Wade Doak – New Zealand’s Underwater Knight

Sad to hear of the passing today of New Zealand marine conservation legend Wade Doak. Wade was a real inspiration to me – his relentless passion, commitment and advocacy for the marine environment was infectious. Recipient of the Queens Service Medal for marine conservation,  in the early days he and Kelly Tarlton and others went spearfishing and treasure hunting – the stories of them collecting gold sovereigns from the Elignamite shipwreck at the Three Kings Islands are part of New Zealand folklore.

Wade Doak – New Zealand’s Underwater Knight. Left: Kelly Tarlton and Wade Doak – the pioneers of New Zealand underwater adventure.

Later came his advocacy for protected areas – the Poor Knights – that magical ecosystem close to Wade’s home on the Tutukaka coast. And it worked – the Poor Knights is now one of the underwater wonders of the world. I had the privilege of working there with Wade and Jan’s son Brady, both New Zealand underwater champions, whilst filming Our Big Blue Backyard.

There were books – Wade was a prolific author – his stories of the underwater world and adventures around the Pacific – the Auckland Islands – the interactions he recorded with sea creatures – with whales and dolphins – were such good material for a kid who loves the sea. They showed what was possible – and with no fear.

Recently there was Wade’s writing in respect of kina barrens and the ecosystem being out of balance with too much pressure on the crayfish fishery in Northland. And his ongoing advocacy with his friend and peer, the late Roger Grace – another champion, for appropriate management of the Hapuka fishery – their traditional knowledge and advocacy on this species will inspire change. The knowledge of the underwater world he had was incredible.

Wade was an incredibly positive online presence in my life – his posts on social media were always informative and interesting and with a good environmental message. For me, he was up there with Jacque Cousteau, Steve Irwin, and Peter Blake – a real conservation hero – New Zealand’s Underwater Knight. We emailed on marine issues and interacted regularly on social media – but you know what – I never had the pleasure of meeting him face to face. If I did, I would have given him a big hug and said thank you. You are a hero.

A mighty totara has fallen. Rest in Peace and love to Jan, Brady and the family.

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.



Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society – Winston Cowie

Humbled to be made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the UK’s learned society and professional body for geography, founded for the advancement of geographical sciences. 

Former fellows include the likes of Charles Darwin, David Livingstone, Robert Falcon Scott, the rugged Ernest Shackleton and many other explorers and geographers. Quietly inspired. 

Learning about the world and working hard at balanced outcomes between nature and society has always been a passion, ever since my father’s geography lessons out on the boat in the Hauraki Gulf as a kid. When I told him, a geography teacher, about the RGS I think he was pretty chuffed. May have got a smile from the old fella. 

Looking forward to engaging with this international group of fellows on international environmental and geographical issues (so much to energise and not enough time), contributing, learning and growing – with a few adventures thrown in. Forwards.

A long road but worth it.

25 March 2011.

The West Asian Championship Club Rugby Final. Doha RFC v Dubai Hurricanes. Six and a bit years’ ago.

It was set to be a good day – a home final for Doha, the team I captained passionately at the time, and going for the club’s first silverware in 40 odd years of history.

The day didn’t turn out as planned. You always remember the day and date. I dislocated my knee in the 10th minute of the final and tore everything (ACL,PCL, Lateral ligament, Hamstring, IT Band, Medial ligament) and was rushed to hospital.

The damage? I have never really gone into it – don’t talk about it at all – it’s been my challenge to own and meet. No one else’s.

 But this week, I have sat back and reflected on it after hitting a bit of a milestone.

It’s been a long road.

Going back six years, to when it happened, I was playing at No.8 tracking our 7 from a scrum. The Hurricanes 10 and 12 did a cut. Our 7 got him and swung him, a big lad, around. I planted my knee and the guys’ legs came around and basically axed my knee in half.

Initially it was the pain. I have a pretty high pain threshold I reckon but when that knee was dislocated out, I was screaming. For a good 5 mins. It was out for two hours until it got put back in when I was in hospital and xrays had confirmed what the scenario was. By then the screaming had quietened  to a dull whimper. The reason was my common peroneal nerve was being crushed by my femur which had shifted an inch down and was close to compound. I put the pain up there with being electrocuted – true story – an indescribably horrible feeling that you can’t escape from because the electricity has got hold of you and you can’t let go. 240 volts for 10 seconds back in 2007.  That story is for another day. I still touch any door before I open it so I don’t get one of those little shocks when I touch the handle.

Back to Doha. When the knee was finally put back in the damage was done. Seven centimetres of nerve was crushed. What this meant was that I was numb from the knee down and couldn’t pull my foot up from the ground. If you sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and then pull your foot up, mine stays flat.

It means I walk with a little bit of a jilted gait and have to flick my foot a little before I put it down. It has taken a while to get used to it. Six years.

We lost the West Asia Championship final by the way, 24-20. Devastated would be a way to put how the season ended up for the DRFC. Losing is hard to take when you put so much effort into something. But such is life sometimes.

And life had thrown me a challenge.

In those first two years, because the nerve wasn’t working (and still doesn’t), my calf muscle had atrophied (wasted away a lot). After two ops I had to get used to walking again, and was living in New Zealand at the time with a young family, on Whangaparaoa Peninsula. They were hard days on the recovery front. I would try and go for a jog from Big Manly Around to Little Manly and would pull either calf muscle within a couple of hundred metres. It was always a slow, frustrated walk back to the house, especially during winter.

After this had happened a few times, and frustration levels were sky high, I resolved to start off slowly and walk before I could run so to speak. With a very understanding and supportive wife, and  spirited two and one year old daughters at the time, I started walking initially, needing to  build up the muscle again on the calf. We would go out to Shakespeare and Tawharanui Regional Park, and hike the hills. There were a few mishaps, falling over with my daughters and rolling down the hill a bit. The family was key. Sometimes you have to go down to get back up.

At the time and feeling like I was making progress, I made two goals, this was back in 2012-2013. The first was to surf some solid waves like I used to pre injury, and the second was to try and play a high level of rugby again. Both were looking doubtful at the time.

On the surfing, in January of 2013 a solid cyclone swell hit the East Coast of Northland. Six to eight foot. Offshore. I had a mare of a session. Every time I would go to take the drop, I’d  be thinking, ‘Up, flick foot, stamp, then go.’ I must have fallen on 9 out of 10 and got absolutely rinsed in what was a sizey swell. Like those initial runs when I pulled my calf, I was so frustrated. The two things I loved doing the most – and used to be pretty good at – surfing and rugby, I couldn’t do either.

Northland. Surf.

That swell. Northland, New Zealand. Things didn’t go according to plan.

For me there was nothing more frustrating than not being able to do what I loved.

Over the next six months I worked hard. Morning and night I would be doing exercises to strengthen the calves. Walking and then running a slow jog around Shakespeare or around Big Manly Park. I had to stick to the grass as the road jarred too much. I also learned to balance on a paddle board.

I would catch up with people and I got the feeling that they felt sorry for me because I walked with a bit of a limp. Stuff that. No one was going to feel sorry for me. Pride can be a good motivator.

Worked harder. And harder and harder.

About that time we made the decision to return to the Middle East, Abu Dhabi. I was due to have a third operation a month before this; this time to tie my foot into neutral with a ligament from another part of my body.

A big winter East Coast swell hit – bigger and hairier than the failed January session. Me and a mate hit the coast. I was feeling pretty good although it was huge. My mate got injured early and sat on the beach so I was out there by myself. I went for it, didn’t overthink it, just charged and backed the hard yakka that had been put in over the previous two and a half years, and particularly the preceding 6 months.

It was a special day that. I surfed for six hours straight.

I was back.

I saw the doctor the next day for the pre-op check up. I told him I didn’t want to have the op anymore. I told him about the surf. He told me that another op, to permanently alter my foot would be another year of recovery and rehabilitation.

“I’m not doing it,” I said. He shook my hand and backed me.

“Good on you,” he said.

I think my family were pretty surprised I didn’t have the op. I’m pleased I didn’t. I was getting where I needed to go.

Fast-forward to 2014. And not being satisfied with the status quo, I travelled to Indonesia with a good mate and pushed the surfing harder at Gland, East Java, a renowned big wave spot. After a couple of near drownings, including my fin nearly chopping my wrist off, and getting coral cut fever, I got in the flow and got some good waves.

Winston Cowie surfing GLand, Indonesia

Getting back in the mix. GLand, Indonesia

Goal 1, achieved. I could surf again.

And then there was the rugby dream….goal 2……

We moved to Abu Dhabi with our young  family. I helped coach one of the local footy clubs, the Harlequins initially. It was good for me that, and the knee rehab. I would do the fitness with the boys – and after Year 4 since the accident had reached a pretty happy medium.

Occasionally I would get a bit of nerve flaring, and the numbness was always there – at night it would annoy me a bit, but it was manageable. Through regular exercising I could just hold the foot in neutral.

With the goal at the back of my mind, to play some good rugby again (not really having defined to myself what this meant), I tentatively started again. Admittedly I was a lot edgier about playing a game of footy than surfing – the landings in rugby are hard, especially on the pitches in the Middle East.

I started with Sevens, and with a group of mates we set up the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors – a charity team to support our mate, Mike Ballard, who suffered a serious spinal injury in 2014. Mike’s story is inspirational – the guy is incredibly mentally tough – since his injury, and six operations, he moved back to Abu Dhabi to take up his old job and now is a huge part of the fabric of the community. Mike epitomises the words ‘positive attitude.’ He inspires all around him and has certainly inspired me on this journey. Four and five years on from the injury I played in the Dubai 7s with the Conquistadors. It felt good to be playing footy again and the body got through ok, with Mike and a great bunch of lads.

In 2016, five years after the injury, I moved over to coach the Abu Dhabi Saracens, a good bunch of lads with a real family vibe. I started the season as coach – that was the intention initially. I still wasn’t one hundy into Goal 2. During Match 2 of the 2016 season that all changed when we travelled to the same field that I had initially got the injury, to play my old Doha mates.

Eight of our team’s visas were rejected, so we had a bare 17 to play Doha in Doha, including our physio. Not having too much time to consider it, I went for it, not wanting to forfeit. Not in the DNA. I played 80 minutes at No.8 in 40 degrees.

After getting through that game, and the knee feeling solid, I sat back and after knocking that monkey off the back, I wanted to play better.

A good article on that Doha shift was written by Paul Radley at The National.

We had a few injuries during the course of this season – 2016-2017, so I ended up playing at least 20 minutes of every game – 12 in total.

Admittedly at the start I was a little tentative, and I think naturally so after the rehab frustrations and the numbness, but by the start of this year, 2017, I was throwing myself into games like I used to. Six year’s older, a little slower, but getting stuck in. While the numbness was still there, I ignored it and got on with it. Goal 2, playing a high level of footy, was starting to look like a possibility.

At this time I had just clocked over three years in the United Arab Emirates, which made me eligible for the national side.

Like surfing at Gland, I thought Stuff it, I was going to have a crack.

I pitched up to the first UAE trial training in January 2017. The UAE, ranked No.72 in the world, was coached by former Samoan dual international superstar Apollo Perelini, and had earned promotion to Division 1 in Asia, where they would be competing with Malaysia (54), Sri Lanka (40) and the Philippines (58).

Attending that initial training, and as a loose forward and hooker, the quality of players was high – I thought that this was going to be a hard team to make – there were good players in all of these positions.  I went hard, trained hard, doing a lot of extras on the grass field at the compound our family lived in. I must have done over a hundred set of sprints on that 80 m patch of grass under the Palm Trees.

There and back. There and back.

Apollo, an outstanding coach, asked me if I could play prop. In day’s gone by, a loose forward may have taken such a query to heart – prop is not the most glamorous of positions. I was just stoked to be in the mix.

Yes I said, only having played it a couple of times 10 years earlier when at Oxford University in the Varsity Match campaign.

I started watching a lot of footy, in the evenings when the kids were in bed. I mainly watched the scrums, trying to learn as much as I could. I also enlisted the help of my team mates at the Abu Dhabi Saracens for some technical scrumming tuition. I also started smashing the gym.

Rather quickly I found that playing prop is hard. Respect to all props around the world. You don’t get a rest. When its scrum time, you are pushing with every ounce of energy you have, and then you have to get up and run around the field as well. It’s physically challenging. You walk off the pitch absolutely shattered.

A long story, short, after six years since that day in Doha, on 20 May 2017, numb knee and all, I made my international rugby debut as a loose head prop, representing my adopted home, the United Arab Emirates v the Philippines.

Winston Cowie rugby UAE

Winston Cowie. International rugby debut for United Arab Emirates v Philippines. May 2017.

Goal 2 knocked off.

A really well written article was written on the journey by Matt Jones at Sport360.

A big thank you to everybody who has supported me in eventually getting there over the past six years.

My family, Lucy Jones, who must be the most understanding wife in the world, and our kids Issy, Evie and Zac for not rolling their eyes too much when Daddy had to go to another rugby training, especially the past six months.

My friends who have kept me motivated and consistently pushing myself.

The Doha Rugby Community were incredibly kind in supporting me with my operations back in 2011. I am always indebted to you. And this year the Abu Dhabi Saracens family have been just that, a family of mates.

And four months ago I met a great bunch of gents from the different clubs in the UAE. We became a team, a close knit bunch who for the past 10 days have represented out adopted country, the United Arab Emirates, in Malaysia with pride. Thanks to all of these gents, now mates, for sharing that journey. Thanks to Apollo Perelini, our coach, and management for doing an outstanding job in preparing us. While the results didn’t go our way, we learned how competitive this top level in Asia is, and will be better for it next year….there is always next year….

UAE Rugby Team v Philipinnes. May 2017.

UAE Rugby Team v Philippines. May 2017.

This was a story I was keen to share.

A long road but worth it.

Never say never.

If it’s your challenge, own it, work hard. And nail it.







Conquistador Puzzle Trail translated into Spanish and gifted to 350 schools and universities in New Zealand

The Embassy of Spain in New Zealand and author Winston Cowie have collaborated and translated Cowie’s book, Conquistador Puzzle Trail, into Spanish. Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that Spanish or Iberian navigators may have been the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand, over 100 years pre Abel Tasman. 

The Spanish version is entitled “Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanoles,” which means: “New Zealand, a history puzzle: After the traces of the Spanish Conquistadors.”

As part of the celebration of launching the Spanish version, the Embassy of Spain and Cowie are sending a free English version to 350 secondary schools and universities in New Zealand.

Former Ambassador of Spain to New Zealand the honourable Manuel Viturro De La Torre; author Winston Cowie; and Dr Juan Pineiro. at the launch of the Spanish version of Cowie’s book in La Coruna Spain.

The Ambassador of Spain comments that “this book focuses on the cultural relations between our two countries that despite being in the antipodes they might have shared a common history. It is really a food for thought not only for scholars but also for students in the schools of New Zealand”.

Author Winston Cowie, states “I am incredibly grateful to the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand for their ongoing collaboration and cooperation. To have Conquistador Puzzle Trail now translated into Spanish and distributed across Spain, and the English version now in most secondary schools and universities in New Zealand is a proud moment. My hope is that students will read the book, and in time become teachers themselves, and perceptions changed in respect of the European discovery of New Zealand. What is needed is a robust public debate on the subject, and more research, in order to move knowledge forward. Everybody has a role to play.”

The Embassy of Spain and Cowie have also offered a free personal copy to the first 10 history teachers that volunteer to write their own objective review on Conquistador Puzzle Trail.

The Embassy of Spain and Winston Cowie look forward to the ongoing discussion on the theory that the Spanish and other Iberians were the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail is available through Paper Plus stores, good independent bookstores and online at Fishpond.co.nz. Those overseas can contact Bookreps.co.nz to order a copy.

 “Plus ultra,” ‘Beyond’, as the Conquistadors would say. Onwards.