven’t looked back!

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

I would like to go to Antarctica and Bhutan; I think they would be amazing places.

What is your guilty travel pleasure?

Enjoying a little bit of luxury when it comes around. I don’t do too well living out of a backpack for too long so I come to a point and crack and indulge myself a little bit.

Which do you prefer: window or aisle?

Definitely aisle – I like the feeling that I can get out easily.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

It would be someone who is a lot more organised than I am. I like to not make plans and just let things happen as they happen. So sometimes it is kind of nice to have somebody watching your back making sure everything is going to some sort of plan. But at the same time they should be prepared to go with the flow and just enjoy what happens.

Best meal on the road? And your worst?

On Air New Zealand’s Great Walker trip on the Kepler track in New Zealand – sitting in Motorau Hut in the middle of nowhere, beautiful mountains all around us looking out over a pristine lake. All of our other companions at the Lodge were eating their boil in a bag meals when our DOC (Department of Conservation) ranger asked us how we would like our steaks that evening! Another super lovely DOC person had hiked in from the other direction with a load of steaks for us. Superb.

Bad meal? None to talk about... touch wood.

Most surprising place? And your most disappointing?

Rotorua – I knew about the volcanic activity before going but to walk around public parks that are steaming and bubbling was quite unexpected.

Most disappointing: Nothing springs to mind.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Big cities are not high on my list of dream destinations. Much more of an outdoorsy traveller.

Who/what inspired you to travel?

My friends have inspired me the most, during that time in my life that I couldn’t travel I would sit back and watch them having their adventures and dream of doing something similar. That was where my desire to travel came from, from seeing other people doing it.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

The people we have met from The Department of Conservation on the Great Walker trip in NZ. Every single one of them has been absolutely wonderful, interesting and kind-hearted. Particularly the Rangers. They have found something in life that they get a lot of enjoyment out of doing, a real calling, a real passion. They are doing something that is helping the world be a better place. They all just seem really happy and content with their lifestyles, that has been nice for me coming from a busy go go go, tech-fuelled, material world. Seeing people doing something quite different and being content and peaceful and happy with that. That has been quite inspirational for me.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

I have been told I snore. Not sure I believe that but apparently the evidence is overwhelming.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Either sing or dance, that would make you laugh because I am not much of a natural born entertainer so it is funny when I do give it a go.

When or where in your travels have you been happiest?

The first time I went swimming in ten years on a beach was in Australia in Adelaide last year and that was a bit of a sad story, it was the first time in ten years that I had been confident enough to step out onto a beach and go swimming. That moment was incredible for me. It was a real moment of understanding how far I have come on my journey and how much my life had changed and where I was going in the future.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

The smell of a cool fresh crisp morning at 4am with a little bit of dew in the air as there is no other reason to be up that early other than to travel.

Given a choice, what era would you travel in?

Right now – as it is so easy to travel from place to place.

Also during the pioneering years to be experiencing things for the first time.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, which would they be?

San Fran for its technology with Vancouver for its natural beauty mixed with a bit Adelaide in South Australia it is a city but it doesn’t feel like one. It is pretty green and progressive around environmental stuff.

Richard Harrison is one of four winners of Air New Zealand's Great Walks competition. Find out more: greatwalker.theflyingsocialnetwork.com

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