tony fortune

Tony                Michael         Tommy

Tony fortune  
                                                   by nicole mathewson  
                                                            ( taken from the greymouth star  )

He’s as much a part of the town as coal mining and the Inangahua River—Tony Fortune is world famous in Reefton.

Born and bred in Reefton, Tony attended the local primary school and high school. The 53-year old kept himself busy from a young age, with part-time jobs and sporting activities and has also been an active figure in the community for a long time.

He won the Rotary Youth Leadership Award in 1976, and has been observing and recording Reefton weather for more than 40 years and the town’s history for over 30.

Tony’s list of other community activities and achievements is impressive—he was a Youth for Hunger campaigner from 1965-69, a CCD (Christian doctrine) teacher, a member of the Sacred Heart Catholic parish council from 1975—secretary from 1978-79 and president from 1981 on, and attended the national band competition with the Greymouth Municipal Band in 1978, 1980 and 1981.

Tony’s achievements don’t end there either—he has been a member of the PPTA from 1978, a Justice of the Peace since 1992, involved with the table tennis club from 1963-80, the athletics club from 1962-80, and the harriers club captain from 1969-92. He was also the Reefton Hearing Association secretary from 1976-80, and took the Weight Watching Club from 1976--78.

“In those days people asked me to do things and I just said yes for everything. I had to learn to say no.”

Weekday radio reports have made Tony known to the entire region. His reports on Reefton, started in 1998 and include weather, history, local birthdays and up-coming events.

“I really enjoy the stuff on the radio. I get a lot of feedback, people ringing up that don’t even know me saying they enjoy it—young and old.”

Somehow Tony also manages to fit in tramping, running and cycling to his already busy schedule.

More than 1600 days of tramping is recorded in his logbook, including climbs to Everest Base Camp in 2004 and Mt Kilimanjaro (the highest free-standing mountain in the world) last year. Plus, he has clocked more than 200,000kms of running and 100,000km  cycling.

He has toured the South and North Islands several times each, toured Tasmania and Savaii, Samoa’s largest island, and tramped up Uluru (Ayers Rock) and mountains in Germany and Switzerland.

In the middle of all the community and sporting activities has been his main job as a teacher.

Tony left Reefton at 18 to attend Teachers College in Christchurch, focusing on physical education and outdoor education and came back to Reefton after completing his study to take up a post at the primary school.

He shifted to Inangahua College in 1976 and has been there ever since, but his role within the school has been as varied as the mountains he has climbed.

Physical education, outdoor education, junior science, sports co-ordinator, art, music, drama and dance are all subjects that have been under Tony’s guidance at some stage.

One of the best things he has done is the outdoor education camps up to Waitahu (near Reefton), a camp he took for 28 years before it was moved to Waiuta.

“I would have taken over 1000 kids over the years.”

Tony also took the annual Form 2 trip to Wellington for 25 years and organised it for 14 years.

“I know more about Government House than some of the guides do.”

When Inangahua College merged with Reefton Primary to become Reefton Area School in 2003 he returned to his favourite subject—physical education.

“I’ve never been bored with teaching here.”

Eventually Tony would like to publish a book on stories from Reefton.

More tramping and cycling is also planned with a climb up Mt Fujiama in Japan planned for September, and in time a cycling tour around Iceland.

“I want to keep running and biking and tramping as long as I can, until the body give out I suppose.”

And, just to keep him really busy, Tony is godfather to seven current or former Reeftonites.

“I really enjoy living ini Reefton. Everything I need is here—generally the environment, the smallness of the place surrounded by mountain and bush, which is what I like. The people are laid-back, but in times of crises they certainly come to the fore in helping each other as we saw in the Inangahua Earthquake and mining accidents.

“It’s good to see Reefton perking up with a little more prosperity which we well deserve after years of being in the doldrums.”

The man described as “chipped from the granite from the hills around this town” intends to “stay up until I drop.”


Tony was born in Reefton hospital in 1952 and delivered by Doctor Wicken.

Brothers Tommy and Michael

Parents Olive born Salford Ireland and Tom born Gorey county Wexford England


Tony winning The Great Westland Marathon 1980


While the students at Reefton Area School were on holiday last month, one of their teachers was climbing the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
Tony Fortune travelled halfway around the world to climb the 5895m (19000ft) Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.
The three-week expedition saw a group of nine mostly from the Canterbury area, climbed Mount Meru (15,000 ft) first to help them get acclimatised for the bigger Kilimanjaro.
Mr Fortune said the group travelled through rainforest which was similar, but different in many ways to West Coast bush.
“It was great just being there, the whole environment was just so different from here”, he said.
Along the way they saw a variety of wild animals, including giraffes, elephants, warthogs, and snakes.
“Our guide was armed in case anything came out on us ... generally they just walked past  and didn’t  take much notice of us.”
Mr Fortune said a tropical area like Meru is cloudy during the day, but crystal clear in the morning.  The group began the last leg of their trek in moonlight in order to reach the top of Meru for the morning view.
“It was very hot .  It happened to be on the day the sun was right above the equator”.
Then began the big trek up Kilimanjaro - six days were spent getting up and two coming down.  The first day was almost  like being in the Pararoas on the West Coast, with similar bush environments, he said.
As they climbed the environment changed from thick rain-forest to more exotic and hardy plants, followed by a patch of Manuka-like trees, then scrub and grass, and finally barren rock and ice.
Mr Fortune was amazed by the porters, but finished with only seven.
“Some refused to go up any higher, they were exhausted and too cold”.
Each day the temperature dropped further.
“It was just above freezing one day, and gradually got around —15C as we got higher                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
The hardest day was day three, where the group had to climb the “breakfast wall”.  The 2000-ft wall took three solid hours to climb.
“It was quite steep, quite difficult and very rocky.  People were getting stressed at that stage due to the altitude - feeling sluggish, losing their appetite and losing sleep.
The group started walking at 7-am the next day, spending seven hours going slowly uphill.
“It was like a moonscape with great big blocks of ice.  It was very cold.  We couldn’t even eat our tea very much”.
Mr Fortune said he had to sleep with six layers of clothing, a sleeping bag and a silver blanket because it was so cold, combined with a freezing wind, contributed to the minor frostbite he got on the tops of his fingers.   
The view as the group climbed was “absolute magic” above the clouds and over to Mount Meru.
Glaciers, eagles and people suffering from altitude sickness being escorted down the mountain were also in view.
“There were crosses and graves scattered along the top, which got me thinking “what am I doing here”.
Mr Fortune said his group was an older group, mostly in their 50s, but all of them made it to the top.
After surviving the almost 6000m climb they spent four day days in the Serengeti plains watching the wild animals. For safety they had to get in a caged hut.
Mr Fortune said he has always wanted to go to Kilimanjaro after hearing a song about the place when he was younger.  Next, is Mount Fuji in Japan.

BY  Nicole Mathewson.