Crimpy’s People: Harker hunts the heavens

June and Peter Harker

Loveable rogue, intrepid explorer, rapscallion, adventurer, wildlife photographer, pilot, commercial eel trapper, hunter, writer, author—Peter Harker was all of that and more. He was a true legend in the archetypal Kiwi mould—stripes earned the hard way; the authentic way, after decades of doing and being.

His first love was the mountains and the back blocks and, while he was at home amongst nature anywhere in the world, the South Island was home for Harker. The West Coast in particular, held a special place in his heart, and in the early 60s he explored and mapped many uncharted regions, valleys and remote ridges for the Lands & Survey Department. In fact, many of the access route used today were probably teased out of the landscape decades ago by Peter Harker.

Peter was the consummate hunter and it was his exploits in this field that earned him legend status. Turning his hand to the pen, the natural storyteller wrote a column called Hunting with Harker, for the Christchurch Star, which ran for years. Today in the world of Social Media and abundant game animals, hunters have a constant stream of instant information on hunting but back in the 1970s, as students in Christchurch, Peter Harker was our ‘Social Media”. We’d live from Sunday paper to Sunday paper, buying it just to read Hunting with Harker. Not only did the column provide valuable information on hitherto unknown places, remote valleys and new hunting grounds, but Peter’s evocative storytelling fired our imaginations and fuelled our enthusiasm for the hunt.

Peter Harker also served as a legitimate hero of many young Kiwis; being detached in the temporal sense and only accessible via print, increased his icon status. However, his authenticity and the fact that he was actually doing the hard yards and living his talk, gave him immense credibility. In real life he was garrulous, humble, gregarious and accommodating—genuinely giving.

His flair for storytelling and the popularity of the Hunting with Harker column, not surprisingly, led to his first of four hunting books, Hunting with Harker. This in an era where less than a handful of hunting books were published each year and they were eagerly anticipated like the concert of a super star rock band. Not anybody could publish hunting books back in those days—you had to have substance Peter’s other books were, Harker Hunts the Coast, Those were the days and Random Shots.

As a youngster, I was a devoted member of the Peter Harker Fan Club and much of my enthusiasm for hunting can be attributed to him. I hung on his word, bought his books and couldn’t believe I actually got meet him in the mid 80s when I was living in Westport. It was like meeting Superman in his civvies! Harker was one of the most down to earth, friendliest people I have met. When he heard I hunted with a .308, his eyes lit up and he me took into his garage where a tea chest three-quarters full of live .308 cartridges sat amidst urban detritus. The ammo was left over from his helicopter hunting days.

“If you ever run out of bullets and I’m not here, just help yourself!”

We’d only just met. I never did ‘help myself’ but the offer really impacted on me.

But of course, Peter Harker never ‘wore white robes’, he was no angel. He wasn’t a bad person but a real character—salt and pepper seasoned—the kind of bloke many wish they were interesting enough to be.

Such men were the objects of many yarns and you never quite knew where truth finished and embellishment started when hearing of Harker’s tales. An example: three weekend warriors shot a tahr up some remote Westland catchment—their first trophy bull—but they were inexperienced and out of condition. Well into the hike out and amidst an onslaught of sleet and wind, they were succumbing to exhaustion and feared exposure—they had to lighten their loads. The prized tahr head and head skin was left in the branches of a tree; perhaps they’d recover in in years to come. They pressed on.

Hours later, they heard whistling.

“A tall long-legged bloke covered in stubble and wearing shorts appeared out of the haze carrying a huge pack—turns out he’d come from the next catchment over—bloody miles away!”

The gangly bloke chatted a bit, commiserated with their tale of woe about the lost head skin, and strode off. His whistle ultimately disappeared in the distance.

Hours later they arrived at the carpark. There on the bonnet of their car was the head skin. No note. The myth of Peter Harker further fuelled.

Over the years, I became good friends with Peter and feel privileged to call him a genuine friend. In latter years, I was able to republish many of his old stories in The Fishing Paper & Hunting News. The column was called Hunt Back with Harker. It was my tribute to a great man and a fitting way to complete the circle: from avid reader and student of the master, to friend and publisher of the same.

Peter Harker died in Christchurch on 8 September at the age of 80. He now hunts in heaven. Rest in peace Pete.

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