Hamish Hamilton may still be in his teens, but odds are he’s probably spent more time exploring the New Zealand ocean and bush than the average Kiwi.
The 18-year-old is now into his sixth season (third year) working on a commercial crayfish boat, spending three months on and three months off in a notoriously challenging industry.
During the off season, he swaps his wet weather gear for bush wear and heads to his second favourite place – the East Coast bush – setting possum traps and selling the fur to help finance his excursions.
Recently home from a two-week stint off-grid, Hamish’s genuine love and appreciation for the great New Zealand outdoors is evident not only in the lifestyle he leads but also in a series of videos he has compiled over the years cataloguing his adventures.
From freediving and fishing to pig hunting and predator trapping, Hamish admits that being outdoors ‘is his absolute happy place’, with none of the modern-day trappings many other teenagers rely on. He’s passionate about protecting native birds and bush and has aspirations of creating videos of his travels around New Zealand to inspire others to enjoy the special landscape and ocean of Aotearoa.
“I love going off track and finding new or remote spots,” he says. “I’m saving up to get some better camera gear to produce better videos and photos.”
Capturing his exploits on video is the modern-day version of keeping a diary, and Hamish’s YouTube channel WildImage is packed with underwater and land adventures and explorations.
From as early as he can remember, Hamish yearned to be outdoors. He was swimming underwater before he could walk, and with the ocean just a minute from his front door, he was surfing from a young age and is also an enthusiastic member of the local Little Nippers surf lifesaving group.
With Hamish on the water surfing at just four years old, mum Diana Dobson admits to having been on the receiving end of some sideways glances from other parents.
“He’s always wanted to be in the sea or bush – and nothing has really changed,” she says. “I would get the odd comment about being an irresponsible mother letting him out in the waves when he was so little, but he learned from a young age the correct and safe way to manage himself. He’s always been pretty savvy naturally and generally sets himself up well.”
As a young kid, he’d pester his father, Dugald Hamilton, constantly to take him into the bush, and every day after school, he was straight down to the beach – surfing, fishing, or diving.
“He was always trying to think of ways to make some pocket money doing what he loved so he’d dive off the end of the reefs around here and salvage abandoned crayfish pots to repurpose or sell. And when he was even younger, he’d bike around the outskirts of town and offer to trap possums on properties.
“Plus, he’s always researched and studied birds, fishing, and hunting – primary school trips to the library never went well as he’d head straight to the ‘adult section’ for hunting and fishing books.”
Hamish’s love of bush adventuring kicked off early with childhood trips to the bush with his dad and carrying out his first small pig on his shoulders when he was only eight.
“The first crayfish I ‘caught’ was one Dad had caught and placed in a small rockpool – he sent me in to find it and I was hooked.”
He’s been out swordfishing overnight, miles offshore with his father from the age of about nine and never tires of time at sea, plotting the good fishing spots on a GPS for later trips.
His self-sustainable approach makes him a popular neighbour and friend, as he regularly arrives home with trout, ocean fish, venison, pork, paua, and crayfish to be distributed to all. Nothing ever goes to waste. While he’s more than capable of feeding himself from the land, he’s also intensely committed to being respectful to the spaces where he spends most of his time.
He’s inspired by the likes of Josh James, The Kiwi Bushman and Clay Tall Stories.
“There is something so special about being out in the bush or at sea,” he says.
“Being on the ocean is such a beautiful place to be. You get to see different things every day. It’s similar in the bush too – so peaceful and just no-one around.”
“I didn’t feel I ever really fitted into school but heading out in the bush was where I was much happier.”
In contrast to most teenage boys, Hamish’s first major purchase was a dingy, as opposed to a car, allowing him to spend even more time at sea fishing and foraging.
“It’s a little 12-foot tinny with 15hp on the back, which I bought when I was 16, and I’m hoping to buy something bigger when I can, but it’s fine for getting me out fishing, etc.”
While Hamish is more than proficient at looking after himself, circumstances do catch even the most prepared out, and a recent foray with the boat (with two friends on-board) resulted in him having to row two-and-a-half nautical miles back to shore.
“The fuel line snapped just as we were heading in. I wasn’t panicking as I knew I had everything I needed, and I knew I had to get us home safe. Not only did the fuel line snap but the oars also broke part-way in, so it was a slow and painful return trip and probably the scariest time I’ve had in all my years at sea.
“It was at the top of the East Cape and the sun had gone down pretty fast, so we ended up not making it to shore until it was pitch black and with massive swells adding to the challenge!”
Born and bred in Gisborne, the local bush is pretty much Hamish’s backyard, although he’s continually exploring and looking for fresh spots.
“Lottin Point is my favourite place to go, particularly when the weather turns crappy in Gisborne. We head up the coast to Lottin and it’s like being in the tropics – crystal clear water and great fishing. I’ve filmed lots of videos there.”
Heading deep into the bush on horseback is another popular choice, usually with a group of mates and their hunting dogs.
He’s keen to head to Fiordland later this year to do some diving and filming and has plans to amp up his video creations – so stay tuned!