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