Queenstown Primary teacher Mark Douglas was to have taken local Greenstone Track guide Mitchell Walker up Cecil Peak this week.
Instead, Douglas was among hundreds of mourners at Walker’s funeral after the 22-year-old born-and-bred local last week accidentally plunged 40m into a creek near the track he’d worked on for three summers.
“He was a positive, enthusiastic guy in school,” says Douglas.
Queenstowner Phil Wilson recalls an outstanding winger in the Wakatipu High rugby side he managed at a tournament on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2003.
He recalls his partner chasing him down the sideline screaming “Go Mitch” as Walker scored the winning try.
“He was a good team player you could rely on. He was a son of Queenstown we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Family neighbour Greg Thompson remembers him performing in Showbiz Queenstown’s Joseph and
the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat musical in 2002, playing one of the lead’s brothers.
“He fitted in with everyone.”
Walker had been due to return to Wellington’s Victoria University to start commerce papers after completing a four-year landscape architecture degree.
More than 20 red-shirted Routeburn/Greenstone Track guides formed a guard of honour at his funeral.
Their track work was temporarily covered by Milford Track guides and ex-staff. Choppers spent Tuesday morning ferrying track staff to Queenstown.
“We decided we would move heaven and earth to make sure we got them all out [to the funeral],” says Ultimate Hikes owner John Davies.
Meanwhile, local Glenda Smith is appalled that she and other funeral-goers were ticketed for parking breaches near the crowded Presbyterian Church on Tuesday.
But Lakes Environmental compliance boss Tim Francis says: “If they give us evidence they were at the funeral, we would certainly be sympathetic to that.”