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Hutchins' tourist legacy set to grow

Last updated 05:00 22/05/2014

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Real Journeys is celebrating 60 years of southern tourism as the company prepares for its first winter as a ski field operator.

Tourism and conservation pioneers Les and Olive Hutchins founded the company in 1954 and it remains largely in family ownership.

Real Journeys chief executive Richard Lauder, speaking at New Zealand's annual tourism showcase TRENZ in Auckland, paid tribute to the company's founders.

"Les Hutchins crafted the beginnings of this now significant business with his bare hands, sheer tenacity and absolute passion for Fiordland.

"His legacy still shapes how we do things at Real Journeys today and that I believe is why our visitors choose to travel with us," he said.

The Hutchins started out guiding walking groups into the remote Doubtful Sound under the less than catchy company name of The Manapouri-Doubtful Sound Tourist Company.

In the 1960s they expanded, launching boats on Lake Manapouri and purchasing the Te Anau glowworm caves.

In 1969 the Hutchins saved the now 101-year-old Queenstown-based steamship the TSS Earnslaw from being scuttled as it was decommissioned from freight and passenger runs servicing high country stations from Kingston to Glenorchy.

In 1970 they started running cruises on Milford Sound, adding flight connections from Queenstown in 1987.

By the mid-1990s the company had leased Walter Peak High Country Farm, and given the Earnslaw it's now famous route from Queenstown across Lake Wakatipu, which has been taken by millions.

In 2013 Real Journeys bought Cardrona Alpine Resort as well as the land and assets on Walter Peak. Cardrona opens for its first winter under Real Journeys ownership on June 20.

Lady Hutchins said her husband would be extremely proud of where the company was today and particularly with the purchase of Cardrona Alpine Resort.

"Everything we've achieved over the last 60 years is due to what our staff do, and especially how they treat our customers - I believe that's what makes us so special," she said.

Sir Les spent 12 years on the New Zealand Conservation Authority and was a founding patron of the New Zealand National Parks and Conservation Foundation.

He was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1998 and made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to conservation and tourism in 2002. He died in 2003 at the age of 79.

Lauder said people could expect to see Real Journeys focus more on conservation in the coming years.

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- The Southland Times

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