Bittersweet start for new tourism manager

Sharon and Mark Salmons enjoying a hike in Fiordland. PHOTO: Supplied

The wheels were in motion for Sharon Salmons and her husband, Mark, to move to Te Anau from Queenstown before Mr Salmons unexpectedly died on Boxing Day. Mrs Salmons says the two lived by an ethos of appreciating every day as it came, and she would be taking that spirit and her love for Fiordland into her role as the new tourism manager for Destination Fiordland.

With almost two decades of experience in New Zealand's tourism industry, Mrs Salmons said taking on the role of Destination Fiordland's tourism manager was an ideal fit, especially since she and her husband, Mark, knew and loved the region so well. 

Before the big move this year, the two took some time off up with friends in Golden Bay, Nelson, over the summer holiday. Mr Salmons was out fly fishing on Boxing Day on what Mrs Salmons described as flat, warm, and shallow waters that made for easy fly fishing, when she saw from her binoculars her husband unexpectedly go down into the water. He went under first for 20 seconds, then came up.

"I thought, 'I'll go check he's okay.' And as I walked across the beach, he disappeared under the water again. It's flat, there's no waves... I couldn't see him, so I knew something was wrong."

She said it took 10-15 minutes for her to get there, with other nearby fishermen able to get to him first.

The coroner's report hasn't come back, but she said a preliminary report said it was a drowning. She said she suspected he might have dropped his angina medications in the water in the first instance, and the stress of not having the medication on him may have provoked his angina condition. She said she couldn't find his medications in his bag, something he always carried on him. Whether a heart or angina attack, she felt there must have been a medical event since Mr Salmons was a very competent fly fisherman navigating calm waters. 

The two took everyday as a bonus, knowing Mr Salmons' own medical history — he had a heart attack at 30 and a family history of heart problems — meant he wouldn't likely make it to retirement, she said. Mr Salmons encouraged Mrs Salmons to take the job since, as a builder, he could work anywhere, and the job was ideal for her. 

Mrs Salmons will start at Destination Fiordland next week, saying it would be an awesome opportunity.

"He'd want me to be happy."

Mrs Salmons moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 1999. Before taking on the new role, Mrs Salmons counted on almost two decades of tourism experience.Her and her husband's ties to Fiordland also go deep. 

The two met there nine years ago, and spent "quite a few" holidays and weekends hunting and fishing in the more remote corners of Fiordland. The couple were custodians for the two deerstalker huts along the Greenstone-Caples track, and she is also secretary of the Southern Lakes branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association. 

An avid tramper, she said she's tramped all the major tracks, including the Routeburn Track 18 times. 

She said she thought there was an opportunity to grow the seasons and spread out the tourism load from the summer period, and continue to share what she loved about the region to future visitors.

"It's working together with [Destination Queenstown and Lake Wanaka Tourism] to put that sort of area on the itinerary so that people do make that extra leap from Queenstown over to Fiordland."


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