Weekend Warm-Up: Still As It Was

Warrick Mitchell lives off the grid in paradise. His home in remote New Zealand is a four-hour walk to the nearest road. Life in isolation can be harsh. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fiordland is New Zealand’s oldest national park. Home to some of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the landscape is unusually complex. Its fiords, valleys, mountains, and forests draw thousands of hikers annually. But the weather is highly changeable. Strong winds can rise at any time. From May to September, snow is common. Fiordland is not to be underestimated. Preparation can make the difference between life and death.

Fiordland is Mitchell’s home. His cabin in Big Bay, 40km north of Milford Sound, was built by his father in the early 1960s. The Mitchells are one of a dozen families with grandfathered rights to live in the small World Heritage area. His lifestyle is vastly different from the common New Zealander’s.

For a start, there is no road access to the community. When weather permits, a small plane periodically flies in basic food supplies. If Mitchell runs out of anything, he can’t whip down to the shop to re-stock. The ocean is his supermarket.

Big Bay in New Zealand's Fiordland National Park

Remote Big Bay, Fiordland.


Mitchell is enviably self-sufficient but in an unexpected way. Most off-grid lifestyles carry an undercurrent of discontentment with society. But not here. Mitchell is the kind of 40-something-year-old whom any Mum or Dad would be thrilled for their daughter to introduce as her latest love interest.

He is educated in marine science and runs hosted experiences to some of New Zealand’s most pristine wilderness. He’s also a whiz in the kitchen.

Meals are usually freshly caught crayfish, whitebait, trout, or mussels –- all New Zealand delicacies. He doesn’t just throw the kai-moana (seafood in Maori) into a pan, either. What he serves is worthy of a bestselling recipe book.

During the day –- when conditions allow –- Mitchell chooses between surfing some of New Zealand’s most remote breaks, kayaking, fishing, or sailing. His lifestyle is a smorgasbord of outdoor recreation.

Comforts of home

Since the 1980s, the Mitchell family has lived here practically full-time. Their cabin is warm, clean, and cozy. There is hot water, a flush toilet, and comfortable bedding. Even though it’s isolated, they’re among a tight-knit community that look out for one another.

When Mitchell grew up, the family’s main source of income came from hunting. But they also started whitebaiting — catching fish fry — which is an important industry in New Zealand. Today, that’s a seasonal income for Mitchell.

“The thrill of whitebaiting is never knowing what you’re gonna catch and living hand in hand with the surrounding conditions and the environment,” he says.

For the past few years, Mitchell has also crewed fishing boats in the South Pacific (Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Wallis and Fatuna, Tahiti, and Hawaii).

Seasonally, Mitchell’s lifestyle could easily be too long for most people. Especially during the grey, wet, cold winter months that drag on for more than half the year.

But when he serves freshly caught crayfish with a sprinkling of herb and lemon, one can’t help but consider the benefits of living this way. There has to be something said for Mitchell’s glowing skin and relaxed smile too, doesn’t there?

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall is a writer for ExplorersWeb. She has been writing about exploration and historical expeditions for four years. Previously she wrote about the human body in relation to exercise for publications and websites based in New Zealand. She also wrote modules for the Zealand Certificate of Exercise, Level 4. Based on Wellington’s South Coast, New Zealand, Myall is a full-time mother of two young girls, an enthusiastic trail runner, and a fanatical traveler. She also owns and operates a small travel agency.