Dwane Herbert – A Spearfishing Legend

When Cobey Herbert arrived in my class as a skinny five-year-old, I sent home the usual note asking about food allergies etc. Back it came, duly filled in: Cobey can eat anything except paua.

“Paua?” I thought. “Who would give a little kid such an expensive shellfish? We won’t be cooking paua here, at the most inland school in New Zealand.” That was certainly way out of my comfort zone.

It wasn’t until Cobey’s dad arrived with undersea treasures to show the kids that I understood, because it turns out that Dwane Herbert, is a 7-times National Spearfishing Champion of NZ.

Dwane and a student inspect a kina.
Garston kids were fascinated with Dwane’s underwater treasures.

I had no idea what spearfishing was, so I went to visit Dwane, and his wife Annie, to find out.

Dwane’s Day Job

He may live near the most inland village in NZ, but in his day job Dwane Herbert is the skipper of a kina and paua fishing boat, working off the southern coast. If you’re thinking dredge nets or fishing lines stop now. There’s none of that in this niche industry — it’s all diving. What’s more, the divers only wear snorkels and masks. No oxygen tanks allowed.

The job is tough — and so are the crew. You have to be, in a job that’s weather dependent and involves a fair amount of danger. It’s certainly not for everyone but Dwane loves it. As he says:

“I’ve  done it all my life. I started at age 7, up in Whitianga, going out on the boat with my Dad — who’s one of the best in the business.”

But much as he enjoys the snorkelling and fishing, they are the daily routine stuff. Dwane’s real passion lies with spear fishing.

“Growing up, we’d always have to work first, then we got to play. The rule was fill your sacks with paua or kina and then we’d get an hour of spearfishing. That’s the hour I lived for.”

What is Spearfishing?

Spearfishing is a technique that’s been around for centuries. Simply put, it’s throwing a spear at a fish, but of course there’s a lot more to spearfishing than that.

Forget those movie images of spears hurtling towards far-off leviathans. You have to get in close to the fish with spearfishing. There’s a 3-4 metre rope which attaches the spear to the speargun so that’s the maximum distance you can shoot from. And once again, it’s strictly snorkels, masks and flippers in this sport.

It actually seems more like hunting, than fishing.  

Dwane says it’s important to identify the fish before you shoot. Each species has its own characteristics, and a good spearfisher has to know how a particular fish will react. If you know which way the fish is likely to dodge, you have a good idea whereabouts to aim for a quick, clean kill.

Spearfishing is an environmentally-conscious sport too. “We eat everything we catch,” Dwane explains. “That’s the rule. There’s no indiscriminate hunting and you don’t get the damage to other species that net fishing can cause.” Even the competitions don’t allow waste, with all the fish being auctioned off for charity.

“In NZ the fish still aren’t used to being hunted. Sometimes they’ll swim right up to you and take a good look.” That’s because spearfishing is a relatively new and small sport in NZ.

But in Europe spearfishing has been going on for centuries. It’s a big sport with big money involved. In European countries you can sell the fish you spear, so the top divers actually are spearfishing for a living. They do it day in and day out.

“The competitions over there are at a whole ‘nother level.” says Dwane.

Spearfishing Championships — New Zealand…

Spearfishing New Zealand Nationals are held in various locations around the North Island each January.

Competitors are likely to be swimming, diving and contending with wind, weather and waves for up to 6 hours while they hunt for specific fish on the competition list. One boat takes everybody out, and they all hunt within the same boundaries. It’s demanding and dangerous, which is why the NZ nationals are a team competition.

Divers work in pairs as a team, and both catches are weighed and judged together. They take turns at diving so that one is always watching to check the other’s safety.

Dwane and his family are regular attendees at the NZ Spearfishing Nationals. As he explains, “I’ve been to them for most of my life; it’s just what we do in January.”

Spearfishing Grandfather, sons and grandsons.
Spearfishing goes through the generations in the Herbert family and most summers you’ll find them at the New Zealand Spearfishing Nationals.

… And Beyond

But his passion for spearfishing has taken Dwane well beyond the New Zealand competitions. He’s a regular competitor in the Inter-Pacific championships and has even been the Australian Champion. Biggest of all, is the chance to compete at the World Championships, and 2018 will be Dwane’s third — and hopefully best — experience of that heady event.

“I haven’t had the best luck at the World’s,” Dwane admits ruefully.

His first competition was a sobering experience — or rather a non-experience.

“I had surgery on my ankle two days before we were due to depart and turned up on crutches. I thought I’d be fine.”

The team leader had other ideas, and Dwane spent the next fortnight as a reluctant bystander

Taking on the World

Competing at the World’s is a huge step up. It’s a completely different set-up to the NZ and Inter-Pacific competitions because divers work solo with a specific area assigned to each competitor. Each diver has a team on a support boat, who are responsible for his safety and catch.

Because the Competition is usually held in Europe, the list of fish is different and includes far more fish species. That’s partly because there are far more edible fish species in European seas. We don’t have that many edible species around NZ so the lists in our competitions are small compared to overseas ones.

Dwane has to memorise what each fish on the list looks like. He has to know their behaviours and likely reaction to being hunted.  European fish are used to being hunted. They understand that humans are dangerous and will scatter or hide as soon as the spearfishermen appear.

The sea presents a new challenge in Europe, as well.

Coastal waters around NZ are very tidal and can be rough, with less visibility, but they are also shallow by comparison. In Greece, for example, spearfishers dive to far greater depths without an oxygen tank. And of course the fish are very shy and hide away in holes and crevices, so you spend longer underwater looking for them.

So when Dwane took his family to the World’s in 2016, they found that the clear, deep water presented a new danger.

Scary Experiences

When I asked Dwane about his scariest moments, he couldn’t really say, but Annie was in absolutely no doubt. The deep waters of the Greek Islands provided a huge shock.

Two weeks before, while practising for the big competition, Dwane got the bends (decompression sickness.) Because he was diving for long periods in water far deeper than he was used to, nitrogen bubbles in the blood were trapped and caused a blockage in his brain which led to a stroke when he came up to the surface.

Dwane says “I wasn’t really scared”
But Annie counteracts.  “That’s because he couldn’t see himself — the rest of us were terrified.”

Fortunately a nearby Greek diver had an oxygen tank. Dwane was given aspirin to thin his blood and relieve the blockage, taken 10 metres down underwater and pure oxygen pumped into him while slowly bringing him up little by little. Once back at the surface, Dwane was rushed to hospital. Amazingly, there was no lasting damage and Dwane was fit and ready to compete by the time the Worlds began.

But then disaster struck when Dwane got a lung squeeze. He says…

“The lungs get compressed at those depths and a sharp turn or twist can cause a tear. You don’t feel it — it doesn’t hurt, but when you get to the boat you start coughing blood and breathing is hard. I knew immediately that was it and I couldn’t go on.”

Portugal

Dwane Herbert with a large fish caught in Portugal.
Dwane with a fish caught on the 2017 recon trip to Portugal.

This year the biannual World Championships are in the south of Portugal. Once again, conditions will be different, but this time around Dwane feels much more prepared. In 2017 he, and other members of the NZ team, travelled to the competition area to check out the water conditions and fish.

They discovered that Portuguese coastal water is not as deep as in Greece, so the fish stay shallow. On the other hand, the seas are quite murky so visibility can be very poor, making the fish even harder to find.

Hopefully Dwane’s luck changes this year and there are no nasty accidents waiting in the 2018 competitions.

Family

One of the best parts of Dwane’s spearfishing lifestyle is the opportunity to travel. It’s even better when his family can come too.

They love to travel with him and experience the lifestyle of different places.

“The Greek islands were so much fun,” says Annie. “We could have stayed much longer.  Everyone was very welcoming but what we found the most strange was how everyone was out and about at night. Even the little kids were out way past 11pm.”  

Just like Dwane, his boys have been in and around boats and fish all their lives. During spare weekends and school holidays it’s the family’s joy to take the boat away to remote waters and enjoy the peace away from daily chores. Cobey and Eli love spearfishing and have taken to it with a passion. They would love to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Dwane with sons Eli and Cobey in wetsuits with their fish.
Eli, Dwane and Cobey – a spearfishing trio.

I love learning. My favourite saying is “you learn something new every day.” So I found it fascinating to listen to Dwane and Annie’s stories of spearfishing and to learn a little about the fishing life.

Their life and experience is so different to mine, and yet we live in the same little New Zealand community. Thanks, Dwane and Annie, it’s great to know you a little better now.

Follow Dwane on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DwaneHerbertSpearo/

Sponsored by Beuchat NZ                 

 https://www.facebook.com/BeuchatNZ/

More Dreamers and Doers…

Loved learning about a family who follows their dreams? Find out about other Southern Dreamers and Doers in:

A Hand-Built Home Infused With Love

Living the Dream at Craft Keepers

Cathedrals and Connections

Silhouettes: When people connect with one another

There are many different reasons to follow your dreams. This week’s post comes from a heartwarming story that Nikki, my American niece-to-be, told me a few weeks ago.

Sometimes your dreams and passions can sustain you through devastating times. It helps, during a period of illness, depression or heartache, to throw yourself headlong into something you’re passionate about.

This was the reason that Ray, an eighty-plus gentleman from West Virginia, turned to art to help him fight Alzheimer’s and the onset of dementia. Ray’s passion was making paper models, and his heart particularly lay with cathedrals.

Abbey, a travelling nurse, regularly called in to care for Ray during these tough times. And during one memorable visit, she told him about her daughter Nikki and the big decision she had recently made.

“My daughter has left the States,” she told Ray. “She’s moved all the way to New Zealand!”

Many Americans have never even heard of New Zealand, but Ray knew where she meant and wanted to know more.

“She’s gone to live in Christchurch,” Abbey told him.

Ray was shocked. He knew about Christchurch and its devastating earthquakes and was particularly moved by the plight of the city’s lovely cathedral. In his own way, Ray had wanted to commemorate the beautiful building.

He led Abbey over to his collection of beautiful models — and there it was. A stunningly, intricate paper model of the Christchurch Cathedral in all its former glory.

Paper Model of ChristChurch Cathedral

Now it was Abbey’s turn to be shocked as Ray presented her with the lovely model. When she protested, he insisted that he wanted her to have it. Ray passed away shortly after, but Abbey now has his special gift to remember him by.

Abbey’s little cathedral is so much more than an intricate model; it’s a symbol of empathy and connection. Dementia did not rob Ray of empathy. He understood the grief associated with the loss of Christchurch’s precious cathedral and chose to honour it in his own, special way. With his gift, Ray also gave Abbey a second connection with Nikki’s new home.

When she comes to visit her beautiful new grandson, there’ll be more connections; a new extended family to meet. Perhaps Abbey and Nikki will visit the real Cathedral with them. 

American and Kiwi, beginning to understand each other just a little more, and to treasure new friendships formed.

Building connections between people young and old —  between countries, cultures and religions — is vital. It’s the way that we will move the people of our world towards peaceful acceptance of each other. It’s the way to build trust.

Everything starts with one person connecting with another; it continues with empathy and hope. Connecting begins with me and with you. I hope this becomes a passion that we all can share.

Thank you, Ray.

Thanks also to Nikki and Abbey for allowing me to tell their special story.

Images of Christchurch Cathedral after the 2011 earthquake are courtesy of Karyn Druce.

Michelle Goggans: Portrait Of A Whimsical Artist

Portrait of a Dragonfly Surrounded by Fire by Michelle Goggans

Art is one of my students’ favourite subjects at Garston School. Mine, too, because I love to experiment right alongside them.

However, even the 6-year-old children often produce paintings better than mine. It’s sad, but I’m afraid I don’t have even one artistic bone in my body.

But according to Denver and Kingston artist Michelle Goggans, that’s not necessarily the problem. The desire to succeed is far more important than talent.

What’s more, you have to be willing to work!

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Be An Artist

“I certainly wasn’t the best artist at school,” she says. “I had friends who were amazing  — theirs were the paintings that decorated the walls on parents night. Mine were never chosen.”

“But in the end, art wasn’t really their thing and they drifted away from it.”

Those students could have gone on to produce some stunning paintings as adults, but they just weren’t interested enough to put in the years of work and study that it takes to be a top artist.

“I wanted art with a passion,” Michelle says,  “I wasn’t born with heaps of talent: it’s practice. I’ve worked at this my whole life.”

And work she certainly does. I was amazed, when I met up with Michelle at her home in Kingston, just how much work it takes to create her beautiful watercolours.

Composite photo, Michelle Goggans and 8 photos of her artworks
Michelle surrounded by some of her art.

Preparation is Key

When I think of watercolour paintings, I tend to think small, delicate landscapes and pastel colours. But Michelle’s largest painting to date is Catharsis (above, bottom right) and it measures 32.5 x 25 inches. That’s close to a metre across — and the special commission took a LOT of work to create.

Many of Michelle’s paintings are done on paper. If you ever painted with watercolours as a kid, you’ll immediately understand the first problem. Paper buckles as it dries. To fix that, Michelle will completely saturate a sheet of 140lb watercolour paper and stretch it out on a strong wooden board. She tapes the paper to the board, then staples it all the way around for extra security.

For “Catharsis” Michelle had a large, extra-thick board especially made. Wet paper is strong and shrinks as it dries. Believe it or not, shrinking paper nearly 1m long could easily snap an ordinary plywood board in half. Even then it took several attempts and a few ruined sheets of expensive paper before it was finally secured to the board and painting could begin.

How Do You Model A Fantasy?

Michelle’s inspirations come from myriad sources. Initial glimpses of nature, photographs, people or animals are then coloured and transformed in her mind’s eye. It’s Whimsical Art she says and is a style she’s been developing over the years.

Even the greatest artists of the past used models and views from real life to paint form and perspective, but there are no real-life models for the pictures forming in Michelle’s mind. Fortunately, she has two modern tools that past generations lacked: her trusty iPad and the innovative art app “Procreate”.

It takes hours and hours of research on the internet, but eventually, Michelle finds forms and details in photos which capture the shapes she needs for her painting. Procreate lets her take those shapes and place them together as a mockup for the picture in her mind’s eye. Now she has a model for sketching and outlining onto paper.

Michelle Goggans Bulletin Board showing practice artworks
Michelle’s bulletin board shows a few of her many experiments on the details in her paintings.

Beautiful Experiments

The work doesn’t stop there. Michelle showed me pages and pages of experiments in her art book, as she worked out every tiny detail. Skin tones… colours… hands… faces… the way a dress should flow. Finally, the right ideas and skills have married up and the painting can begin. I see fire behind a dragonfly… flames surging from a lions mane… a Yogi at one with a rainbow universe.  These are just some of the diverse whimsies that are now beautiful paintings thanks to Michelle.

Working in Other Media

Michelle’s favourite reaction to her paintings is the amazed question, “That’s WATERCOLOUR?”

When I looked through her online portfolio, I had exactly the same response.

But Michelle’s portfolio holds more than watercolour. There’s also Scratchboard.

What’s Scratchboard? Think sgraffito on steroids; beautiful black and white portraits made by scratching black top-coat to reveal pure white underneath.  

“Scratchboard needs a different perspective,” Michelle explains. “Normally I think about applying colours to create the picture. With scratchboard, you have to think in reverse.”

I’m captivated by the process and the stunning results.

Connecting With Michelle

Back in Denver, when she wasn’t painting, Michelle worked in interior design and project management, so she has plenty of the skills needed to fit into the current Queenstown work environment when her partnership visa comes through.

But of course, her dream is to paint fulltime. So it’s a blessing in disguise that the visa process takes so long.  For this precious time, Michelle has the luxury to concentrate on painting. 

Want to see more of Michelle’s beautiful art? You can find her at:

www.artistswhim.com

https://www.facebook.com/artistswhim/

On Instagram as Artists_Whim

Athol’s Graceland: A Hand-Built Home Infused With Love

Outside view of Graceland B&B, Athol, NZ
Graceland B&B

What does it take to build your own house and home?

I’d guess at vision, perseverance and a whole lot of determination to get you through the many, many challenges that lie ahead.

Fortunately, Debbie Grace and Gerry Pearse have grit and determination in bucket loads. And that’s just as well because they certainly needed it to build their unique B&B home in Athol.

The vision came years ago in Melbourne, born in the lab where Debbie worked in medical research. Big-city living was taking its toll and a simpler, more connected life became the dream.

They had the skills. Gerry is a builder — Debbie was willing to learn. The land wasn’t a problem; it was waiting for them in Athol, next to Gerry’s father, Jem.

Time was the issue. It took years. Flying back and forth from Melbourne, snatching weeks here and there. Slowly the house took shape — every piece of it carefully crafted by Gerry and Debbie into their forever home. Finally, at last, they quit the city rat race and came permanently to live in Athol.

The Graceland B&B Vision

Debbie and Gerry wanted something out of the ordinary for their country dream. Their vision was clear: a house full of character, built by themselves with sustainable, locally sourced materials.

And that’s exactly what they’ve achieved. Graceland is simply infused with charm and personality. Every piece of the house, inside and out, tells a story.

Grit and Grind

This is one solid house, and everything was done by hand.

“Digging the foundations was one of the hardest things,” says Debbie, remembering just how difficult she found making the reinforcing for the 16 concrete pillars supporting the steel-framed building.

Gerry and Debbie did it all, learning lots of new skills in the process. Tiling, plastering, painting were just a few they needed to master. And sitting with them in the cosy living room, you can tell it’s all been worth the effort.

Wall featuring many hanging car registration plates.
The number plate wall.

Moya Moves In

Back in Melbourne, Moya Flancman was also tired of the big city life. A scientist, originally from Toronto, she too was ready for a move to the country. In her mind, a seed took root planted by conversations with Debbie about their shared dreams.  

“You might as well come and join us,” said Debbie one day.

So Moya did just that.

Uprooted herself from the pharmaceutical world and transplanted her life across “the ditch,” to the half-completed house where she threw herself into the build and the business.

Moya Flancman and Debbie Grace relax on their sitting room sofa.
Moya Flancman (left) and Debbie Grace (right).

Enviro-friendly 

Part of the dream — and the challenge —  was to build the house using sustainable materials. Debbie, in particular, spent hundreds of hours sourcing and collecting the right ones for the job. The locality was a prime consideration: they wanted as many home-grown materials as possible.

Debbie says she felt like a detective going on a treasure hunt as she pored over clues and followed leads to unearth forgotten gems from all over Southland.

They were very lucky with their wood supply. Much of it came from trees felled by Gerry’s father, which they then had milled.

Local rivers proved to be both a source of inspiration and materials, with stones and driftwood collected and used to form integral features of the house.

Barns, backyards, junk shops and more all yielded forlorn-looking treasures that needed a bit of love. Now each rests happily in just the right spot at Graceland.

Some came from further up the South Island. The reclamation centre set up after the earthquakes in Christchurch to store usable materials from damaged hotels in the city proved to be a treasure trove for high-end fixtures and fittings.  

Driftwood decoration hanging in a window.
There are many uses for driftwood in Graceland B&B.

Riverstone Bathroom

The guest bathroom is Debbie’s especial pride and never fails to elicit a gasp from first-time viewers.

Debbie built it out of river stones which she painstakingly cemented into place. She and Moya then spent hours sanding the cement back to reveal the subtle colours and textures of the stones. Lastly, they sealed all the surfaces to create a waterproof floor and walls.

A heater keeps everything toasty warm in winter, so it looks like you’re showering in a river bed, but without the accompanying chill.

Stone-walled bathroom.
The bathroom walls and floor were a labour of love built by Debbie and Moya.

Loving Touches

There are tender touches dotted throughout the house, reminiscent of meaningful people, places and times in its owners’ lives. Among the most precious in the guest bedroom are treasured paintings by Jem Pearse, who was such a talented potter and painter.

If you need a book to while away an hour, the full-size bookshelf has plenty to choose from. Maybe it’s Inspiration you seek? If so, you’ll enjoy reading the banners and quotes all around. At the other end of the scale, car enthusiasts will probably love all the rego plates dotting the fireplace wall.

Bed and painting in the guest bedroom.
The guest bedroom walls feature treasured paintings by Jem Pearse.

Country Challenges

Many city folk have dreams of a “simpler life” in the country but few are prepared for the reality. It’s definitely been an eye-opener and a challenge for these two ladies.

“We certainly have a new appreciation for water and warmth now,” they tell me as Debbie pops another log from their hard-won woodpile into the large wood burner in the lounge.

Getting water into the house was not just a simple matter of connecting pipes to a town supply. Like all Athol houses they were faced with two choices: a rainwater tank or dig a deep bore down to an underwater source and pump it up. Given the recent summer drought, the latter seemed the sensible choice.

Embracing the Self Sufficient Life

Both Debbie and Moya have thrown themselves into country living with gusto and this is reflected in their Bed and Breakfast hospitality.

Food is a high priority.  It was a shock, at first, to realise that country living means you can’t just “pop down to the supermarket every day.” A pantry is essential, and they’ve set about filling theirs with glee.

Reflecting their “self-sufficiency whenever possible” philosophy, the pantry is filled with preserves and juice, with most of the fruit gathered from trees around the local district. Their guests benefit from a choice of beautiful bottled fruits and jams for breakfast.

I can highly recommend a glass of Moya’s apple juice; it’s divine!

Outside, the ladies have established vegetable gardens and a tunnel house. Their lucky free-range hens have the run of the garden and a spacious henhouse which brought the phrase “hen hotel” into my mind. Lucky guests get to eat fresh eggs for breakfast and homegrown vegetables at night.

Pantry shelves filled with jars of bottled fruit.
Moya and Debbie’s bottling efforts: they gather the fruit from local trees.

Gizmo

Undoubtedly the star of the show is Gizmo, who is so popular with guests that he has his own Facebook page. And of course, he like his owners is thriving in Athol.

“This is the best playground in the world for Gizmo,” Moya told me.

It turns out that swimming is Gizmo’s favourite pastime and after his guest-greeting duties are done he gets a well-earned stroll down to the river. Even snow won’t deter Gizmo from his daily dip.

Head and shoulders photo of Gizmo the terrier dog.
Gizmo is very much part of the team.

Connection

Gizmo is part of the connection that guests love about Graceland B&B. Debbie, Moya, and Gerry love spending time with their guests. Their evenings are often spent chatting in the cosy lounge and connecting with people from all over the globe.

Sometimes guests have their own building projects underway and are fascinated with the details of Graceland’s construction. They’ve been known to sit far into the night, swapping stories and tips.

Final Thoughts

I had such a great time meeting Debbie and Moya for this article. Their enthusiasm and love for the house and business is infectious. The kitchen-living area alone is fascinating and there are myriad details to enjoy.

There’s the tale of the stunning photographs which immediately catch the eye (taken in Thailand). And the tale of how the window frame beside the fireplace came to be. Debbie’s latest art projects… Moya’s delicious recipes… fruit harvest stories… garden plans… joining the local volunteer fire brigade… there are so many stories to tell.

I could have spent many more hours in Athol’s Graceland, sipping apple juice and swapping tales, but all good things must come to an end.

A glass of fresh apple juice
Moya’s golden, perfectly clear apple juice.

If you want to connect with Debbie, Moya, and Gerry at Graceland Spa B&B you can find them on:

Facebook

Airbnb

Email: graceland.spa.bandb@gmail.com

Welcome Rock: Trails and Tributes

View of Welcome Rock from a distance.

A Rare and Special Building

There’s an old sod hut nestling high in the mountains above our farm. It’s part of the precious, beautiful landscape now known as Welcome Rock Trails, but it has a special place in our family’s history too.

Since the children were little we’ve made many journeys to this little hut. There’s evidence of our visits etched in the old visitors book: Steph’s 4-year-old handwriting; a long entry from the Brownies we took there on an overnight adventure; signatures from friends and family who’ve joined us over the years.

It’s not an easy trek to the lonely little hut. We could try a bumpy drive in the truck, up and over the rough farm tracks. Sometimes there’s the fun of a trek along the Welcome Rock Trail. But lately we’ve taken to hiking straight up over the mountain from our house to the little heritage hut.

Old Sod Hut on Welcome Rock Trails

Welcome Rock Memories

Every visit to the hut just has to include a trip down the track to Welcome Rock. This huge slate slab, is visible for miles on the mountain and from the valley below. It was once a welcome sight for early travellers and a meeting point for those coming over the mountains from the Nevis, Nokomai and Upper Mataura valleys. That awesome boulder still beckons adventurers today.

For us, there’s always been the thrill of a scramble up the steep sides to conquer the top.  It’s a bit easier nowadays. The lookout has been made safer for cyclists and hikers to climb and see the magnificent views.

There are dozens of Welcome Rock memories, but one special day stands out.  At the turn of the century we made the journey in the dark, all the neighbours gathering with Kit and Des to climb the Rock and greet the first day of the millennium. Solemnly we each pressed carefully-written notes into a Time Capsule, then turned and toasted the dawn. It was a magical morning.

Man standing on Welcome Rock

 

Gold Mining Heritage

There’s no gold in these particular hills, but nevertheless they hold a special place in the rich gold-mining history of the area. There’s gold to the south in the Nokomai Valley, and to the north in the Nevis. But our claim to fame comes from the water race, hand-hewn in the late 1800s to send water to the great sluice guns at the Nokomai Gold Mine. This was the reason Mud Hut was built.

The water race had to be maintained, so Chinese men were stationed in tiny huts at intervals along the way. For nearly 50 years they repaired breaches and rockfalls, stopped weeds from invading and kept the water flowing. Too far away for regular human contact, even with each other, they must have been so lonely perched above the world. For some of them, it cost their lives.

Sharing Past and Present

Dotted all along the remnants of the old water race is other evidence of New Zealand’s gold mining heritage. 150 years later this has become a unique feature of the Welcome Rock Trail, the hand-hewn hiking and mountain biking trail around the mountain top of the O’Brien family’s farm.

The desire to preserve and share the land in this way has been Tom O”Brien’s dream for years now. I remember so well talking with him in 2012 before work on the trail began; seeing the light in his eyes and hearing the passion in his voice as he described the mission he was about to undertake.

Back-Breaking Beginnings

And a mission it has been, make no mistake about that. 22 km of the 27 km trail was made with picks and shovels, a back-breaking job taking two years of effort by Tom and a stream of enthusiastic volunteers.

They came from many lands and all walks of life to join the job: conservation groups, mountain biking clubs, high-school kids, backpacking volunteers and friends. Lured by the promise of time in the high country, and the chance to ride the trail, more than 50 people eventually helped Tom to painstakingly create that first track on the mountain.

Welcome Rock trail goes between two boulders.

Labour and Debate

Can you imagine the blood, sweat and tears that went into building the Welcome Rock Trail? Tom and his co-creator, Gary Patterson spent hours on the mountainside, vigorously debating the merits of each small section.

“Gary would stand at one point,” Tom explains, “and I’d stand 20 or 30 metres away, peering at him through the clinometer (an instrument used to measure gradient.) “The prime considerations were gradient and what felt right in the landscape.”

Tom wanted it to seem like the trail had always been there: a natural part of the landscape. Gary knew that the trail’s gradient must stay between 3 and 5 degrees. The trail you see today reflects both desires, but it wasn’t an easy ride.

“After the shouting stopped, we would each tie markers to the tussocks, to show where we thought the trail should go. Then the problem solving began. Maybe there would be a swamp in the way, a creek to cross or a rock exactly in the wrong place and we had to find a way around, through or over.”

Often they had to compromise  and that’s where the heated discussion began. 

“We argued over every obstacle, each with passionate reasons why our view should prevail,” Tom groans. “Whichever solution we reached, I knew it meant extra hours of pick and shovel work for me.

The Future Beckons

Development of the trail and business still continues today.  There are now three places where you can sleep overnight and experience the charms of high-country life, the Red Barn on the farm and two little huts high in the hills. The original Mud Hut nestles beside the water race  and the new, purpose-built Slate Hut snuggles near Welcome Rock. Each gives a unique night’s stay to people craving peace, solitude and the chance to have a hot bath under the stars.

The outside bath at Slate Hut on Welcome Rock Trails.
All photo credits: Jenny McNamee

There have been plenty of hikers and bikers in the past four years. More Trails are planned, and race days too. The annual “Welcome Rock Brew Chop” race is always fun while November’s Trail Race is increasingly popular.

A huge opportunity’s coming  in 2019 for those souls who love the challenge of extreme adventure. Excitingly, the grueling “Revenant Ultra Run” will make its New Zealand debut at Welcome Rock Trails in January that year.

Thank You Tom

I love this family, and I love what they’ve done with the treasured land which has been entrusted to them. Years ago they protected it as a conservation block.  Now they’ve opened it up to those who want to experience the New Zealand high country for themselves. This is indeed a special piece of Southland. 

Hankering after time on the trail? Find out how to connect with Tom and Katie below:

Welcome Rock Trails  

Facebook

TripAdvisor

Photos (except trail map) from Jenny McNamee of Postcard Puzzles

 

Living The Dream At Craft Keepers

Craft Keepers Dream

We all have dreams, but not everyone manages to follow them quite as thoroughly as Tabatha Davison. Just three years ago she was working in Queenstown, travelling the weekend market circuit, and dreaming of life in the country. Today Tabatha’s the proud owner of Craft Keepers here in Garston, where she not only makes and sells her own jewellery but also houses a wonderful collection of arts and crafts.

Southern Made

Walking into Craft Keepers is a visual delight; your eyes are drawn to so many artfully-displayed creations it’s hard to know where to look first. What’s most appealing is the authentic nature of the crafts.

“Every piece is created in Otago or Southland,” Tabatha explains. “When customers ask about the maker, I love to tell those little details that make each piece of work so special.”

It’s hard to resist such enthusiasm so I dive in and ask. I collect gorgeous coffee mugs so naturally that’s where I begin.

“Isn’t it lovely,” Tabatha smiles, picking up a mug. “Even the clay comes from Southland. They are beautifully balanced and the colours are just gorgeous.”

 

Gorgeous Gifts

There is so much to choose from in this crafty converted container that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Created While You Watch

Not only is Craft Keepers a haven of lovely arts and crafts, it’s also Tabatha’s workshop and most days you’ll discover her creating beautiful jewellery there. I’m drawn to the delicate silver chains, but Tabatha’s favourites are the costume pieces.     

“I’ve always loved the flair and variety of costume,” she says. “It’s so easy to be experimental and out there.”

Tabatha’s customers certainly love the Craft Keepers experience. Locals pop in to buy gifts and tourists visit for the perfect NZ-made souvenir. There’s increasing repeat trade from those who regularly travel the busy Te Anau-Queenstown state highway too.

Tabatha Davison outside Craft Keepers.
Come on in.

See For Yourself

Tabatha’s got a great thing going at Craft Keepers. She’s brought the creative, collaborative vibe of the markets into the middle of Garston.  The next time you need a gift or souvenir with style, don’t rush to a giant impersonal store. Think small, think local and pop into Craft Keepers. You won’t be disappointed.

Find Craft Keepers

ON  FACEBOOK

AT: The Container, Garston-Athol Highway, Southland