Fly-fishing, breast cancer recovery & a determined lodge owner

For seven consecutive years, Felix Borenstein threw open the doors of his luxury fly fishing lodge to a group of breast cancer survivors for a weekend of authentic five-star treatment.

The retreats at Owen River Lodge, run in partnership with breast cancer charity Casting For Recovery, were a heady mix of fine dining, pampering sessions and fly-fishing tutorials, culminating in a trip up one of Murchison’s rivers with a professional fishing guide.

They were a huge success. Everyone involved—attendees, support crew, guides, the Owen River Lodge team and Felix himself, loved them. So at the start of this year, it seemed a given that everything was on track for the eighth Casting For Recovery South Island Retreat.

“We were good to go,” says Felix. “Casting For Recovery is one of the highlights of our year and a great way to wrap up the season.”

But 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas.

The event traditionally takes place at the end of April, just before the close of the fishing season. But that was right when New Zealand was transitioning from full Level 4 lockdown to Level 3 restrictions, with most gatherings banned.

“Even if we’d been at Level 2, we couldn’t have risked it,” says Felix. “The ladies who attend these weekends often have compromised immune systems and we couldn’t guarantee it  would be 100% safe for them.”

With the fishing season well over by the time most of the country moved to Level 1, it was looking as if the event would have to be put off until 2021. But Felix didn’t want to postpone it any longer.

“This event means a lot to a lot of people and it means a lot to me,” he says. “I lost a very dear friend to breast cancer in2006 and that’s the main reason why I do this year after year.

"We decided to host the event at the start of the new season, rather than at the end. It took a fair bit of juggling but it was definitely worth it.”

With a lot of organising and a bit of last-minute magic, his team pulled together to ensure Owen River Lodge was able to host Casting For Recovery for its eighth year straight, offering the same level of care and five-star treatment as in other, less unusual years.

The event on 9–11 October was, in Felix’s own words, “a blast”.

“It took a bit of juggling but every single one of those women is amazing and it was a privilege to host them,” he says.

“We’ve already started planning for next year’s event. Anything I can do to spoil these ladies rotten, make them happy and contribute towards their recovery, I will.”

This story is part of TIA's #TourismChampions campaign. View more inspirational stories here