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A man known as ‘Little John’ who has lived in a cave in Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, for the past decade has seen his father for the first time in 25 years.
The story of the 57-year-old’s lifestyle, which included him performing dentistry on himself and not collecting any benefit to survive, was also read by members of his estranged family, including his Australia-based sister.
“It feels like a weight has been lifted, no longer fearing the worst and wondering where he was,” she said.
It also led to his Dunedin-based father contacting a local foodbank to track him down.
Longtime supporter Michelle Kerr, of the Mosgiel Community Foodbank, said it was “a huge step for him”.
Little John said he knew his father’s address, but had not visited his home since he returned south to live.
After not seeing each other for 25 years, father and son were reunited on Wednesday.
Little John’s father, who Stuff has agreed not to name, said it was a great experience.
The pair spent time together, shared a meal, and Little John was able to talk to his sister in Australia.
His father also told him his mother died in 2019.
The pair planned to catch up again, he said.
Little John said there were no ”major dust-ups” between family members, but their separation came after the death of his brother which ”was just so hard on the family”.
After the collapse of a relationship and battle with addictions, Little John moved to the cave to dry out.
And there he stayed for much of the past decade.
It was in that cave, several kilometres from the nearest human structure, where he found peace with God, he said.
”I have been closer with my fellow Christians than I could ever be with my own family.”
Little John said life had been ”really good” since his story was published.
It had helped break down some barriers with local residents, including some previously reticent motorists who now picked him up when he was hitchhiking.
A few weeks ago four young people went looking for him but initially failed to find his cave which was located off the beaten track.
”I heard someone yelling out ‘Little John’, and I replied ‘G’day’.”
Local children were also fascinated with his story, but Little John advised them there were better life choices for them.
And while he had offers from aspiring ‘cave women’, there were ”not as many” as he would have liked.
He plans to spend the cold Otago months in the cave because he liked the winters there, he said.
”For me it’s natural, and natural is healthy.”
Nor did he plan to claim the unemployment benefit, or eventually the pension.
The problem with claiming a benefit was that it would give him access to his addictions, he said.
”Booze and smokes … they have always been a problem, always will be.”
Now he smoked and drank at a much lower level ”basically because I can’t afford it”.
”For me, it was a really big step, go off the dole and close your bank account.
”This was a really powerful step to take … giving up on the Government support.”
He previously told Stuff he relied on about $500 a year from doing odd jobs and utilised the local food bank for supplies.
”I live in a cave because it is free … and nobody bugs me there.”