In the National Park area, Stewart is known as “The Mountain Man”. He’s completed the Tongariro Crossing – regarded as New Zealand’s greatest one-day walk – 1500 times. In runners’ terms that’s 1500 half-marathons above sea level. Stewart happily admits he is addicted to this lifestyle. When he’s not walking in his own backyard, he tramps, climbs, cycles and canoes in New Zealand’s wilderness.
“I’ve always had a reputation of going down ‘no exit’ roads to see what’s around the corner. Being fit is my lowest common denominator.”
It wasn’t always like this. In the 1990s, Stewart owned a video distribution company. However, when he needed a break from the corporate lifestyle, he sought solace in the mountains, making time to ski on weekends and explore the Tongariro region.
“I was part of a group that had arranged to stage the highest dinner party in the world on a peak in the Andes.”
At 20,000 feet, aged 40, he had an epiphany. When he returned to New Zealand, he shed the trappings of corporate success, moved to National Park and began training as a mountain guide.
Today, his company Adrift Outdoor Guided Adventures, employs guides who share his love for the outdoors. Together, they guide walks, canoe trips and cycling treks. Stewart has installed a gym in his home where they all work out. He makes his own ginger beer and kombucha (fermented tea) and lives on healthy salads, steamed salmon and protein shakes. Auckland is a place he likes to visit. But home is where he can lie in the bath, look out the window and see three mountain peaks.
While most hikers do the walk in summer, Stewart says he loves the shoulder and winter seasons because: there are fewer people on the Mountain and; people get to enjoy the mountains with another dimension – SNOW!
“I can’t imagine ever tiring of walking the Crossing and see it through new eyes every time we guide a group of trekkers.”
The youngest people to complete the walk are toddlers in their parents’ backpacks. The oldest was an 84-year-old Japanese man, who – the following day – climbed Mt Ruapehu (height 2797m), “although he had to be piggy-backed for the last few hundred metres.”