Each workday morning, electrical apprentice Fiona Glennie makes her way to Pearl Harbour wharf on the shores of Lake Manapōuri. She boards the sleek aluminium-hulled catamaran Mararoa and settles in for a 45-minute cruise across to Meridian’s Manapōuri Hydro Power Station.
With the steepling mountains and native bush of Fiordland’s National Park the backdrop, and the lake typically flat and calm, Fiona tends to doze through what has to be one of the most serene daily commutes on the planet.
Arriving at the power station and descending deep into the bowels of a facility that has generated enough power to sustain up to 619,000 average homes annually since it was commissioned in 1972 is a “funny” experience, says Fiona.
That’s funny ‘odd’ as opposed to funny ‘ha ha’.
“When I first started it felt like something out of a James Bond movie because we’re in the middle of a national park. There’s a massive cavern 200m down that you get to by elevator or a 2km tunnel. The further you go down, the more exposed rock there is. It’s a funny place.”
It took 1,800 workers eight years to build the power station. These days it is maintained and operated by a core staff of around 15, with 10 of those in Fiona’s trade team.
When work needs to be completed by outside contractors the workforce can swell to around 40.
For Fiona, who grew up on a lifestyle block in rural Taranaki and has a passion for mountain biking and the outdoors, learning her trade with Meridian in the idyllic but remote setting is a great fit.
“When the position with Meridian came up it aligned with my values,” she says.
“I spend a lot of time in the outdoors and nature and that is something I’d like to protect.”
Having completed a diploma in engineering and being a hands-on type (she worked as a part-time mechanic for a mountain bike company while a student), the chance to learn a trade – and a lot more on the job – at Manapōuri was compelling.
“I was really keen to learn the more practical, hands-on side of things. I like figuring out how things work.”
Her daily role is varied, ranging from basic electrical tasks to assisting with the checks and maintenance of systems that keep Manapōuri’s turbines operational.
“A lot of what the technicians, engineers and trades team do lines up with what I studied at college, so it’s interesting to see it in action.”
In her down time, Fiona will often be found navigating a mountain bike trail, or perched near the side of one photographing the action at a race. She showcases her work on a Facebook page.
It’s well worth a look if you’re into the intersection between lifestyle and action sports and Aotearoa’s natural environment.
“It’s definitely a passion,” she says of photography.
“I’ve been doing it since 2017. I started off doing school events. It’s a really nice way to capture the world around you and make it almost more beautiful than it was at the time.”
Speaking of beautiful, Fiona’s workday ends the way it began, with the stunning 45-minute passage back to Pearl Harbour.
This time there’s no snoozing, with Fiona either studying or teaching herself to speak Norwegian using Duolingo.
“It’s a pretty cool place, kind of like New Zealand but a bit different.”