New Year Honours - Wānaka shines

by Kim Bowden and Lauren Pattemore - Dec 31, 2023

Four Wānaka locals - a conservationist and three snow sports competitors who have proven themselves to be world class - are among the 183 New Zealanders to have made the New Year 2023 Honours List.

John Darby

John Darby, in a photo taken by his son, at Double Bay, Otago Peninsula, at the first fully protected yellow-eyed penguin area on the mainland. Mr Darby was instrumental in its establishment as a protected area (Image supplied).

Has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to wildlife conservation and science.

John Darby has dedicated 50 years to conservation and wildlife science in New Zealand, and spent three summers in Antarctica.

He took up the role of zoologist at the Otago Museum in 1969 and was appointed assistant director in 1971.

There, he developed many science-based holiday programmes for children and senior students, including setting up the museum’s Discovery World, the country’s first interactive science centre.

He spent two decades researching the conservation needs of hoiho - yellow-eyed penguins - on the mainland and New Zealand Sub-Antarctic.

In 1985, he negotiated the purchase by WWF of the largest breeding area of yellow-eyed penguins on the mainland, engineering the first fully protected area for this species.

He was a foundation trustee of the Otago Natural History Trust and the Yellow Penguin Trust.

He served as a board member of the Otago Science into Action project and served on the Scientific Advisory Group for the Otago Conservation Board.

He has spent the last ten years on the conservation of the rare and threatened species of water bird, the Australasian crested Grebe (Puteketeke) in southern New Zealand. 

The Puteketeke project has been undertaken around Lake Wanaka, Lake Hayes, Lake Wakatipu and Lake Hawea, and Mr Darby has assisted in the preparation of a management plan for the species.

Mr Darby says the honour is something he "would have never expected".

The 86-year-old came to New Zealand from the United Kingdom at 17, having been "brought up entirely in orphanages".

He was "at the bottom of the ladder" and acknowledges the effect New Zealand's open society had on allowing him to succeed as a scientist.

"When I came here, people didn't need to know my background...and it made such a big difference, being able to walk free, so to speak, and do what I thought I could do, and wanted to, it's a wonderful discipline."

He says he sees his work to include young people in science and conservation as "an investment".

"I think conservation has the value of not only actually maintaining and improving the biological virtues of the country that we live in, but I'm aware that for many people it can mean much more than saving a species - conservation places are places of peace, mostly, and that's what's so important."

Corey Peters

Corey Peters wins gold at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics.

Has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to sit-skiing.

Corey Peters has represented New Zealand in the sport of sit-skiing since 2011, having sustained a crushed spinal cord in 2009.

Mr Peters won gold in the men’s adaptive sit-ski event at the Para Snowboard Winter Games at Cardrona Alpine Resort in 2011.

He became a silver medallist in his first Paralympics at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, followed by winning bronze in the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

He placed fourth at the 2022 World Para Snow Sports Championships and won a bronze medal in the Super-G World Cup soon after.

He won the overall Super-G Crystal Globe in 2016 and claimed world titles in Downhill and Super-G, and a silver medal in the Giant Slalom at the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in 2015.

He became a gold medallist at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics in the Men’s Downhill Sitting event and claimed a further silver in the Men’s Super-G Sitting event.

He has been the flag-bearer for three closing ceremonies of the Winter Paralympic Games.

Mr Peters was named Adaptive Athlete of the Year by Snow Sports New Zealand in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022.

He says the 2009 injury "was a pretty life-changing moment" for him.

"I've been sporty my whole life. So, for me, it was a matter of mentally getting over that adversity and continuing to do what I've always enjoyed doing.

"There was a period there where it was pretty tough to get through, but now I look back and think everything happens for a reason."

He's turned an incredible low into "a pretty amazing and successful career", he says.

"In the last 11 or 12 years that I've been doing this, it's opened up so many opportunities for me to compete at the highest level and, obviously, to travel the world as well."

He's home for his first Kiwi summer in a long time, taking a break from competition to spend a first Christmas with a new child, before heading back to the slopes next winter, he says.

Nico Porteous

Nico Porteous wins New Zealand's second gold medal at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to snow sports.

Nico Porteous won a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics at age 16 in the men’s halfpipe and then became New Zealand’s second Winter Olympic gold medallist with his win in the men’s freeski halfpipe at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Mr Porteous’ 2018 bronze medal was the first time a New Zealand male had won a Winter Olympic medal, of only three Winter Olympics medals won by New Zealand by that time.

He won gold at the 2021 X Games in the Superpipe event and became New Zealand’s first Freeski Halfpipe World Champion the same year.

He won gold in the freeski halfpipe at the United States Grand Prix World Cup in 2022 and defended his title by winning gold in the Superpipe during the 2022 X Games.

He has mentored younger skiers and snowboarders in New Zealand, encouraging them towards their goals.

He has attended club and community fundraising events and has given his time to promote snow sports in New Zealand.

Nico Porteous speaking with Crux in Wānaka earlier this year.

Mr Porteous has been recognised with the Snow Sports New Zealand Freeskier of the Year in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, as well as several Central Otago and Otago Sportsmen of the Year awards.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott wins New Zealand's first Winter Olympic Games gold medal in Beijing in 2022.

Has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to snow sports.

Ms Zoi Sadowski-Synnott became the second New Zealander to win a Winter Olympic medal with her bronze medal in the women’s big air event at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Then, Ms Sadowski-Synnott won gold in the slopestyle at the 2022 Winter Olympics, becoming New Zealand’s first gold medallist at a Winter Olympics, followed with a silver medal in the big air event.

In 2019 she completed the triple crown of the United States Open title, an X Games gold medal and FIS Snowboard World Championship title.

She won silver in the slopestyle event at the 2017 FIS Snowboard World Championships and gold at the 2021 World Championships.

She has won further gold, silver and bronze medals at the Winter X Games between 2020 and 2022 in slopestyle and big air events.

Speaking to Crux this week Ms Sadowski-Synott says it’s a huge honour for a snowboarder to be given this award. 

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott speaks with Crux earlier this year about her new post-Olympic fame

Her first memory snowboarding was at eight years old at SnowPark NZ in Cardrona - before it closed down - and something clicked for her.

“I was snowboarding there with my sister and I had been skiing previously for a few years. But that first day on a snowboard it just like everything came into place and  I never even thought about skiing again.” 

Zoi and local resident Estelle Brewster age 9 at a victory parade in Wānaka earlier this year - an inspiration for all young athletes.

Ms Sadowski-Synnott says a lot of the professional snowboarders from the Northern Hemisphere would come down for New Zealand’s winter season and she would watch them the slopes. “That was my first taste of what it was like to be a professional snowboarder through all those pros coming… and seeing the tricks that they could do in person was pretty exciting.

“Snowboarding was just the only thing I thought about and my absolute favorite sport and by the age of 10, I really, really wanted to make a career out of it.” 

From that young age, Ms Sadowski-Synnott says she dreamt of going to the X Games and competing at the Olympics - both of which she’s now done. 

Now, after a nice relaxed Christmas with family, she’s ready to head out there again, gearing up for more competitions in early 2023. 

“For the next three months, I’m focusing solely on competing as well as I can.” 

Whilst competing, she’s been able to forge friendship overseas and described the professional snowboarding scene as a “pretty tight knit group”.

“It’s a pretty sick thing, the sport has so many amazing athletes from so many different countries and being able to compete with them and making friends with those people is so amazing and to represent New Zealand is a huge honour. 

“We’re all connected by the love of sport and snowboarding, and it's a really strong way to make friends."



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