The emergence of snowdrops in the garden are a much welcome reminder that spring is on the way. Another sign is the return of the oyster catchers. These birds spend their winters on the coastline and return to the high country for the nesting season. They are one of the first birds to arrive at the end of winter and bring a much-anticipated hint of warmer, longer days.
Read our latest high country news and find out about life on a Canterbury high country station.
This winter, exceptionally cold temperatures and beautiful days in July, made for pristine skating on Lake Heron. For a time, skaters could make the 10km trip from the Homestead area to Harrison’s Bight. However, this is not a trip for the nervous and it pays to be prepared for weak ice. Creaks and groans are all part of the adventure.
Last week the heliski guides completed their pre-winter training. With metres of snow on the runs, the season is set for a great start. Shown here is the pick-up point at the bottom of the Gridiron Glacier, a descent of 900+ vertical metres in the Arrowsmith Mountains.
This week our merino wethers were moved to their winter grazing. They will remain there for the next 4 months until the spring muster. Rotating the seasonal grazing is an important part of the station management. The sheep are ably watched by Head Shepherd, Cory Hollister as they head out through the last gate.
Snow in June usually means a long winter on the station. However, this year although we got 30cm of snow in the valley last week, we have been blessed with a great thaw on the paddocks afterwards. So…now we’ve got great cover in the mountains for the start of the heliski season in July and the stock are still able to get to the grass and crops on the flat.
The rams are out – it’s the time of year when the rams get on with the business of starting the next generation of lambs. At Lake Heron, the merinos are bred for their beautiful soft wool, which is clipped off the sheep once a year in the spring. The wool is then supplied to Icebreaker – if you have any Icebreaker garments, check out the Baa code and you may just find the wool has come from here.
One of the wonderful features of life in the high country is experiencing the seasonal comings and goings of birdlife. Black-fronted terns are endemic to New Zealand and it is estimated that their numbers total only about 5,000 in the whole of the country. In springtime these terns migrate inland to the braided riverbeds of the South Island and can be found in abundance in the Lake Stream and near Lake Heron. In summer they can be seen swooping and diving into the wind along the riverbanks in search of food. In this shot an adult bird has caught a skink – looks to be rather a large meal for a small bird.
After several weekends of hard labour keen outdoorsmen, Cory, Stu and Ben have completed the restoration of the Downs Hut. Gone are the sacking bunks and leaky roof – instead occupants can now enjoy some “rustic luxury.” The character of over a hundred years of use, still remains but the hut is now sturdy and weatherproof to face the next century.
Station huts are a unique feature in New Zealand’s pastoral history. Until recently many huts were left to fall into disrepair. However their appeal has had a resurgence – the charm of a simple corrugated iron haven in the middle of nowhere is a wonderful contrast to modern urban living.
Visiting Belgian, Kristina, impressed the local shearing gang by showing off her style with the shears. After a few pointers from Norm Harraway, Kristina finished off in fine style. The shearers have been up to take the wool off some of the woollies that have eluded a muster or two.
Working dogs are an integral part of life on a high country station – out mustering a well-trained dog will spot sheep, round them up and save its master many hours of walking. Hard-working, instinctive and fiercely loyal, working dogs have been bred over many generations into 2 separate types: the smaller, very quick, heading dog
is bred to round sheep up and bring them towards its master, whilst the rangy huntaway is a large dog with a good bark and the instinct to hunt sheep away.
Each shepherd has his or her own team of dogs with several from each breed. Many an old dog has taught a young shepherd a thing or two about moving stock!
Built over a hundred years ago, the Downs Hut has been a base for many forays into the high country. Musterers, shepherds, hunters, fishermen, and trampers have all left their inscriptions on the hut walls with the earliest names dating back to 1904.
However, time has taken its toll on the sacking bunks and beech framing and recently the hut has also become a haven for birds and possums. So…this summer the hut is getting something of a make-over. Mindful that it is a piece of history, the old iron cladding and beech framing are being retained and beefed up - hopefully the hut will last at least another 100 years.
Early November saw the start of our summer hiking programme. Despite rather changeable spring weather on our first Highland Hike, we still had great views with plenty of snow in the mountains.
Andrew Stone, from the NZ Herald, joined us for the hike and the trip conjured up memories of his student days spent on stations in the Rakaia.
A bonus of early season trips is that there is always plenty of wildlife around – kea, black-fronted terns, oyster catchers, dotterels, paradise ducks and the odd tahr kept us well-entertained.
Irish coffees were re-invented by a couple of whisky stalwarts on the hike and proved to be a great way to alleviate sore leg muscles.
For groups wishing to book either our Highland Hike or Station Walk, we still have dates available this summer.
Last week 2500 wethers were brought down out of the hills in Lake Heron’s annual spring muster. Early in the morning, a team of 10 (and dogs) were dropped by helicopter at the head of the Rakaia River. The day started with fog in the valley but this soon cleared to reveal the scattered mobs of sheep. The sheep were slowly cleared off the hillsides and gathered up into large mobs. By late afternoon, a weary team was pleased to see the last one go through a gate into a large holding paddock. This paddock is the half-way point on their journey back to the homestead area.
The sheep will spend a few days grazing the block before being gathered up and brought the final 15kms to the homestead for their annual shearing.
Kevin Boekholt took some great photos, including this one of Eve Smith, who is following in the high country footsteps of her parents, Eric and Sally (also out for the day.)
Seven enthusiasts recently took to their bikes for a 180km, 4 day high country cycle trip, starting and finishing at Big Al’s shop in Methven. Equipped with bikes from Big Al’s and merino cycle wear from Icebreaker, we headed for the hills. The team was a mix of hardcore mountain bikers, “town and around” riders, and high country farmers. The scenery and riding were spectacular with differing views of mountains, rivers, lakes and tussock country each day. If anyone had any discomforts at the end of a day’s riding, these were soon forgotten after a hot shower, a few glasses of wine and a fabulous dinner. Photograhers Nicola Edmonds and Adrian Heke accompanied us on the trip with great results. They went beyond the call of duty, lugging heavy photography gear for most of the journey, while the rest of us, had only to stuff a few snack bars into the back pockets of our Icebreaker tops.
The Icebreaker cycle wear was brillant, keeping us at a comfortable temperature through wind, rain, and heat – there was very little stopping to adjust clothing as the miraculous merino fibre just seems to act as an automatic temperature control!
Pet sheep are always a feature of high country life.
This trio (known as the Woolly Jumpers) were hand reared a year ago. They are now the cheekiest sheep on the place and will follow Alex anywhere for a piece of bread. They have even been known to sneak into the house looking for food. They will be shorn soon and, no doubt, will be joined by a handful of new orphans when lambing starts in a few weeks time.
Meet Jackson from Willow Tree, Australia – he and his parents were recent guests and enjoyed a scenic flight to the backblocks of the station. His father is the head chef at Graze, a fabulous country restaurant in Australia but I think Jackson is asking Philip “Do you think I could fly that thing too?”
This week is one of the busiest in Lake Heron’s farming calendar as 5,000 ewes are blade shorn prior to lambing. As with every shearing, the weather becomes the major focus – rain or snow mean wet sheep, which in term mean delays. So far, so good! To add to the interest, photographer Rob Brown, spent a day sitting in the woolshed rafters, capturing the atmosphere on film. Rob is one of New Zealand’s foremost landscape photographers but this time he put his talent into recording the blade shearers at work. A great series on one of New Zealand’s toughest occupations is the result!
Last week’s southerly storm dumped 60cm of snow in the valley floor – with wind drifts of over 2 meters in places. Since then both tractors have been flat out clearing tracks and getting feed to stock. Fortunately warm temperatures over the past few days have melted much of the low lying snow. The new snow has been great for heliskiing and while the tractors have been busy in the valley, Methven Heliski has had 3 helicopters out each day in the mountains.
While even Aucklanders have seen a few snow flakes, here at Lake Heron a brief clearance between snow squalls gave a glimpse at the wintery surrounds. The temperature has been hovering around -3C all day and is likely to stay that way for the next few days. The stock are all mobbed up and well-fed - the merinos with their woolly jumpers have no problem with the chilly temperatures.
With a great spell of weather and beautiful snow, Philip has been kept busy flying with Methven Heliski. Skiers and boarders from all over the world come back year after year to ski the Arrowsmith Mountains. Over 60% of our clientele are regular guests and this year we are celebrating 25 years of operation. Philip and chief guide Kevin Boekholt know the terrain like the back of their hands – so if there is great snow, you can guarantee they will find it.