It is always sad farewelling a friend. We first met Lewis about 35 years ago, and wondered just who this larger than life fellow with the softy spoken Canadian accent was. Until we got to know him a little better, we certainly struggled with that accent. Yes, he was speaking English, but that accent sounded a little strange to our Kiwi ears. And heaven help anyone who mistook his voice for that of an American. It must have been just as insulting for him as it would be for us Kiwis to be mistaken for an Aussie!
Robin and I married about this time, and Lewis and our friend Shirley tied the knot a year or so later. One of our enduring memories of him happened in the mid 80s when we came up with the grand plan of walking the Milford Track, billed as the “Greatest walk in the World”. The four of us plus another friend Jim got into training, brought ourselves wet weather gear and for those who didn’t already own them, tramping boots and a small pack. Robin and I purchased a “swannie” jacket each, and I diligently knitted us woolly hats. The five of us were all set for our great adventure. The Milford Track would take us 5 days to transverse 54km of through the heart of Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound, staying at serviced huts along the way
To save a little money, we agreed to travel down in Lewis’s van. There we were, five of us seated on rather hard seats in an uncomfortable van, while we drove the length of the South Island. Lewis was quite a heavy smoker at the time, and we endured our travel surrounded by clouds of cigarette smoke. We finally made it to Te Anau where we were briefed on what to expect on our 5 days tramping, and we met the rest of our party of 40. What a mixed bunch we were, amongst others there was a young honeymoon couple from Korea, a big headed Kiwi back from the States where he was a grid-iron star, a middle aged American vegetarian couple, and the Dennis family from Auckland, and our group of five. This family was the bane of Lewis’s life on our tramp. He described the the two daughters as “drop dead gorgeous”, as was their mum, and every morning at breakfast they appeared beautifully made up, with not a hair out of place. After a hard day out on the track they looked just the same – guess they arrived earlier at the hut before most, had a quick shower and a change of clothes, dried their hair and replaced their make up. How did they do it each day, we all wondered. Lewis was a fit outdoorsy type of bloke, and each morning he set off with Shirley, ready to tackle the day’s walk. We all arrived at each hut each evening dripping wet, boots and legs covered in mud after a hard day walking across streams and trudging up and down hills, tired but happy we were coping with the trip.
The sleeping arrangements were segregated dormitories, men in one and women in the other, not much fun for the honeymoon couple at all. The gorgeous Mum wandered into the men’s dormitory one morning to say hello to her hubby clad only in her sheer nighty – poor Lewis just about had an apoplexy! Our three blokes had packed a bottle of liquor each in their packs, and enjoyed several tipples each night in the dining room before collapsing in bed to sleep. After five days we made it to the end of the track, Sandfly Point, to wait for a boat to take us to Milford Sound. Sandfly Point was aptly named, the pesky little critters surrounded us, biting like crazy. We had made it – what a sense of accomplishment! Not like that American vegetarian couple, they never had the stamina to complete the journey and had to be taken by jet boat down the river to the end of the walk.
After the tramp we climbed into Lewis’s van again and headed travelled up the West Coast, stopping along the way at motels. To save costs we decided to share a family unit and us two couples took turns sleeping in the master bedroom. One memorable night we arrived at Pine Grove Motels, miles from any settlement and tucked away in the middle of nowhere. It was Shirley and Lewis’s turn for the big bedroom and they were both rather surprised to find that the room came complete with a full length mirror positioned on the ceiling over the bed! Lewis was quizzed in the morning about this extra in the bedroom and all he would admit to was that “it wasn’t a pretty sight!”
Over the years we have had many a meal and outing together, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries together. Lewis was a big man both in stature and personality, and we were privileged to have shared part of his life. Although he led his life to the full, his innings were cut short, and our lives are the poorer with his passing. Lewis, rest in peace.