Tim Hunter - Soaring high
Tim Hunter always wanted to fly and fly high he did, not only in airplanes but in a 40-plus year tourism and aviation career.
Raised in Dunedin, the son of an Otago University Professor of Medicine, Tim went to boarding school at 11, first Waihi, then Christ’s College.
He loved the outdoors, tramping, rock climbing, kayaking and mountaineering, as an instructor for the College’s fifth form Venture Group.
“I’d always loved aircraft and wanted to become a licenced aircraft engineer, but my father insisted that university come first. When I got there, I got a job in a gas station and secretly started learning to fly.” Working weekends funded flying lessons, just $22 an hour with an instructor and $11 solo. By his second year at uni he had his private pilot’s licence, his father by now well aware he’d lost the battle.
Clocking up his flying hours in Auckland while working on the ground for Air New Zealand, Tim gained his commercial pilot’s licence and multi-engine ratings in 1982.
His dad was right in one respect. A BA Honours in Economics got him into Air NZ’s graduate training programme, from where he advanced to the airline’s planning division, specialising in route planning and budgeting.
During restructuring in 1984, Tim took leave without pay and worked for Aviation Corporation, agents for Beechcraft aircraft, selling aircraft for corporate travel and air ambulance work. “I was also involved in aircraft trading and got to fly in many different planes around NZ.” He sold 11 one year.
In 1984 Tim also moved to Wānaka to work for Aspiring Air, flying to Milford, Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook, including “the goose count” for the Department of Internal Affairs. “We flew at low level down high-country valleys with an observer from the Department who counted the geese,” he grins.
Returning from a 1980s air ambulance flight to Dunedin, he landed at Cromwell to drop the nurse to the hospital. “I saw two hitchhikers on the roadside waving a ‘to Wanaka’ sign so I beckoned them over and had them in Wānaka in less than 10 minutes.
“Pete and Cindy from San Francisco sent me a postcard addressed ‘Tim the Pilot, Lake Wanaka, New Zealand’ and it got to me. They dined out on that story for years.”
Turned down as an Air NZ commercial pilot because he wore glasses, Tim joined Mount Cook Group as planning executive, moving through to top management roles over 14 years. This included management of the Mount Cook Landline’s national fleet of 150 buses. By 1997, he was group marketing manager. “It was a fantastic company to work for.”
He then became NZ Tourism Board regional manager for USA and Europe, later general manager – operations. Based in Wellington, he managed the board’s 13 overseas offices and directed the trade marketing programmes. He was on the executive team that developed the 100% Pure NZ campaign in 2000. It was a big success, with NZ tourism later boosted greatly by The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the America’s Cup.
There was much air travel, although Tim wasn’t at the controls for what was probably his most hair-raising flight. He was a passenger on a Aerolineaous 747 flight from Argentina to New York which got caught in a massive lightning storm lasting over an hour.
“I really thought I might meet my maker that day.” The pilot tried to fly around the storm but couldn’t so flew through it. “The inside of the plane was lit up with continuous blue light. The plane was rolling and shaking and there was a lot of screaming. The captain came down the spiral staircase after the storm to a nearby galley and chained smoked about two packets of cigarettes. God bless the 747!”
Two months before the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, Tim became CEO of Christchurch Canterbury Tourism, expecting to be promoting a vibrant city and region. However, after the earthquake he found himself on national TV urging people not to visit the city. “That role was my biggest challenge. Christchurch was seriously broken, and we had to do all we could to keep our main visitor attractions operating and re-establish core services.”
He’s just finished seven years as boss of Southern Discoveries in Queenstown, where he had supportive owners, a focused management team and strong sense of purpose. “I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.”
While he’s technically retired, Tim’s still finishing a few projects for Southern Discoveries and remains on the Milford Sound Tourism Board and is a Dunedin Airport director.
A keen road cyclist he’s looking forward to more of that, time with wife of 37 years Jane, and their three adult children, while also enjoying fishing from his holiday house in Twizel.