Marlborough Midweek - - BIG READ -

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.’’

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