Les Hutchins called it his ‘crusade’. Publicly it became known as the Save Manapouri Campaign and was later regarded as a key point in New Zealand’s environmental history. Les wasn’t against progress or indeed the generation of power at Manapouri, he and a number of other experts just argued that it could be done without altering lake levels and therefore impacting the fragile environment.
Les and Lady Olive Hutchins
Les of course was right. He had seen the devastating impact altering water levels had had at nearby Lake Monowai; beech forests destroyed, wastelands of tree stump littered shorelines, and beaches crumbled away. So he started showing people what could happen at Manapouri and Te Anau. He offered the public free jet boat rides on Lake Monowai. He then stepped this up and with Mount Cook Group started flying people to Lake Monowai to show them the devastation. He called these trips “The Milk Run” and he attributed the flying of politicians, newspaper editors, and tourism leaders to Monowai as playing a key role in the success of the Save Manapouri Campaign.
Eventually after 10 years of tireless campaigning, ‘Milk Runs’ and public meetings, the New Zealand public agreed with Les - a petition on the issue recorded the signatures of a full 10% of the country’s population – all in opposition to the proposal. The government-backed down in 1972 and Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau remain in their natural states today.
It is this determined passion for the environment that has built RealNZ into what it is today. Les Hutchins’ contribution to this special part of New Zealand continues through the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation (est. 1994) which fulfills two of his wishes – that as many people as possible experience the magnificent Fiordland wilderness and that the wildlife and environment are protected for future generations to enjoy.