Bridging The Kawarau Falls

The new Kawarau Falls bridge.

Kawarau Dreams and Nightmares

If you’re a tourist, or new to Queenstown you probably sweep over the new Kawarau Falls bridge without giving it a second thought.

But I never take it for granted. In fact, I’m still pinching myself to check that it’s real.

Why?

Because trying to cross the old one-way bridge used to be a nightmare.

For years we called it a bridge, but the old girl was actually a dam.  Although, she never quite managed to stop the river water flowing.

Here’s how it happened.

There’s Gold In That River

Back in the day, there was gold galore around Queenstown. Some made fortunes — others lost everything. But, like we do today, people were always on the lookout for the next big thing.

Further down the Kawarau River miners worked hard to pan the alluvial gold. But many were convinced that there was a fortune in gold-bearing rock on the riverbed.

Unfortunately, the river was always too full and fast to get it out.

Someone had a bright idea. “Let’s dam the falls,” they suggested. “The water level will fall. Then we’ll get the gold.”

What could possibly go wrong?

So, in 1924, they began building 10 massive gates between sturdy concrete pillars over the Kawarau Falls. The engineers planned to get the job done in months but that was never a realistic target. In reality, the dam took two years to build.

Actually, I think two years was a pretty good effort. With all today’s modern equipment it seemed to take an eternity to build our newest bridge.

In August, 1926 the great day arrived.  

In front of a huge crowd of spectators engineers lowered the gates and the river level dropped… but not for long.

A ‘Dammed’ Expensive Mistake

Somehow, in the rush for gold the engineers had forgotten a rather important fact. Downstream was the equally gold-rich Shotover River busily emptying all its water into the Kawarau.

So, it didn’t take long for the Shotover to fill up the riverbed once more.

Imagine their dismay when the river only dropped a metre which was nowhere near enough to get the gold.

Reluctantly, the engineers admitted defeat. They raised the gates and the Kawarau River flowed free once more.

As a dam, it was a costly failure, but it had a silver lining. At last, there was an easy link between Frankton and the rich farming country to the south.

The old Kawarau Falls Dam
The old Kawarau Falls dam and bridge, taken from the lakeside trail.

Traffic Flows and Traffic Woes

So now it made sense to build a road around the lake to Kingston. In 1936 that road was finished and the dam took on a new role.

It was never intended to be crossed by cars and trucks. So we’ll have to give a shout out to the dam’s designers, engineers and maintenance crews. Because cars, campervans, trailers and trucks all crossed over that dam bridge every day for 92 more years.

But it was hell to use in rush hour.

Then, the traffic inched along without a break. Bad luck if you were going against the flow. I’ve been stuck there a long time waiting for someone to stop and let me across.

Eventually, the powers-that-be installed some traffic lights.

They were a mixed blessing. Sure it was easier to cross in busy times – but it made your blood boil to be staring at a red light when NOTHING was coming the other way.

Even tales of woe have their funny side.

Most locals have a story to tell about driving over the old bridge. I happened to meet a friend out walking one day, and he told me a funny old tale.

Not so long before he retired, Ivan — an Athol farmer of many years —  drove himself up the snowy road to the High Country Farmers Winter Conference.

But, as he crossed the narrow bridge his old car skidded on the slippery boards.

Luckily he didn’t crash through the rails and into the river.

Unluckily, the car stopped dead: neatly wedged across the middle of the one-way bridge. Oops!

Long lines of traffic banked up as far as the eye could see on both sides of the bridge while shivering rescuers worked to free our unfortunate farmer.

Bad enough to have an accident, but worse was to come.

Next day, newspaper reports told of emergency services rushing to rescue the elderly man whose car had caused the delay.

Ivan was mortified about skidding, and sheepish about all the fuss. But mostly he was furious at the reporter who dared to call him ELDERLY.

Finally They Began The New Bridge

In 2016 McConnell Dowell started the sweeping new bridge. And we discovered a whole new level of traffic-jam-pain.

If your trip was early or late — you’d be fine. But, at peak times you had two options.

1) Leave an hour early… OR

2) Get caught in a traffic jam.  

At least the locals were forewarned. Sitting in the queue I used to wonder how many unwary travellers had missed their flights because they were stuck on the bridge?

We waited and watched through the months as the new bridge slowly took shape.

Trees were felled. Temporary decks came and went. They drilled piles… built piers… rolled out new decking and finally — FINALLY — on May 10th, 2018 they took all the cones and barriers away. At last we could drive, unobstructed, over our brand new bridge.

However, the historic dam was being restored too — and there was still plenty of work to finish. Resurface the deck. Strengthen and paint. Build underpasses and paths to connect everything together. Slowly, it all came together.

It Was Worth The Pain

It felt like forever, but finally everything is finished.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the people who dedicated long hours to getting this momentous job done and dusted!

One fine April day I wandered over the two bridges — old and new — to see how things have changed.

Cyclists riding on the underpass of the new Kawarau Falls Bridge

This new underpass makes it a breeze for cyclists to cross under the bridge.
Bike Trail beside the Kawarau river.

From the Frankton side the underpass leads onto a narrow above the river. A few minutes ride will take you onto the Queenstown Cycle Trail.
View from under the new Kawarau Falls Bridge

On the south side, the underpass goes right down to river level.
Spectacular view of the old and new bridges.

I discovered a little winding path up the hill towards Kelvin Heights. It leads to a lookout which gives a spectacular view of the two bridges.

It was fun discovering all the old and new additions to this part of the Queenstown Trails. If you’ve got an hour to spare, why not give it a go yourself.

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Kiwi Saffron: Proudly Growing In Southland

A single saffron flower in the paddock.

Kiwi Saffron’s Steve and Jo Daley are as down-to-earth as any couple you’re likely to meet. He’s originally from Te Puke – think Kiwifruit and beekeeping. She’s from pioneer Southern farming stock. With those backgrounds, as you can imagine, they’re not afraid of a bit of work.

And that’s just as well because as well as caring for cows on the farm, beekeeping and contract fencing, Steve and Jo are the hard-working duo behind this small, but increasingly successful, organic saffron company.

Infographic - What Is Saffron?

In The Beginning

Jo and Steve learned the saffron-growing-ropes by initially growing the flowers on contract. This allowed them to focus on learning the best growing and drying techniques without worrying about selling their small crop.

But, when they got the opportunity to buy the whole business, that’s when the learning challenge really took off. After all, it’s one thing to grow a crop but marketing was a whole new world.

So when the Daleys took over Kiwi Saffron, Jo plunged headlong into the business world of websites, customer service, compliance, supermarkets etc. Steve, meanwhile, concentrated on growing the very best saffron in the world.

Right from the outset, the Daleys knew they wanted to grow organic saffron. So respect is a value they apply to every aspect of their business. It means they care for their soil, saffron, workers and their customers.

A row of saffron flowers.
Organic saffron flowers blooming in Te Anau.

Going Organic

To build up the saffron paddock they began by working tonnes of compost into the soil. This became a dark, luscious plot teaming with worms and microbes. Just the sort of healthy bed that saffron corms thrive in.

Steve and Jo hand-planted their 40,000 corms and waited. Weeds grew. The saffron stayed dormant. They weeded the plot (still by hand) — and waited.

More weeds grew. And more! This was becoming a bit much.

They had to weed the planted rows by hand to avoid disturbing the precious corms. But surely there was an easier way to weed between them?

Spraying was out of the question, and there was no money to buy fancy, new machinery.

What’s more, re-using is an integral part of the Enviro concept. Was there a DIY solution? Yes, there was.

Steve Invents The Saffron Scuffler

The first time I met Steve was when we sold him an old potato scuffler. Saffron corms are not potatoes, of course, but Steve’s inventive mind was filled with possibilities.

Hours of tinkering later he had a great little tool to tow between the saffron rows. Now he could remove the weeds without spraying or compacting the soil.

But, it is a tight fit for the scuffler between the rows.

That can cause a few problems, because for much of the year the saffron is dormant. That means you can’t see it in the paddock. Weeds, however, grow all year round.

To solve that problem, there are white markers up and down the rows so Steve can see where they are. But the scuffler’s such a tight fit that he has to concentrate on always keeping a perfect line. It’s amazing how well he manages – most of the time.

“I always know when Steve has gone off course with the scuffler and dug up the corms instead of the weeds. I can see the look on his face a mile away,” Jo says.

So out they go, to replant the row by hand. Luckily, the corms are forgiving things and aren’t usually worried about the disturbance. Neither is Jo. She knows these things happen.

Steve and Jo Daley picking saffron in Garston.
Steve and Jo Daley. Picking saffron is a twice-daily job at this time of year. They tell me that some years so many flowers come up at once you can sit in one spot to fill your bucket. But this year, the flowers have been shy and sporadic so you have to walk up and down the rows from flower to flower. It makes for a long harvesting season when they bloom so slowly.

Kiwi Saffron — Proudly BioGro Certified

In 2015 they took a huge step forward by applying to be organically certified. It’s one thing to say you’re organic, but certification is a whole ‘nother level.  But as Jo and Steve don’t see any other certified organic saffron in the NZ market at this point it’s worth it to go that extra mile.

We took the plunge to go organic in 2015 and approached BioGro. That process would normally take four years, but of course, we’d been growing organically right from the start.

“We did all the soil tests and fulfilled all those requirements that they asked us to do for compliance. Then we got our first audit and because we could prove all our documentation for the previous two years they were able to credit us with those two years. So we had full certification in 2017.

The cost of certification is a lot and that puts people off. BioGro is proactive about helping people to spread that cost, which we appreciated.”

Placing saffron stigmas on the dehydrating trays.
All the stigmas are plucked out of their flowers and placed on dehydrator racks ready for drying. At this stage, you can use bare hands, but once the saffron is dry you have to wear gloves so that oil from your fingers doesn’t touch the delicate spice. As soon as it’s dry, Jo and her helpers will weigh the saffron and package it ready for sale.

Farm To Table — Proudly Local

When I asked Jo if Kiwi Saffron was part of the Farm to Table movement she answered “Absolutely!”

Farm to table is all about keeping things local. These growers concentrate on growing organically and minimising their impact on the environment.

How Kiwi Saffron Manages Minimal Impact

Infographic: Treading lightly on the land.

Their location is key, too. All their willing helpers (WWOOFers) are coming to Te Anau and Milford Sound anyway so there’s no extra travel involved.

Luckily, if you want to buy this gorgeous spice but you don’t live in Te Anau there’s no need to panic. Kiwi Saffron now features in selected supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

They also have you covered with a prompt mail order service which you can find on their website.

Saffron Comes To Garston

Naturally, Saffron corms multiply over the years, and eventually you have to dig them up. Steve has replanted many of them at Te Anau, and some are available for sale too, but this year he is looking further afield.

Early in January Steve planted a trial crop of saffron on our farm. We’ve loved seeing the process from beginning to end.

It’s a big bed but we didn’t have to plant by hand, thank goodness. Sticking with his DIY genes Steve adapted an onion planter and turned it into a saffron-sowing machine.

So the corms were planted, and then … nothing happened. We’re used to grass, barley, oats and even hops where you can see things growing. But saffron remains coyly hidden until the lowering air temperature gives it a nudge.

Then just before Easter, voila! Overnight the flowers appeared.

There won’t be much saffron from our patch this year —  the corms are too new for that — but there are advantages to that. Each corm gets to concentrate on growing just one flower, so the red stigmas on our flowers are thick, glossy and vibrantly red.

Of course, we’re not organic, so our saffron will be an extra drop in the bucket of Kiwi Saffron’s slightly cheaper, non-organic range which is supplied by contract growers. It has, however,  had the same care and attention as the Te Anau crop and we’ll be excited to see the test results when they eventually come back.

Spreading The Word

It’s exciting to grow your business but many people find publicity the hardest part to do.

The only thing that Jo hates more than having her photo taken is public speaking. But you’d never know that from the way she’s taken it in her stride, as you can see in Jubb Studio’s lovely Kiwi Saffron video.


Catch a fascinating glimpse into Steve and Jo’s world in “Kiwi Saffron Te Anau” from My Southland Story.

More Stories On The Blog

Saffron is the latest innovation on our farm, but it’s by no means the only one. You can read about our other ideas in:

And Southland has many people like Steve and Jo. Ordinary Kiwis who are following their dreams.

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Buzzstop Honey Centre: Loving Our Bees

The beautiful Buzzstop Woolshed

The little Buzzstop honey sign sits on Queenstown’s busy state highway. The traffic streams past unaware that just over the paddock lies a sweet, rural delight. Recently, I went to visit Nick Cameron of Buzzstop Honey Centre to get the buzz on his latest venture.

A Tale Of One Woolshed

The old girl was sagging at the seams. 70-years worth of bird droppings encrusted every beam. An ancient smell of sheep wafted up through the open floor grating. Even in the thin winter light, Nick could see the thick piles of dung below. He kicked at the thin, slippery boards which covered the floor.

“Whose crazy idea was this, anyway?” he grumbled.

“Yours, mate” the others chorused, hoisting the wheeled scaffold through the gaping doorway.

Nick clambered up the ladder, heaved the first bucket of hot soapy water and disinfectant up behind him and took out his scrubbing brush. It was time to start work.

Buzzstop’s Restoration Begins

Not everyone can take a derelict building and realize its possibilities. But Nick Cameron had a bee business idea buzzing in his brain. In fact, he’d been looking for the right place for months.

When he spotted the old woolshed Nick knew his search was over. Covered in grime, sure, but the rural location was perfect. And it was only 2 minutes drive from Queenstown’ s international airport. Now he just had to muster up the courage to approach its owners.

Perhaps the Grant family were surprised to find a complete stranger knocking on their door asking for their woolshed. But Nick’s enthusiasm is contagious so they came on board.

Flooring Matters

Looking at Buzzstop’s gorgeous wood and concrete floor you’d have no idea of the work that went into it.

In winter, it was horrible. To clean this I was in here with no power, in the middle of winter, with the wind just charging through. On my hands and knees with a hammer and chisel.

The grimy grating of a woolshed floor.
This is where the sheep stand while they wait to be shorn. That’s why the floor is a grating, so their dung can fall through the gaps. But the grime grinds into the boards. I would hate to try and clean this grating in our woolshed.

But cleaning was only the first part of the job. The whole expanse then had to be lined underneath with plywood.

The renovated wood and concrete Buzzstop floor.
Nick and his helpers poured the concrete by hand.  Next came the sanding, then grinding. They took the whole lot back to the hardwood before finally coating and polishing it.

“Looking at it now,” says Nick, “you’ve got no idea of the hard work that went into it. It was epic.”

Returning To His Beekeeping Roots

Nick grew up with beekeeping in his blood. Over 100 years ago his mother’s family began tending hives in Otago’s Ida Valley. And the family’s passion has continued through the generations.

“My grandfather’s 93 and still kicking. He was a beekeeper as a lad and his father was a beekeeper before him. My brother is a beekeeper as well.” But Nick had no ambition to join the “family firm.”

Aged 17 he got his first job as a guide and loved it. That combination of interacting with people and being outdoors was Nick’s dream lifestyle. So he began to travel the world as an adventure guide.  

Eventually, Nick landed in Sydney. He set up business offering Whale watching and rigid inflatable tours. Guiding on the sea sounds perfect, so what brought him home to Queenstown?

A lady, of course.

“I met my wife, Trace, on Manly wharf. She was from Stewart Island. One of us had to give, so I sold up my business and moved back to New Zealand.”

And that was when Nick’s beekeeping roots kicked in, and the Buzzstop story began.

Buzzstop Honey Centre Sign

Building The Buzzstop Concept

Nick’s vision was clear. He could see there was a tailor-made niche for him, combining beekeeping with guiding.

I could see so many shops selling honey, but we wanted to add in experiences … to give people the back story of how the honey got into the jar.

People are beginning to care about where their food comes from. At the same time, as more and more of us cram into cities, we actually know less and less about it.

But there’s even more to it than that. These tiny heroes have a critical role to play as pollinators.  Without them many of our current food plants are unlikely to survive. So Buzzstop’s mission is very much about encouraging knowledge and respect for bees.

Being a parent of young children himself, Nick also wanted a place where everyone could feel at home. So he created a garden for adults and children to enjoy.

Buzzstop garden and trampoline
This was once 2 sheep pens full of 8 foot high weeds and took 6 months to clear and plant out. Hard to imagine now, but easy for everyone to enjoy. Most of the plants are bee-friendly — think manuka, thyme and lavender to name a few — and are part of Buzzstop’s learning experience.

What’s In The Buzzstop Experience?

Nick and his team have such a variety of bee experiences at Buzzstop. Surely there’s something for everyone here.

Beekeeper suits and observation hives.
  • Eat And Enjoy

Buzzstop is not exactly a cafe: they don’t have a kitchen and bring in most of their food from local eateries. But they do have a few specialities which the staff make onsite. Light and tasty Belgian waffles are one, and delicious homegrown salads are another.

  • Drink ROAR Coffee

“We’ve got good baristas and people will go the extra distance to get good coffee,” says Nick. “We wanted something that wasn’t here already so we were ROAR’s first outlet in Queenstown.”

Honey spinning and maker spaces

Thanks To The Grant Family

Nick is beyond grateful to the Grant family who have allowed him to run with his Buzzstop vision.

“They’ve been very supportive… they’re happy and I’m stoked. They’ve been great.”

Buzzstop works beautifully with its next door neighbour, The Barn.

This charming little shop has been on Hansen Road for nine years. Inside there’s an eclectic mix of vintage and new furnishings. Wander in a little further too. You’ll find rooms of clothes, gorgeous knickknacks and more. It reminded me of Aladdin’s cave, alas without the gold.

Nick Cameron in his honey crafts space.
Nick in the Buzzstop Maker space.

Just Getting Started

2018-19 is just Season One for Buzzstop. They’re still growing and getting their name out there. But Nick has big plans.

“So far, we’ve only had bee tours onsite. That’s all I’ve had time for. But over winter we’ll try to get ourselves some wheels. I’ve got some really nice apiaries set up in beautiful scenic spots and that’s where we’d like to take people next.”

Driving out to see the apiaries around rural Queenstown would be awesome, but Nick’s also got some high-end plans.

“We’re also hoping to partner with local helicopter companies,” he says,  “to fly people to our hives in more remote locations such as Mt Nicholas Station, or Halfway Bay.”

Buzzstop Is Keeping It Local And Real

Nick may have big plans for visitors but he’s focused on serving local tastes too.

“For a long time Queenstowners had no way to access local honey but now they can find it here,” he says. You can too — the shelves are full of honey jars from small, family-run honey businesses all over Otago.

He has other local initiatives too.

There are plans afoot to open a Community Apiary in Spring, 2019. How good would that be? You could keep your hive there and get help whenever you need it.

Nick and his team are doing a great job of bringing bees with a difference to Queenstown.

Next time you’re there, buzz in and check them out.

Local honey sold at Buzzstop
One of many shelves full of local honey products at the Buzzstop Honey Centre

Address and Contact details

Address: Hansen Road, Queenstown, New Zealand

Website: https://www.buzzstop.co.nz

Email: tours@buzzstop.co.nz

Phone: 021 942 808

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Athol Valley Market: A Delightful Day Out

The Athol Valley Market is a welcome addition to the summer scene in the Upper Mataura Valley villages. I went along to talk to local organiser Amanda McMillan about her latest venture.

Athol Valley – A Community Market

At the heart of a local market is the sense of community. People want to come together and support their local artisans and businesses. It’s less about dashing in and out to grab groceries and more about lingering to chat and chill.

And that perfectly describes the laid back vibe of the Athol Valley Market and its host The Hide. In fact,  Amanda and Hide owner Meegan have a shared goal to support local enterprises and the diverse community found within the Upper Mataura Valley.

Meegan, Amanda and cheese at the Athol Valley Market.
Meegan and Amanda with The Hide’s latest delicious offering. You can buy Gibbston Valley Cheeses at the Athol Valley Market on Sundays and at The Hide every day of the week.

This cosy market is for all the locals of Athol, Garston, Kingston and beyond as well as the passers-by who know a good thing when they see it. Most Sundays you’ll see tourists, as well as locals, browsing the stalls, and relishing the opportunity to stop and shop.

Indian bags at Hillary's Athol Valley Market stall.
Hillary’s an Athol local. When she left India she stocked up on sturdy, beautiful Indian bags which she now sells at local markets. These colourful bags are hard to resist.

Talented Locals Offer Their Wares

The stall holders are a varied bunch and the goods on offer change from week to week. You never know quite what you’ll get at the Athol Valley Market.

Vegetables for sale at the Athol Valley Market.
Gardens Without Borders: Recently relocated from busy Queenstown to laid-back Lumsden, Josie’s just starting out on her gardening dreams. I love the philosophy behind her passion and her produce was so fresh and inviting, I wanted to buy the lot!

Fresh food stalls are the stars of a local market. The fruit, vegetables and eggs stalls have come and gone as summer became autumn. Some gardeners’ produce is coming to an end but Matt Menlove has been a stalwart, bringing his sweet honey and garden vegetables to sell every week.

Stall holders Brie and Matt with their local honey for sale at the market.
There’s no shortage of honey around the Upper Mataura Valley, thanks to an enthusiastic group of local beekeepers. Matt Menlove and young Brie are often found selling their sweet jars at the Athol Valley Market.

The local children have had their first taste of business this summer, too. They’ve industriously set up a wide-ranging variety of stalls over the season.

We’ve seen honey, vegetables, flower bulbs, cakes, sweets, toys, face painting and — winning the prize for most unusual child stall — painted rocks, kina and paua shells for sale.

Hunter manning his stall at the busy Athol Valley Market.
I’m not sure which is more winning, the produce or the kids’ beguiling smiles but they all seem to have gone home happy.

All In It Together

One thing that Amanda’s learned while organising her first market season is that market people are a helpful lot. She’s been chatting to market organisers from markets around the area and they’ve given her many tips of the trade. She’s incredibly grateful for their help, because organising a weekly market is no easy task.

Rob, Jan and slippers at the Athol Valley Market.
Kozi Toez: Handcrafted Footwear for the Whole Family
Rob and Jan from Dipton sell their handcrafted, sheepskin, wallaby or possum-fur slippers online and at markets all around Southland and beyond, They inherited their pattern from its 92-year-old creator and are proud to be able to continue his tradition.

If you haven’t taken the chance to chill out at the Athol Valley Market over the past few Sundays take heart. There are still a few market days to come. Amanda and Meegan are hopeful that the sunny days will hold and the market can continue till Easter.

The Robinson Family with Robbies sauces and pickles.
Robbies Pickles and Preserves
Josie Robinson, from Tuturau makes pickles, relishes and sauces — mostly from organic ingredients. First-time customers quickly become raving fans. You can find Robbies online or at many of the markets around Southland-Otago.

So pick up your purse and cruise on down to the Athol Valley Market this Sunday.

Take in a little food, chill to the music, soak up the sun – or shade – and take the chance to buy fresh food, art and crafts or that little luxury you’ve always wanted.

We’d love to see you there.

Update: Motors At The Market

Amanda’s been experimenting with themed days at the Athol Valley Market over the summer. She had a great response from restored vehicle enthusiasts for her Motors at the Market Sunday in March. Here are just a few of the beauties on display.

More Athol Stories To Enjoy

Craft Keepers is a cute little container store full to the brim of locally-made crafts and The Coffee Bomb is even tinier – a trailer selling delicious coffee, burgers and snacks. Both businesses may be in Garston but their owners are Athol locals. You can read Tabatha’s and Kylie’s stories here on the blog.

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Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

Shane Matheson: Training Horses With Love

Shane Matheson trains racehorses — pacers to be precise. I could say he does it in his spare time, but he really doesn’t have any.

I’ve never been to a racing stables before but I’m fascinated by the whole horse training process. So it was thrilling to visit Shane and his partner Lisa at their Balfour stables to find out what makes a racehorse trainer tick.

A Good Trainer Knows His Horses

Shane Matheson shares a quiet moment with his horse after training.
Shane Matheson shares a quiet moment with his horse Charlton Reactor after training.

It’s easy to tell that Shane Matheson loves to train horses.

He speaks about them the way a good teacher talks about the children in their class. You can hear love and affection, frustration and pride. And, most of all, a deep understanding of each individual personality and what makes them tick.

The frustration comes from seeing potential go unrealised.

“I know it’s in there,” he says of one horse. “It’s just how to help him get it out.”

But that’s a skill that Shane has honed over years, and it seemed to me that he is pretty good at it.

Horses And Sheep — Somehow Shane Does It All

Racehorse training is a time-consuming life, and yet only the big guns can afford to make it a career. Smaller trainers have to fit the horse work around their other full-time jobs.

We see Shane several times a year, when he brings his crutching trailer to the farm.

Shane Matheson at his day job: crutching sheep on the trailer.

When you crutch a sheep you shear around their back end and legs. It clears off any dirt or dags and helps to keep the sheep clean. Most farmers can do it themselves, but for big mobs, it’s easier to call in experts like Shane and Lisa with their crutching trailer.

Crutching sheep day after day is hard physical work — and the travel time takes its toll too. Shane and Lisa start early and often arrive home late.

But no matter how full of sheep the day is, they always have time for their horses.

How Do They Do It?

That’s why on most days of the week you’ll find Shane rolling out of bed at four in the morning. His first priority is always feeding the horses. Then, all too soon, it’s time for the truck and crutching trailer to roll out the gate.

Usually the horses are out in the paddocks — they thrive on being outside with freedom to move. It gives Shane extra distance to cart the feed buckets, but less time mucking-out the stables.

However, dishing out up to 17 breakfasts isn’t the only morning chore.

“The horses need to build up their fitness,” he explained, “so they go jogging most days.”

A Racing Stable Needs A Team

Shane doesn’t have the time to exercise the horses in the morning. So, usually, friend and neighbour Jane Orr comes in to help.

“We simply couldn’t do it without Jane,” Lisa told me, and Shane nodded a fervent agreement.

Jane and Lisa are largely responsible for keeping the horses fit.

Separately or together, they hitch the horses to the jogging trailer which tows behind the ute. That way they can lead up to seven horses around the track at the same time.

Each one needs between 10 and 30 minutes of jogging time a day depending on their stage of fitness.

You can see how getting fit could take a good chunk out of the morning.

Lisa and Shane’s son Tristan is another vital team member. With so many of their daylight hours taken up with crutching, Tristan’s often the one you’ll find doing the night-time feeding round.

The teamwork continues onto race days as well. Sadly, for Shane, he often finds himself crutching on racing days while Lisa does the trainer duties at the track. That’s where 19-year-old Tristan comes to the rescue once more, by taking Lisa’s place as chief rousie and sheep-mover.

Training On The Home Track

Of course, Shane would rather be in the sulky than crutching sheep so each day he’s the one you’ll find behind the harness doing the training runs. The horses love their newly-sanded home track. Since Balfour’s so far inland this is the closest they’ll get to training on the beach.

There are many things for a pacer to learn, but the most important is to love the whole experience.

Shane Matheson in the sulky training a horse on his home track.

It’s exhilarating to watch a horse and sulky zoom past at close range on the practice track. I bet Shane is feeling it even more in the sulky.

Keeping The Horses Fed And Happy

Every trainer has his own magic mixture to feed his horses. Shane’s includes crushed barley, Betabeet, various oils and plenty of seaweed.

Seaweed is said to prevent mud fever* in horses. Shane can’t swear that’s true. But he can say that the horses haven’t had mud fever since he started them on seaweed.

The horses may be lucky enough to spend much of their time in paddocks but they’re still fed morning and night.  And not all the horses get the same mixture.

What they eat depends on a whole lot of other factors. This one’s ready to race; that one’s looking off-colour. Another horse is pregnant… each one has a different brew.

And occasionally a new horse will arrive with some interesting foibles.

Shane pointed to the farthest-away tree in the paddock.

“One horse would only eat over there when he first arrived,”

It’s the coldest, windiest spot on the farm. But every morning Shane had to lug the heavy feed bucket across the wet grass to that chosen tree. In every other spot the horse turned up his nose.

“We got him out of that habit pretty quick, Shane admitted. “He’ll eat anywhere, now.”

Where Do They Come From?

It’s expensive to own and train a racing horse and many people want their horses to win early on. So quite a few of the Matheson’s horses are ‘cast outs’ from bigger stables.


Shane, on the other hand, takes a longer view.

We went to see another horse who’d lately arrived at Shane’s stables a little depressed and refusing to eat. Now, he gobbles his food along with the best of them.

“The potential’s there,” Shane said.

“But this year my priority is getting him fit, healthy and enjoying himself. We’ll give him lots of joyful experiences now so that he’ll be raring to go out and reach that potential.”

We watched as Shane harnessed him into the training sulky. “I’m not sure how he’s going to go,” he admitted. “This is his first run in a while.”

Shane must already be working his magic. Two minutes later that horse was flying around the track and loving every minute of it.

2004 — A Race To Remember

When you’re running late something is bound to go wrong. Take the day that Happy Gilmore was entered into the Tuapeka Cup.

“We got a speeding ticket dashing through Clinton.”

That’s enough to put anyone in a tizzy, but worse followed on the Dunedin motorway. Happy Gilmore began rearing in the box.

You can’t scream to a halt in a horse box, and by the time Shane had pulled over Happy Gilmore’s leg was completely stuck, and his stablemate was not impressed.

“So we had take the other horse out — with cars zooming past — so we could manoeuvre the leg back out.”

It was no easy task.

“By the time we finished he was holding up his leg, looking really sorry for himself. And I thought ‘Damn, we’ll have to scratch him.’”

But they still had another horse — and his race came first.

Gradually, Happy Gilmore seemed to improve so into the sulky he went. Horse and driver galloped off down the course. Enough was enough! Shane decided to go for a drink.

As it turned out, it was just as well he did.

Happy Gilmore refused to settle. The stipes (stewards) decided that Shane would have to withdraw him from the race. So the call went out over the loudspeaker: “Shane Matheson, report immediately.”

In the bar, Shane was oblivious to the fracas holding up the whole race.

Eventually the driver took matters into his own hand and galloped the horse back to the start. This time, as soon as racing got underway, Happy Gilmore paced beautifully.

And, in the best of horseracing traditions, after all that, he won the race.

What’s Next For Shane

Shane’s cautiously excited about his current team — both horse and human.

He can’t say enough about Sheree Tomlinson, his regular driver, and with good reason. Sheree’s the top junior driver in Australasia, and Shane thanks his lucky stars that she’s an integral part of his racing team.

The horses are pacing out of their skins too.

Hurricane Banner set the scene at Gore on February 9th with a come-from-behind win in the last race of the day.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Shane standing with his horse Hurricane Banner.
Shane and Hurricane Banner relaxing at home before the big race.

Reading More On The Blog

Shane’s day job is running a busy crutching trailer business. He’s an expert who makes our farming lives easier by doing the job quicker and better than we ever could. You can read more about life on the farm here.

Our communities are full of people who bring great things into the world by following their dreams. Some create beautiful or useful things. Others – like Shane – bring joy through sport or entertainment. Still more own small businesses which serve others with useful and innovative products. You can read some of their stories here.

“The Shane and Jane Show” by Harness Link

Sheree Tomlinson at the 2018 Australasian Young Driver’s Championship

*Mud fever causes irritation and dermatitis on a horse’s legs. Wikipedia, as usual, has a comprehensive explanation.

Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life?

Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

The Great Rides App: Gary Patterson

The Tracks We Take

The Great Rides App is the brainchild of Kingston’s Gary Patterson. The app’s a super resource to guide cyclists along the greatest bike trails in New Zealand. It’s a brilliant idea — but where did it come from?

It turns out that Gary’s own trail has been an adventure-filled ride all the way.

Gary Patterson with his cycle and phone using the Great Rides App
Gary Patterson with The Great Rides App.

A Map-Filled Life

Gary Patterson has loved maps as long as he can remember.

“It’s just the way my brain works,” he says. “I’m terrible with names and don’t ask me to tell you anything about the book I read last week. But I can remember every last detail about trails that I rode months ago.”

As a kid, he constantly pored over maps — any sort would do. “I spent ages following the contour lines on topographical maps,” he says.

Given all that, it now seems inevitable that he would do a degree in cartography.


I love that word, cartography. It has that association with history, with crafting maps.

Gary Patterson

Pioneer cartographers have been crafting maps all over the world for centuries and it turns out that Gary has been adding his own adventurous maps to that treasure trove.

From Suit and Tie to Green Fleece and Boots:

Gary Patterson grew up in the Waikato and never dreamed that one day he’d be settling in the South Island. But destiny called when he and his wife Kim decided to take a road trip. As they drove through the tiny township of Fox Glacier Kim turned to Gary.

“We could live here!” she said.

Gary just laughed. After all, they lived in the winterless north, Whangarei to be exact. He had a comfortable job as a planning consultant. What could they possibly do in Fox?

Yet within a year, he’d swapped his suit and tie for a sturdy DOC “green fleece” and he and Kim were firmly ensconced at Fox Glacier.

Most DOC people only manage a year or two in Fox but Gary bucked the trend and spent ten happy years on the West Coast, project managing the huts and tracks and monitoring pest control in the great forests and mountains which surround the area.  

Innovating with GIS

He did have a few frustrations, mainly around the outdated systems he had to use. After a bait mission, Gary might wait weeks to get the data he needed from the busy helicopter pilots.

It was desperately inefficient.

But, if he used GIS (Geographic Information System) software he’d be able to combine mapping and other data. It would be easy to make a quick, detailed analysis. And he could spot any holes that the pilots had missed.

Gary and his manager, Woody,  thought it was a no-brainer to use GIS technology in the delicate environment around Fox — and eventually, the powers-that-be agreed.

And it was also in Fox Glacier that Gary and Kim bought a pair of cheap mountain bikes and started riding wherever they could find a track. Gary didn’t realise it then, but it was a purchase that would change their lives.

To Portugal …

One day Gary ’s mate said, “I’ve got an awesome chance to join a cycle-trail gang in Portugal. Want to come along?”

It turned out to be not just riding a trail but hand-building it from scratch; surely an opportunity too good to miss.

But Gary nearly didn’t get the job.

The application form asked, “How much is your cycle worth for insurance purposes?” Wow, apparently he would be biking the trails he built.

Gary scratched his head. He hadn’t paid much for his slightly battered bike so he guessed $100 and carried on down the form.

“I think you’ve left a 0 off your cycle estimate” came back the reply.

“No,” Gary confirmed. “That’s pretty much what it’s worth”

Later he discovered that they seriously wondered, for a minute, if a $100 bike owner was the right person for this mission.

But his skills and mapping experience won the day and Gary became the team manager of a Kiwi trail-building gang. It wasn’t an easy job wielding a grubber day after day but the remote location and the friendships formed made this an experience beyond words.

… And Beyond!

Building a cycle trail with shovels and grubbers, high in the mountains of Chile.

Trail building by hand — this time not in Portugal but in Chile.

One trail-building job led to another, and each year Gary found himself working in some of the most remote and beautiful locations on the planet. The mountains of Portugal, Canada, NZ, Australia and Patagonia became home, for a while.

In time he was offered his ideal job: the chance to be the “manager of the trail managers.”


“ It was a once-in-a-lifetime job. Who wouldn’t want to ride trail amongst the coffee plantation of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, whiz downhill past cedar giants [in Canada], or bike around remote and pristine glacier lakes in the Patagonia Andes with condors soaring overhead?”

Gary Patterson
Trail-builders on the cycle track in the Chilean mountains, cooking dried bread to make it more palatable.

Cooking dry bread in Patagonia, to make it easier to eat.

But, incredibly, this wasn’t the only job taking Gary abroad. He also had another chance of a lifetime, helping to eradicate pests in the subantarctic islands.

By now somewhat used to extreme temperatures and remote locations, Gary couldn’t resist. So he headed south to the Furious Fifties, home to marine life beyond compare — and the weather to match.

Ridding The Sub Antarctic Of Rodents

Macquarie Island

Rodents were wrecking the delicate ecosystem on Macquarie Island. Gary’s job in the eradication mission was mapping, monitoring and recording what actually took place using GIS software.

“It’s vital not to miss any little pockets of land because of the different rodent ranges,” he told me. “Rats, for example, have a larger range than mice, which tend to stick to one small area. If you happened to miss a pocket where mice were they could easily spread again and ruin all the hard work.”

Administered by Tasmania, Macquarie Island has now been declared predator-free after seven years of monitoring. It’s a magical place, once more filled with elephant seals, penguins and oftentimes foul weather.

“We had eight days work to do on Macquarie,” Gary remembers, “We spent three months there and the winds never let up enough for the helicopters to fly. In the end, we had to leave and go back another time.”

Elephant seals and Gentoo penguins on Macquarie Island.

Gentoo penguins and massive elephant seals on Macquarie Island.

South Georgia

South Georgia — home to spectacular glaciers and teeming with wildlife —  stole Gary’s heart.

The little cemetery and Shackleton's grave at South Georgia Island.

This is the island renowned as Shackleton’s final resting place. He is buried within cooee of the whaling station which saved his life — and that of his crew — during their ill-fated Antarctic expedition. (You can read more about Shackleton here.)

“We had three-ton elephant seals roaring and cavorting in the night, whole pods of whales – seven different kinds. Then you have the penguins!”

Penguin poo, however, was something that Gary could have done without. “You wouldn’t believe how bad a penguin colony can smell.”

But it was the scenery; mountains and huge ice caps which made South Georgia so special — and global warming which made the pest eradication mission so urgent.

With 70% of the island covered in glaciers at that time, the Norwegian rats and other rodents were kept in relatively small, isolated pockets. But with the glaciers shrinking there was a very real danger that the rat populations could join and explode.

Helicopter flying into land on a ship's helipad at South Georgia Island. Glaciers and mountains in the background.

Helicopter coming landing on the HQ ship’s helipad at South Georgia. The island has recently been declared rodent free.

Too Much Travelling

Even the most seasoned travellers can have too much of a good thing and it was hard being away from Kim so much.

One year Gary worked out that he’d spent a month hanging around in planes and airports trying to get from one place to another. And another month just on boats.

Just at that time, Tom O’Brien had a brilliant idea to build a cycle trail at Welcome Rock. What a good excuse to stay home. Gary was delighted to help.

Other New Zealand opportunities followed until one day he found a new venture— one that, despite all his skills — he had never imagined doing.

Developing the Great Rides App

“We were riding the Alps to Ocean trail,” says Gary, and got a bit disoriented. I pulled out my phone thinking ‘There’s bound to be an app for this’ — but there wasn’t.”

So, Gary decided to build one, and The Great Rides App was born.

Gary and Kim Patterson on their cycles GPS mapping the Old Ghost Trail for the Great Rides App.

GPS mapping the Old Ghost Road Track for the Great Rides App.

Working on the App

You wouldn’t believe the work that’s gone into this app. I was spellbound by the detail and I’m not even into biking. It’s such an asset for a modern day trail cyclist.

For the Great Rides App, Gary has ridden and mapped every one of the 22 major New Zealand cycle trails — and eight bonus trails to boot.

Creating it was six months of great adventure and intense work.

“There can be patchy GPS coverage in isolated spots,” he explained. “So I took three trackers which marked the trail every one second. That way if one unit seemed to be ‘off-course’ I knew the other two would be right.”

He also took photos at every point of interest along the way. These, along with Gary’s concise, informative notes are available as part of the app. It’s a phenomenal achievement.

What’s Next For The Great Rides App?

Even once you’ve developed an app it seems there’s a lot of on-going work to do. Gary is now busily updating info, changing pics, and double-checking that all his maps are aligned with those of DOC and his official partner The New Zealand Cycle Trail.

He also maintains the App’s links to the gear, food and accommodation providers along the path of each trail. Gary’s also proving to be quite a prolific writer, as he writes regular articles for several cycling print and online publications.

If You’re A Trail Cyclist, You’ll Love This Free App

Download button for Apple App Store.

More Pattersons On The Blog

Kim Patterson is also a go-getter who knows how to follow her dreams. She’s one half of the talented woodworking duo at The Cusp. You can read about them on Time Of My Life at The Cusp: Graceful Furniture Designs

And, of course, Gary is the co-designer of the Welcome Rock Trail, which also features as a bonus trail on his Great Rides App. You can find Welcome Rock featured on Time Of My Life at Welcome Rock: Trails and Tributes

Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life?

Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.