I’m lucky enough to live in rural North Canterbury. Out the window of my home office I look directly at Maukatere/Mt Grey. My excellent view of the mountain is ironic for a few reasons. Firstly, I serve on the board of Paenga Kupenga, the commercial arm of Ngai Tuahuriri, the local iwi. Maukatere is the most prominent and revered maunga to the iwi and stands as a beacon to tangata whenua.

In addition, I’m the deputy chair of Kordia, the State-Owned Enterprise that provides critical communication networks across New Zealand. Part of Kordia’s network includes a large mast on the summit of Mt Grey.

Finally, I am a trail runner and spend an inordinate amount of time running up, across and down Mt Grey. I summitted Mt Grey over 100 times last year and on many of those occasions I found myself thinking about rural gems such as this.

When I first started running up Mt Grey, it was very rare to encounter other walkers or runners on its trails. Despite being relatively close to civilization, and an obvious destination that stands out against the skyline, it was a little-known gem. This lack of use was nice from the perspective of having a quiet and uninterrupted jaunt, and meant that on my more energetic days I could push the limits of pace, but perhaps suggested a sorry tale about New Zealand and New Zealanders. One in which our local treasures were ignored in deference to the pull of theme parks or beaches over the Tasman, in the Pacific or further afield.

And then our friend the Coronavirus happened and overnight our borders were shut down and those trips to Surfers’, Aitutaki or Disneyland were no longer possible.

To make up for that loss, an interesting thing happened. New Zealanders across the country discovered their own back yard. Sales of outdoor equipment skyrocketed (a fact my own business, Cactus Outdoor, benefitted from) as bikinis were replaced by boots and jandals by Jetboil cookers.

Suddenly, the great outdoors returned as a focus for Kiwis’ recreational pursuits – in particular the Great Walks but other trails of less fame, but no-lesser beauty.

Which takes us back to Mt Grey, a place that I feel a real sense of connection to. In the hundreds of times I have been up Mt Grey since the pandemic first struck, I don’t remember a single occasion that I was the only one on the mountain. From the heights of summer to knee-deep snow in winter. From sunny weekend afternoons to dark and dismal midweek mornings, there is always someone up there.

Not only are the trails used more frequently, but the demographics of those using those trails have become far more diverse. Families with young children, teenagers looking to find something to do away from their parents, elderly groups, students, you name it – every age group, gender and cultural segment of society would seem to be represented.

Interestingly enough, even with the borders open again and people able to get back on aeroplanes, “my” mountain keeps pumping. There’s still not been a single occasion on which I’ve been up there alone.

Which suggests to me, at the risk of jumping to conclusions, that we’ve actually had a bit of a fundamental and enduring shift in society. People have rediscovered the joy, the accessibility and the calming impacts of nature. At a time when we’re seeing a cost-of-living crisis, and people struggle just to put food on the table, a walk up a mountain which costs nothing but effort is something most of us can do. And at a time when we’re suffering from a very real mental health crisis, a simple few hours spent out in nature listening to our own footsteps, the slow rhythm of our breathing and the sound of our local fauna, can do wonders for ones’ state of mind.

While I now need to give way to other trail users and the speed of my Mt Grey sojourns have accordingly slowed, that’s a pretty low price to pay for the quiet satisfaction of sharing a simple pleasure with people who wouldn’t customarily experience it. Here’s to more mountain missions!


Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.