n a bend in the Clarence River, tucked between the Inland and Seaward Kaikoura ranges under the distant towers of Marlborough’s Tapuae-o-Uenuku is New Zealand’s most remote high country station.
Muzzle Station is only accessible by 40 kilometres of rugged, muddy 4-WD track that connects it to the Inland Kaikoura road. The track crosses the Clarence and a 1300-metre pass on the Seaward Range.
Deep snow makes it impassible in winter. It takes about three hours to get from Muzzle to Kaikoura and that’s on a good day when the river is fordable and the pass ice-free.
When Fiona Redfern was asked to write a book on her life of isolation on Muzzle, she initially said no.
‘‘I had no desire to write a book. The family gets embarrassed when it’s in the spotlight; it’s not our sort of thing’’ she says. ‘‘Then we talked about it and decided it wasn’t a bad opportunity. Eight months later it was done.’’
She says despite the hard work, she enjoyed the process and the ordeal was easier than she thought it would be.
‘‘It was a lot of work because I am kinda busy anyway. There were a few late nights, and it was good I had a deadline because I had to make an effort to meet it,’’ she says.
Fiona has lived at Muzzle ‘‘pretty much’’ all her life. She went away to boarding school and university and had a spell working in the United Kingdom polo scene, but returned to the district to be a shepherd at Whalesback Station before coming home for good with husband, Guy Redfern.
‘‘When I was at school farming was never actually suggested as a career. To be honest, I never thought about farming Muzzle myself until I had travelled the world. Then I realised I was perfectly capable of doing it.
‘‘Guy and I have been home for 10 years now. At first we worked with my parents then we slowly took over the dayto-day farming. We got married six years ago and had two small children. I still work alongside Guy as a shepherd. The kids come out with me mustering - they are pretty good at walking around the hills.’’
Muzzle Station was originally part of the 18,000ha Bluff Station pastoral lease. The Muzzle name comes from one of the large rivers on the property. Fiona’s parents, Tina and Colin Nimmo, bought Muzzle in 1980. In 2007 tenure review was completed and 10,000 hectares was taken over by the Department of Conservation and 8000ha kept by the Nimmos as freehold. They also obtained the longterm lease of about 8000ha of Clarence Reserve. Fiona says they run about 60 per cent cattle and 40 per cent sheep at the property.
When the Nimmos arrived the government wouldn’t allow them to have sheep because of inland Marlborough’s history of over grazing and erosion, she says.
Her parents applied, and won the right to farm a few sheep.
‘‘When Guy and I arrived, we decided we quite liked sheep. Today we farm 5000 merino ewes, wethers, and hoggets. The merinos average about 130 per cent weaning and clip 5.4 kilograms of wool over-all classes at 18.5 microns. NZ Merino buys the wool.’’
Fiona says they were fortunate to get the wool out over the track before the 7.6-magnitude quake in November last year.
The earthquake caused the station major disruption.
The main damage was to tracks and fences. The homestead, stable, and an 1860s cob cottage, which was used for worker accommodation, also suffered to varying degrees.
The priority was to fix the track, and remedial work opened access at New Year. Land damage ranged from moderate to severe and included slips, rockfalls, cracks and creeks that had dammed and formed lakes.
Minor damage will be self-repairing as cattle and sheep walk over the land, but the larger damage will have to remain, says Fiona. However, because of the lie of the land, this shouldn’t affect their farming unless rain causes further slips.
Because of the earthquake, the Redferns were not able to get their cattle out to sale until the New Year- around six weeks later than usual.
‘‘But the fact we are already pretty self-sufficient proved an advantage,’’ says Fiona. The couple run 2000 hereford cattle. ‘‘We have 650 hereford cows and finish everything ourselves, so all up there are about 2000 cattle on the property at any one time.
‘‘We have a small 130ha farm in Kaikoura where my parents now live, and that’s where we do the final finishing.’’
Fiona and Guy used to walk the stock all the way to the Kaikoura farm, but since the earthquake, the inland road has become too busy. Now the animals are walked to the road end where they have a set of yards and then trucked to the finishing property.
It takes two days to walk the stock to the road end. The track is not suitable for a large truck and trailer, so the muster happens about six times a year. The station has a ‘‘small to medium size’’ truck to cart fuel and supplies in - stuff that doesn’t fit in the plane. The truck also transports lambs which are ‘‘too wild’’ to drive on foot, says Fiona.
‘‘And the bulls and the horses. Any thing that is too wild gets a ride out.’’
Muzzle has a relatively low stocking rate, so there is plenty of room for stock to forage. Unfortunately, during the dry last year Fiona and Guy were forced to buy in 300 hay bales; something they would prefer not to have to do again.
Because of the isolation, it has made sense to develop some of the flats near the homestead. They have 30ha under K-Line irrigation, and this helps ease the effects of the arid climate on feed supply.
Although Fiona and Guy decided not to indulge in tourism, they have a couple of supplementary income earners.
Muzzle has 680 bee hives producing honey mainly from blue borage by Fiona’s sister Lucy and husband AJ Mahuika in a 50:50 partnership with the station. The honey is sold to Taylor Pass Honey Co in Blenheim.
And Fiona breeds and sells horses; there are ‘‘too many’’ on the property according to Guy.
‘‘We have a stallion and four or five breeding mares. Then there are his offspring, so about 30 horses all up. We sell them unbroken as two-year-olds. I’ve sold five this year. I think these days we would rather just breed for ourselves as a lot of work goes into a horse for not much money.’’ Life is about to change for Fiona. ‘‘I’m getting psyched up for my eldest to start correspondence. I have always worked with my kids - they are pretty good at being out all day, walking around the side of the hills. Because we are our own bosses, we can cart the kids along.
‘‘We have Lance Godfrey who has worked at Muzzle for a long time. He does everything except stock work and he maintains the road and machinery, does tractor work, pest control.
‘‘But we have decided to employ a shepherd because I amgoing to be tied up with school.’’
It’s obvious Fiona is going to miss the shepherding lifestyle for a few years.
‘‘What do I like about shepherding? I think it’s the best job in the world. Animals, the outdoors, beautiful scenery, excitement. It can be tough too, it’s not all fun, but it is what I have always wanted to do.’’
‘‘It can be tough too, it’s not all fun, but it is what I have always wanted to do.’’