Mr Environment and Adventure

Proud of the recent article in the chic and venerable Junction Magazine, the local magazine of my home town Matakana, Northland, New Zealand. Growing up in the Matakana, Warkworth and Rodney District with the wonderful community and beautiful coastline really shaped me and developed my passion for marine conservation.

You can read the full article at Junction Magazine by clicking here.

Excerpts of the article below:

Mr Environment and Adventure

Winston Cowie, son of Matakana locals Mike and Sue Cowie, grew up at Campbells Beach, Tawharanui Peninsula, before embarking on a successful career in environmental policy, film, writing, rugby and adventure that has taken him to over 40 countries. He currently works as the Marine Policy Manager at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, where he is settled with his wife, Lucy, and four children.

It was during his upbringing in the Kawau Bay region that his love for the environment really developed – sailing and fishing on the Kawau Bay side of Tawharanui and surfing at Anchor Bay and at Pakiri and Mangawhai further up the coast. Winston completed a law degree from Otago University, before being awarded a law scholarship to work at New Zealand law firm Russell McVeagh. Wanting to have a positive impact on society and the environment, Winston applied and was awarded academic and sporting scholarships to complete an MSc in Environmental Policy at Oxford University. 

He has spent the past ten years in the Middle East where he works as the Marine Policy Manager at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. To give this context, his portfolio covers a marine area nearly half the size of the North Island, a population of 9.7 million people interacting with it and covers the sustainable use, environmental management and conservation of fisheries, protected areas, endangered species and habitats, biodiversity, eco-tourism, climate change, and development of the aquaculture sector.

But life isn’t all high level meetings with Ministers and the like, he still gets to do grass roots conservation  – this involves tackling gently Green Turtles which weighs 100kg and putting satellite tags on them.

Winston is considered a thought leader in the international environmental policy and climate change field where he has been awarded two Al Dana Pearl awards by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan of Abu Dhabi for his contributions to the Emirate, and more widely his work won ‘best sustainability communication’s campaign’ in the Middle East Region earlier this year. He was the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi Ambassador on the world record single use plastic free flight between Abu Dhabi and Brisbane on Earth Day this year. “I am able to have a positive impact on the environment and people both in the Middle East region and globally. And this is really what I am about – energizing positive outcomes for people and the environment.”

His innovative approach of using film in marine policy and to drive environmental outcomes and behavioural change has won international acclaim. In 2018, he was chosen as an Ambassador of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and environmental champion Dr Jane Goodall to complete the Sir Robert Swan Leadership and Climate Change Course on the International Antarctic Expedition. Sir Robert Swan was the first person to walk to both the north and south poles. From 90 international leaders in government, private practice and entrepreneurship from 20 countries, Winston was awarded the supreme Sir Robert Swan Leadership Award for his contributions to the expedition, notably for his use of solar energy to deliver a message of unity, hope and action to the world in solar lights from Antarctica. 

The film that Winston directed and co-presented on the Antarctic expedition – ‘Zayed’s Antarctic Lights’ won a World Medal at the prestigious New York Festivals TV and Film awards. 

Winston’s interest in film goes back to his time in New Zealand where his first documentary – Mystery at Midge Bay – premiered at Matakana Cinema. He also worked as the Dive Supervisor on the New Zealand underwater series ‘Our Big Blue Backyard’ with locals Brady Doak, Dave Abbott and Steve Hathaway, finding a Maori taonga whilst underwater at Tawharanui which he gifted back to local Maori. It was found under the same reef he had grown up surfing on.

Liking to keep busy, over the course of his journey, Winston has authored two New Zealand history books. The first is a historical fiction set during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, ‘A Flame Flickers in the Darkness’. It has been praised by the descendants of the Maori and Pakeha heroes he wrote about. His second book entitled Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that the Portuguese and Spanish were the first Europeans to discover New Zealand. After sparking a national debate, it has been added to the encyclopedia of New Zealand as the key source on this subject, translated into Spanish, and with the support of the Spanish Embassy in New Zealand over 300 copies were sent to all secondary schools and universities in New Zealand.

In addition to leading a good will charity rugby mission to Seychelles and Madagascar, which screened on World Rugby TV, Winston represented the UAE Rugby National Team at the World Cup Qualifiers in 2017. The team is ranked 62nd in the world and he is one of the Mahurangi region’s most recent rugby internationals.


Iceland. Land of Ice and Fire

Iceland. A land of ice and fire. Land of the Gods.

Glaciers and volcanoes; lava fields with regenerating growth; powerful waterfalls and rivers, mighty glaciers; volcanoes and mountains; boiling hot pools and steaming geysers and sulphur pools; puffins and arctic foxes. At night, in winter, the strange green lights flickering in the night sky. And an incredibly welcoming and hospitable people, the Icelanders.

I can imagine the first Viking settlers to Iceland back in the late 800s and early 900s, looking around with wonder at the incredible landscape. It is the landscape that gets you – it is like nothing I have ever seen. It is like the earth is in constant upheaval, which it is, with Iceland situated on top of the Eurasian and North American plates, which are pulling apart at 2.5cm per year.

‘What is this place we have come to?’ the first Vikings must have thought. Gustaf Skarsgard who acts as the historical character Floki in the History Channel’s Vikings series (best series on telly with Game of Thrones) does a fantastic job of acting out the ‘wonder’ that the first Viking explorers must have had when they first landed on this new shore.

It is one of the most fascinating places I have ever travelled and I highly recommend you travel there at some point. Some highlights and photos below (keeping it short and pictorial). We did the south and south-east for 7 days – a good period of time to fit it all in but also relax.

  • The Geyser at Geysir – every 6-10 minutes boiling hot water and steam sprays from the ground – a real reminder of how volcanic this place is and how as humans we need to be thinking a long game when planning our future settlements and energy sources.

Geysir, Iceland

  • The Gullfoss waterfall – the power and wisping spray of this waterfall gives an eery and supernatural feel to the place, which coupled with the northern lights – I can completely understand why the first settlers referred to Iceland as ‘Land of the Gods.’

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

  • Thingvellir and Silfra – where the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates are being pulled apart at 2.5cm a year – and my personal favourite – Silfra – you can dive at Silfra between two tectonic plates – the clearest water you have ever seen at 100m plus, simply stunning. I put together a short go-pro clip for You Tube on the Silfra dive, you can check it out here

Thingvellir, Iceland. Where the North American and Eurasian Plates are pulling apart at 2.5cm per year.


Silfra, Iceland. Diving between two tectonic plates

  • Vestemann Islands. Westman Islands. These are incredible and a great puffin viewing place replete with a hide where you can relax and take photos of these endearing birds at the south of the island and the hike back – around 3km is magnificent.

Vestemann Islands (Westman Islands), Iceland


Puffin watching, Vestemann Islands, Iceand

  • Vik and Surrounds: Plenty to do at this lovely coastal town – hiking up to the lighthouse and puffin watching, to walking along the black sand beaches, to spending time at the Selfoss waterfall and history museum.

Vik and Surrounds, Iceland


Selfoss Waterfall, Iceland


Puffins, Vik, Iceland

  • The DC Plane wreck: A round walk of 7km across scoria fields takes you to the DC Plane wreck where a US cargo plane ran out of fuel in the 1970s and crash landed on the black-sand, with all on board surviving. The walk itself is quite repetitive (it is the middle of the scoria field), but worth it when you get there – particularly for photography where the white of the plane and black of the sand and blue of the sky creates some nice contrasts. The walk is do-able as well, my four year old did it, so it is definitely walkable.

DC Plane Wreck, Sólheimasandur, Iceland

  • Jangalverson Glacier and Iceberg Lagoon. This is a real highlight – icerbergs that have broken off from the glacier float in the lagoon and get grounded on the beach where the river runs out to sea. The crystal shapes the icebergs take are amazing.

Making sandcastles, Jangalverson Glacier and Iceberg Lagoon, Iceland


Jangalverson Glacier and Iceberg Lagoon, Iceland

  • Staying on a horse farm. We stayed at horse farm – highly recommend it – a great ride for the kids and an excellent breakfast.

Icelandic Horse

Getting around: Easy. Hire a car and follow the ringroad the ‘1’, with all major attractions off this.

Recommended Accommodation: Around Vik: The Farmhouse or Steig. Near Selfoss: the Horse Farm (the kids had so much fun here).

Food and beverage: From nice restaurants to roadside diners to my favorite ‘the Bakery’ (the biggest chelsea buns around); some nice local craft beer; something for everyone.

Activities: Amazing. From geology to geography to history to hiking to wildlife viewing.

Iceland. Amazing place, people, activities and wildlife. Ten out of ten. A highly recommended travel destination.

Enjoy it. Thank you Iceland. Onwards.