Peter Salter living life on his own terms for over three decades.
In the heart of the South Island's untamed wilderness, where native forests flourish and rugged landscapes stretch as far as the eye can see, resides a man who has dedicated over three decades to living life on his own terms. Peter Salter, known by many as the quintessential West Coast bushman, chose to make Pukekura, a quaint old sawmilling town nestled amidst the trees, his sanctuary away from the modern world's dictates. It's not that he shunned human company, but rather, he yearned to escape the relentless chorus of advice on how he should live his life.
A Life Rooted in the Wilderness
For 35 years, Peter Salter and his wife Justine have called Pukekura their home, where they own and operate the entirety of the town, a population of just two. They oversee the historic tavern that dates back to 1878, a testament to the area's rich history. Their journey here began when Peter, a former city dweller from Wellington, took a holiday to the West Coast in the 1970s and found himself irresistibly drawn to the wild beauty of the region.
Peter's connection to the wilderness was immediate and profound. "I always loved getting out into the bush and hunting," he explains, reflecting on his formative years. This passion led him to discover a community of people thriving off the land, and the allure of a life in harmony with nature became irresistible. He was no longer content to be confined within the city walls; the untamed wilderness of the West Coast was calling his name.
From Military to Maverick
Peter Salter's journey has been one of diverse roles and adventurous pursuits. From his military background and service in the Air Force, he evolved into a farmer, bushman, tourist operator, and even a helicopter pilot. His life, however, transcends conventional labels. He is an individual who, fueled by his beliefs, once rode on horseback to storm the parliament in protest, advocating passionately for causes he held dear.
An outspoken anti-1080 activist and political candidate, Peter's life story is interwoven with his encounters with the New Zealand bureaucratic system. His battles, both won and lost, haven't deterred him from keeping his sense of humor and sanity intact. He channeled his convictions into a run for the Ban 1080 party in the local election, finishing third in the West Coast region, a testament to his enduring impact.
A Passion for Possums and Perseverance
At the heart of Peter Salter's endeavors lies his commitment to the possum hunting industry. Having hunted and trapped possums for nearly four decades, Peter's experiences and insights into this trade are unparalleled. He laments the bureaucratic hurdles that private operators face, hindering their efforts to contribute to possum control on public land. For him, the millions spent on 1080 drops feel like a misdirected investment, and he believes that the real solution could lie in introducing a bounty system for each possum.
Peter's expertise extends beyond theory – he has practical know-how. He can skin a possum with remarkable swiftness, a skill honed over years of hands-on experience. He emphasizes that his knowledge isn't derived from books but from his time spent immersed in the wilderness.
A Life Shared with Justine.
Central to Peter's life is his partnership with Justine. The couple's love story is as unique as their lifestyle. Meeting in 1997 when Justine walked into Peter's shop, their connection was instant. They sealed their bond by marrying on a mountaintop, both wearing wedding outfits crafted from possum fur. Their unity goes beyond personal ties – together, they run The Bushman's Centre, a hub of education and experiences in Pukekura.
The Centre offers visitors a glimpse into the world of possum hunting and the couple's way of life. Though they once faced legal challenges for selling possum pies, their passion for sharing knowledge about the possum industry prevails. The museum showcases live possums and educates tourists about the trade that's intricately woven into the fabric of the West Coast.
Closing One Chapter, Opening Another
As they move forward, the Salters are determined to stay true to their values. Peter and Justine have decided to transition from their bustling tourism venture. The couple has chosen to close The Bushman's Centre and embark on a new chapter, marked by activities close to their hearts. Justine plans to indulge in creative pursuits like crafting clothing from possum fur, painting, and writing children's books. Peter, ever the advocate for independence, has decided to leave the world of tourism behind and explore new avenues that align with his passions.
Reflecting on their journey, Peter emphasizes the value of time over money and the importance of doing what brings joy. The Salter's story is one of resilience, determination, and a deep-rooted connection to the land they've chosen to call home.
Peter Salter's legacy isn't just confined to the pages of history; it lives on in the landscape he's shaped, the minds he's influenced, and the spirit of independence he's fostered in the heart of Pukekura's wilderness. As the sun sets on one phase of their journey, there's no doubt that new adventures await Peter and Justine, forever intertwined with the untamed beauty that has defined their lives.
Peter has written several books where you can read more about his adventures.