Aunty Rata Interview with Renee Habluetzel and Geoff Keey

Renee and Geoff are leaving Wellington shortly to return to their South Island roots. The plan is to settle in Arthur’s Pass and run a bed and breakfast. This seemed like an audacious and risky move to Aunty Rata, can you even get chocolate down there? I was not completely surprised though, as Geoff and Renee are famous for their originality, standing up for what they believe in and their ability to make a difference. I’m sure they will have a great time down South and lots of us will be tempted to pop in for a visit next time we are down that way.

If you haven’t heard of Renee and Geoff you are probably new to the Club. Older hands will know they have both made big contributions to WTMC. In the not too distant past when we couldn’t find a Chief Guide Geoff stepped up and performed the role while Renee has also served on the Committee. They have both led Club trips. Aunty Rata well remembers being permitted to accompany Geoff on a big Xmas trip to the Garden of Eden despite being short on experience and long on complaints. It was an unforgettable journey that still sets the benchmark by which I measure other trips. Geoff also instructed on both the Bushcraft and Snowcraft courses teaching new Clubbies fundamental skills for getting about in the hills. I asked them both about their latest adventure.

So tell us about Geoff and Renée’s Magnificent adventure, what’s it all about?

We decided we wanted to live in a beautiful place where we could be near rivers, mountains and the bush. So we have bought a house in Arthurs Pass Village and are opening a bed and breakfast in November.

How does it feel to be at the stage where the dream is in the throes of being implemented?

Exhilirating and terrifying. The bank balance is taking a thrashing as we organise moving and purchase items for the guest rooms. But we are having a lot of fun thinking about what kind of services we want to provide to guests. One of our plans is to build an outdoor bath area.

How do you see the division of labour working out?

I know Geoff is the designated Poo Man. Geoff will need to develop a closer relationship with our vacuum cleaner than he currently does.

Do you foresee any particular challenges making the transition from the big smoke of Wellington to the tiny community of Arthur’s Pass?

Arthurs Pass village has excellent cell phone coverage and broadband so we’ll be able to keep in touch with friends and family. Shopping trips need to be well planned because it’s 2 hours return if we forget something. Kea!

You guys chose to get married at Arthur’s Pass. What makes Arthur’s Pass a special place for you two?

We were both raised in the South Island and both spent a lot of time near rivers and mountains. When we began talking about where we’d like to live Renée wanted to live near a braided river and Geoff wanted mountains, Arthur’s Pass has both.

What are the three best things about Arthur’s Pass from the perspective of a tramper?

1) A good range of tramping from easy wanders to hard alpine routes.
2) Accessible region.
3) Our bed and breakfast.

What is your favourite thing to do in the Park?

Enjoy being in such an awesome place. Geoff likes heading up some of the easier peaks and finding obscure routes. Renée is more sane and prefers to jump into ice cold rivers.

Is there a best time of the year to visit?

Interesting question, as a small business owner we’d like you to come anytime. You come, we eat. Actually, there is something great about every time of the year. Great snow climbs and skiing in winter and spring. Mountain flowers in summer. Low rivers and great tramping in Autumn. We are planning on having Matariki and Midwinter packages to celebrate winter.

How can people keep in touch with you and what is happening down in Arthur’s Pass?
We have our own website www.arthurspass.org.nz and we are on Facebook We’ll still be members of WTMC of course cos that’s where we met each other.

Will we still hear Geoff in the media talking about climate change issues on behalf of Greenpeace or is it goodbye to all that?

Well, I’ll have to stop being the Wellington political advisor, but planet wreckers can’t relax quite yet.

It must be very rewarding doing a job that aligns so strongly with your personal beliefs but also a bit heart breaking from time to time?

It is hard sometimes. I come back from the climate change negotiations feeling very tired and often frustrated. Renée here – Geoff returns barely able to communicate, for a few weeks he grunts alot.

Any advice Geoff for others engaged in, or contemplating environmental activism?

Don’t take life too seriously. Work on the issues you are passionate about. Take care of yourself because campaigning will suck up everything you’ve got.

You must be pretty self sufficient Renée with Geoff away a bit and in the spotlight from time to time. Is it hard or is it nice to stay in the background a bit and have time to yourself while Geoff is off on his Greenpeace missions?

Geoff looks cute on the telly, he looks so harmless with his DoC geeky ways. I’m happy for him to bounce about chatting on telly and radio, I don’t think the world is ready for Renée and Geoff the celebrity couple. Attending UN meetings provides a great opportunity to sell off his tramping gear, particularly his mother’s discarded silk shirts he’s fond of wearing in the hills. Seriously though, it’s a good opportunity for a clear out. Geoff here – she hates it and complains whenever I go away.

The government has backed down over opening up Schedule 4 land for mining but there is still plenty to be concerned about in this area isn’t there?

Yes. Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee will be getting a say on whether miners get access to public conservation land outside of schedule 4. This includes many of the places people go tramping. One to watch for is Oceana gold mine in Victoria Forest Park that is looking at expansion, even though it has been convicted of 15 pollution offences.

Geoff and Renee's Bed and Breakfast
Geoff and Renee’s Bed and Breakfast

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