Today in our Meet The Merinoer series we’re mixing things up a bit. We’re meeting with the boss. Paul G. So, it’s more of a Meet the Chief Merinoer today?
Paul co-founded Ottie Merino in mid-July 2020. Yep, right, smack-bang in the middle of one of the looogggg lockdowns in Melbourne. He’s been a hiker for yonks, has worn merino for ages… But, more on that below.
One of Paul's first hikes in Spain, up at Montserrat near Barcelona.
Ottie Merino (OM): Tell us about the moment you were introduced to hiking?
Paul G (PG): It was in my early teens. We lived near Old Noarlunga in Adelaide, only a short BMX ride from the Onkaparinga River (or the 'Onk' as it's known) and I loved fishing. Initially, I'd fish for bream in the estuary but then I started to explore further up the river in the Onkaparinga Gorge which is at the heart of the Onkaparinga River National Park. I'd go searching for redfin and trout. Never caught much but the journey (hiking in the Gorge) became more fun than the destination (fishing in the deep pools).
That's where it started. Over 20 years ago!
OM: So, you were into hiking well before Ottie Merino. But you worked in the 'hiking and camping' space too, right?
PG: I did, I did. Several years ago I scored a gig in the marketing department at Snowys Outdoors in Adelaide. I was the dude writing product descriptions on the website for tent pegs and sleeping bags and eskys and I managed and edited the enormous Snowys Blog (you can still see heaps of my stuff here). It was a lot of fun working with such a passionate and genuinely switched on bunch of hikers and campers and 4WDers (few caravanners in the ranks too). Every Monday, someone would have gotten back from some exciting adventure and would serenade with their stories. And it was loads of fun being around all this cool, new gear.
OM: Did your time at Snowys play into starting Ottie Merino at all?
PG: It did a bit. It educated me on how the outdoor retail space works. Taught me a lot about how customers shop. And it also demonstrated to me what customers were after and how, maybe, they weren't quite getting what they wanted in the merino space.
Plus, off the back of my time at Snowys I set up the Hiking in Australia and New Zealand hiking group. That's where I started to share my idea a few years back and that's where things began
OM: With running Ottie, moderating the group, and living life more generally, do you get much time to hit the trails and go hiking?
PG: Lately, probably not as much as I want to. Got to change that.
Most of my hiking is shorter day hikes. I'm originally from Adelaide, lived in Melbourne for 5 years, spent 5 months in Spain in 2022, and now live in Sydney. So, I have a whole new world of hiking available to me.
I try to get out on a couple of day hikes a month and plan a few bigger, multidays each year. Though, with COVID it has been a few years since I have properly stretched the legs. The last big hike I did was a 3 days/2 nights up around Mt Buller and Mt Stirling in Victoria. Early January, lots of rain, cool temperatures... you've got to love the weirdness of Aussie summers at the moment.
OM: What is your most memorable bushwalking trip to date?
PG: That's a really good question! It could have to be the Travers Sabine in the Nelson Lakes National Park on the South Island of New Zealand. This is going to sound a bit silly but whenever I think about it my heart swells, I get goosebumps and I fill with joy. I'm not a religious guy but it's heaven on earth for me.
I have visited Nelson Lakes 3-4 times now. And the place just fills me with awe. And, what's really nice about it is it's not as busy as some of the parks further south in the Southern Lakes and Fiordland regions.
I first hiked the Travers Sabine in 2016. It was one of my first big hikes. I travelled to NZ solo. Landed in Wellington and caught the ferry across to Picton and the bus down to St Arnaud (via Nelson). It was a magical hike. I got caught in snow as I crossed Travers Saddle with a couple of Americans. It was really a hike that satisfied all the senses.
I am smiling typing this. :)
OM: If that's not a strong encouragement for Nelson Lakes National Park, I don't know what is!
You were recently in Spain. What hiking did you get up to over there?
PG: Not was much as I had hoped. We were in Spain from May to October and pretty much the entire time was really hot and really humid. We spent most of our time in Catalunya, south of Barcelona. It was definitely cooler on the coast but we're talking 30-32° and high humidity pretty much non stop. It wasn't pleasant hiking weather at all. In the interior the temperatures say in the high 30s and low to mid 40s for months. We stuck to the coast!
That said, we did explore some of the great coastal hiking around Tarragona and Sitges. For most of our time we were based in a town called Vilanova i la Geltru and there were some nice tracks in the hills just above the town.
A hike we did a few times was along the coast between Vilanova and Sitges. You could have a swim in a secluded inlet along the way, and stop for a beer at the end. Civilised stuff.
OM: Random question, Spanish trail food vs Aussie trail food—which do you like better?
PG: Well, I didn't really try out any of the freeze dried or dehydrated food over there as we only did short hikes. But, there's something terribly civilised about opening up your pack to a beautiful, fresh baguette with jamon and cheese and the sweetest tomatoes you've ever tasted, drizzled with local olive oil. Man, I'll miss that.
In Australia I'm more inclined to carry some nuts or an energy bar!
Here's a story for you on trail food. We did one hike in the hills above Sitges with some friends we'd made. Lukas, an optimistic and super positive Czech fellow, and Paul, an ex-military Dutchman. We expected a relatively straight-forward up-and-back in the heat. Oh no, it turned into a 35km+ day! But—and this was the funnest part—we discovered at the halfway point a beautiful old winery and restaurant on the hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. There, supremely parched and hambriento (hungry) we cracked bottles of Vicy Catalan (a super minerally and electrolytey sparkling mineral water from about 120km from where we were sitting that's awesome for hydration) and Estrella Damm and ate beautiful local meats and vegetables before setting off on our descent back to home. Fun day. Was sore for a week!
OM: How would you compare your overall bushwalking experience in España to Australia? Is there a particular thing that you liked in one place that the other does not have?
PG: Another really good question.
Spain is really quite arid. I've been to Spain a couple of times and haven't spent much time up north, where I know it to be lusher and greener. But, in the interior and in Catalunya the trees are small, the ground is rocky. Hence the challenge hiking in summer. It's hard to find shade!
Australia, even dry places like South Australia, are much more 'green'. I think the Aussie bush is something to be marvelled at. It's so ancient and largely uninterrupted. And so diverse. And there's so much birdlife. We're really lucky here. If I could transplant some of that lushness back to those places that have been deforested in Spain I would.
That said, these are unique and beautiful places in their own right now.
OM: How did the merino go in Spain?
PG: I wouldn't have worn anything else. I lived in merino tees, merino socks, and merino undies. (And merino shorts from a brand that I shan't name here.) People still largely associate merino with being for 'cold weather' but it's really an all seasons fibre. If it's hot, if it's humid, you're going to breath much better in lightweight merino and not stink up the joint, compared to synthetics and cotton.
OM: What is the longest you've gone wearing merino without washing it?
Not as long as Elena it seems. Hehe. I've worn it up to around 7 days, I reckon? I'm lucky to run a merino business. I have plenty of clean merino on hand. But, generally, I'll get 2-3 days out of a tee before washing it in my day-to-day life. And, at day 3 it's still fresh!
OM: Before we end this chat, complete the sentence: "Merino is _________."
PG: Easy! Merino is a wonder fabric! 100%. Absolutely. Without a doubt!