Twenty-four Hours at Middlehurs­t /

Janet Hart dips into a slice of life at Middlehurs­t, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 24 hours at one of New Zealand’s most re­mote high coun­try sta­tions.

Latitude Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS Janet Har t IMAGES Middlehurs­t Sta­tion

Be­hind the scenes at one of our most re­mote high coun­try sta­tions

When

I phoned from the Awa­tere Val­ley Road turnoff near Sed­don that morn­ing, Su­san Mac­don­ald said she would see me in ‘about an hour and a half ’. And so be­gan the 80 kilo­me­tre climb, past sparsely set­tled home­steads, on a road that ducks and dives, winds its way round gul­lies un­til, at last, over the Up­cot Sad­dle, it reaches the Up­per Awa­tere Val­ley with its Middlehurs­t, Muller and Molesworth Sta­tions. Yes, it’s re­mote all right. Young John Trolove lasted only six months when he took up Middlehurs­t in 1851. Such was the iso­la­tion.

It’s a dif­fer­ent scene for Wil­lie and Su­san Mac­don­ald who’ve lived on the 16,550-hectare Middlehurs­t Sta­tion since they bought it in 1998. ‘There are al­ways peo­ple here!’ says Su­san. ‘I’m of­ten just wash­ing the spare sheets and I’ll be putting them on again. There are al­ways peo­ple vis­it­ing: the stud mas­ter, friends and fam­ily, the pi­lot, loader driver, stock agents… Yes­ter­day it was two Aus­tralian cy­clists. It’s such a long way, they of­ten stay a night or two. Or two weeks at a time as the shear­ers do twice a year.’

On the morn­ing I ar­rive Mike and Ja­son from Marl­bor­ough District Coun­cil are vis­it­ing. Mike’s de­scrib­ing ‘a beau­ti­ful old for­est on Mt Look­out that has trees that must be hun­dreds of years old’. Ja­son’s ex­plain­ing how the few stand­ing wild­ing pines were given the lethal in­jec­tion and then telling the story of how one week­end here, 23 years ago, he shot 720 rabbits. Now there’s not a rab­bit in sight.

This con­stant stream of peo­ple is what prompted

Wil­lie and Su­san’s con­cept of build­ing The Quar­ters, where we’re head­ing for lunch. The Quar­ters, an el­e­gant, long, low build­ing, sits com­fort­ably amongst rocks and grass. It sleeps 23, has a self-con­tained apart­ment, as well as a huge com­mu­nal stylish din­ing/liv­ing room/kitchen area.

Stun­ning pho­to­graphs of Middlehurs­t by Peter East­way and Tony He­witt from Fine Art Land­scape and Travel Pho­tog­ra­phy hang through­out. The gi­ant kitchen glass splash­back photo of a merino muster, on Middlehurs­t, must make kitchen chores a treat.

And in here, our taste buds come into play. Sta­tion chef Lynette Day has cooked on su­per yachts off Italy, at the

New Zealand Em­bassy in Brussels and at a lux­ury re­sort on Ai­tu­taki, un­til 18 months ago when she swapped la­goon-side life for one at 800 me­tres. ‘I love cook­ing for the di­ver­sity of peo­ple the job brings,’ she says, as we whizz up the hill on the quad bike later, to pick greens in the lux­u­ri­ant tun­nel house.

At lunch, Lynette serves up the best-ever meat pie burst­ing with Middlehurs­t two-tooth lamb flavour, at din­ner a melt-in-the-mouth tamar­illo cake, at smoko, as­para­gus and watercress rolls and date scones with or­ange. Would you ever want to leave? This all adds up, mak­ing The Quar­ters a per­fect place for low im­pact and cor­po­rate group vis­its. Think of he­li­copter flights, pho­tos and paint­ing, elec­tric bikes, soak­ing up sights of moun­tains. This is what Wil­lie and Su­san en­vis­age. ‘Middlehurs­t ’s only a 25-minute di­rect flight from Wellington,’ says Wil­lie. And what a per­fect place for in­spi­ra­tion.

Af­ter lunch, I join Wil­lie and Su­san in the Toy­ota. We rock and roll up the Awa­tere Riverbed and as the Toy­ota turns into the Tone River, around us steep, spiked, rocky vol­canic out­crops poke out. ‘Like Mid­dle Earth,’ some­one quips.

A dark hunk of moun­tain, part of the great chunk of the

In­land Kaikōura Range, looms ahead. Wil­lie urges the Toy­ota up a ridge. And stops. We’re in the back, of the back-of­be­yond, and there be­low is Par­adise: a huge un­du­lat­ing car­pet of bright spring green lucerne, dot­ted with cows and calves and hun­dreds of merino ewes and lambs. Wil­lie turns the truck on a pre­car­i­ous piece of track. ‘We don’t want to dis­turb them,’ he says.

By mid-af­ter­noon we’re back and in­side Middlehurs­t’s grand mul­ti­func­tional wool­shed. ‘Last Jan­uary we held our first ram sale in here,’ Wil­lie says. ‘The rams were led out in front of 150 peo­ple.’ This was the very suc­cess­ful Middlehurs­t Poll Merino Stud Ram Auc­tion.

And from rams to mar­riage. Soon this wool­shed space will host daugh­ter So­phie’s wed­ding. Around 200 guests are ex­pected, Wil­lie’s charged with the fairy lights in­stal­la­tion, and ‘oh, yes, we have shear­ing in here – on the side!’ laughs Wil­lie.

This huge shed can shel­ter 2800 sheep, its floor can store 200 bales of wool, and when the meri­nos are shorn twice a year, Su­san, a trained wool classer, takes on this job. When Su­san spreads open a fleece, it’s pure white, with del­i­cate fi­bre and crimp. ‘Sixty per cent of our clip goes to Ice­breaker, we’re one of their larger sup­pli­ers,’ she tells me. ‘The fine clip goes to New Zealand Merino and three bales of the finest of the

We rock and roll up the Awa­tere Riverbed and as the Toy­ota turns into the Tone River, around us steep, spiked, rocky vol­canic out­crops poke out.

So­phie Mac­don­ald and Tim John­son mar­ried at Middlehurs­t Sta­tion. So­phie's wed­ding dress is made of Ital­ian silk and Middlehurs­t Merino mix. Photo Tan­dem Pho­tog­ra­phy. Own­ers of Middlehurs­t Sta­tion, Wil­lie and Su­san Mac­don­ald.

LEFT / RIGHT /

Mus­ter­ing meri­nos on Middlehurs­t Sta­tion.

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