Adventurer, author, tour operator, pilot, karate instructor, sake maker, marriage celebrant, father/co-manager of a tennis pro. Queenstowner Craig McLachlan, 58, talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about his varied life and how it’s been enhanced by his links with Japan
Growing up in Auckland, Craig McLachlan couldn’t have imagined how his dad’s suggestion he study Japanese at school would so greatly influence his — and his future family’s — life.
After going on to gain a degree in Japanese and commerce, he went on a Japanese OE in ‘86 — the first year New Zealand and Japan had reciprocal working holiday visas.
While there, amongst other things, he studied karate.
Returning to Auckland, he completed a commercial pilot’s licence then moved to Queenstown for a job with Milford Sound Scenic Flights.
Because he could speak Japanese, he designed a honeymoon product for the Japanese market.
Promoting that product, he walked into what’s today Crowne Plaza hotel and met its new Japanese tours coordinator, Yuriko — and, of course, was smitten.
He says about six months later they married at the then-Post Office — ‘‘the smartest thing I ever did was to marry Yuriko’’.
Meanwhile, he’d been encouraged by a visiting Japanese karate ‘sensei’ to set up a dojo, or club, in Queenstown — his Okinawa Goju-ryu club continues till this day.
Besides raising their two kids, Riki and Ben, McLachlan and his wife started their first company looking after Japanese tours.
‘‘In the off-season there was no way to make money ‘cos Japanese tours weren’t coming
down, so we decided to go to Japan [each NZ winter].’’
He got the idea of walking the length of Japan in ‘93 — a 99-day mission — then writing
The Japanese version of his book, Four Pairs of Boots, sold about 50,000 copies.
In subsequent years he completed and wrote books about four other big hikes.
One such feat — climbing Japan’s ‘100 famous mountains’ in a record 78 days — got front-page coverage in every Japanese newspaper.
On the back of these trips, McLachlan approached guide book publisher Lonely Planet about writing a ‘hiking in Japan’ book.
That started an association that’s lasted more than two decades.
He’s contributed to about 50 Lonely Planet books — the latest, Best Day Walks New Zealand, is just out, while Best Day Walks Japan comes out next month.
Favourite assignments have included researching six editions on the Greek Islands by going there every two years.
He’s also enjoyed stints writing guides on the main Hawaiian island, Oahu.
During that time he completed a three-year MBA at the University of Hawaii.
Over the years, he and mates also took Japanese clients on hiking tours around the world,
as well as NZ.
‘‘We’d been running hiking tours for 20 years or so, and then everybody’s body started breaking down, so we had to find something for us old guys who are tied up with Japan.’’
Since they all liked Japan’s national drink, sake, they started Queenstown’s Zenkuro Sake brewery — still NZ’s only one — which has been very successful.
They’ve even exported to Japan — ‘‘that’s weird, but seems to work’’.
Of course, he and Yuriko have also become huge tennis followers as their son, Ben, has
risen the ranks to become a pro doubles player who, courtesy of his mum, represents Japan.
Ben was fortunate to have had NZ’s best coach, ex-South African pro Lan Bale, teach him in Queenstown.
Through his connections, Bale also hooked up Ben and Riki with America’s prestigious University of California, Berkeley.
His dad says Ben’s decision to align with Japan was also crucial because of the opportunities he’s got.
‘‘He plays for a country of 125 million that’s also home country of this year’s Olympics.
‘‘If it goes ahead, chances are he’ll be playing doubles with [ex-world no.4 singles player Kei] Nishikori.’’
McLachlan says he nowadays co-manages Ben alongside his travelling coach and brother Riki, while also with him is his fitness coach and fiancee, Queenstowner Georgia Brown.
And, because Ben’s dad is also a marriage celebrant, he’ll be pulling double duties when
the big day, planned to happen in Queenstown, comes around.