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.

Find More Queenstown Tales On The Blog

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Back to Basics: Who’s Who on the Revenant?

View over the mountains from Welcome Rock Trails, home of the Revenant

Here’s a quick overview, with all you need to know about The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run… When, What, Who, Where and Links to all the websites.

Nuts and Bolts – What You Need To Know

WHEN:    January 18-20, 2019

WHERE:  Welcome Rock Trails, Garston

WHAT:     The inaugural running of the Revenant, the first-ever race of its kind in New Zealand.                    

WHO…


Race Directors: Leroy de Beer

Leroy de Beer is an ex-military man with a passion for fitness and running. Originally from Pretoria, he owns PT Central  — a gym in Alexandra — as well as being a sought-after long-distance-running coach. Now, with his new business Off The Grid Events NZ first race, Leroy’s causing waves of excitement in the running community with the Revenant’s extreme challenge.

Scott Worthington

Scott Worthington’s a businessman and longtime runner, Ironman and Adventurer. Originally from Auckland, Scott and his family now love to call Alexandra their home.

He’s passionate about the outdoors and loves the synergy between The Revenant race and Welcome Rock Trails. You can read more of Scott’s story at Behind the Revenant.

Want to see a little bit more of The Revenant and its directors? Leroy and Scott give a few clues in their Race Hints video series here on Facebook.

Competitors

Many of the names of the hardy souls who’ve been selected for entry into this inaugural Adventure Run are currently a secret, but they’re a diverse bunch of men and women from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the USA.

I’ve heard hints that one’s a professional cyclist. Others are runners or come from the Ironman fraternity. Some are from the military, others are passionate Adventure racers. I’m willing to bet there’s at least one who’s raced in the Godzone before.

All will be revealed at the race briefing on January 18th.

SPECIAL UPDATE: Meet the competitors at the Garston Hotel from 4pm Thursday, 17th January.  

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet these legends of adventure.

Hosts/Venue: Tom and Katie O’Brien and Welcome Rock Trails

Welcome Rock Trails is a unique and special part of the Southland High Country. Within its boundaries, you’ll find almost every sort of terrain available in this area — river, mountain, bush, tussock, valley and a special history that’s been loving preserved and celebrated in the creation of the Welcome Rock Cycling Trail.

The Revenant fits well into the ethos of Welcome Rock. Both have a sense of the special history in the hills above Garston, a desire for minimal impact on the environment and a passion to create an experience that lasts well beyond the moment.

You can read more about Welcome Rock here in Trails and Tributes.

Sponsors

Leroy De Beer standing beside a VW Amarok V6 Ute.
Leroy De Beer and the trusty VW Amorak V6

The Revenant Race Directors are thrilled to welcome Giltrap VW Commercial as the sponsor for their inaugural Ultra Adventure Run. VW is providing vehicles for the shuttle service up to the race start, and as you can see from the Revenant Facebook page, Scott and Leroy have been using one of their super smooth and reliable Amarok V6 utes to get around on their Revenant duties.

Not Long To Go…

Running The Revenant – Men on a Mission

Revenant Ultra Adventure Run Course

I sat down with Scott Worthington of The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run to ask him about this exciting event happening here, above Garston, in January 2019.


Where the likely outcome is failure how far will you go?

SCOTT WORTHINGTON AND LEROY DE BEER

You’ve obviously got a huge passion for this race. What led you to create it?

I’m always looking for a challenge. Now there’s a race in the States called the Barkley Marathon and it’s something I’ve always looked at. It’s the ultimate running challenge and it’s a very quirky race; very difficult to get into.  It’s cryptic — you don’t even know when it opens — so even the entry process is sort of reflective of the challenge. I’ve tried three times to get in and have never had a reply.

So that’s really what created the spark. I thought; “We’ve got some pretty difficult and unique terrain in New Zealand so why not put something on here? So that’s really where it started.

Why is it called The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run?

I’ve always liked the word Revenant.

Obviously, a few people have said: “Oh you’ve named it after the movie.”

No, I haven’t!

A lot of people don’t know what revenant means but basically, it’s a spiritual thing — that’s one definition, someone’s spirit coming back from the dead.

But it’s also defined as someone who goes away for a long period of time and reemerges.

So it seemed that as we were creating a challenge where people would go off for a long period of time and there was a high probability they wouldn’t re-emerge (ie finish) anyone who did finish deserved a pretty good accolade.

I can’t think of anything better than being called a revenant, and that’s how we came up with the name.

What’s the race format and what will happen during the race?

The Revenant is a lap-based race. The competitors will go four laps and each lap is basically the same distance. They will have 60 hours to complete those laps. Each lap has to be done in the reverse direction and they will not know what the starting direction will be until they’re at the start line. So once we tell them what the first lap direction is they have to alternate after that.

Competitors also have to follow a set number of checkpoints which basically lead them around the course, but they get route choice in between. So they have to decide how to get from one checkpoint to the next.

At each checkpoint, there might be challenges or information they’ve got to digest and every time they come through they get the opportunity to give up or continue. Later in the race, there are time parameters which they have to meet. If someone’s got no hope of completing it in the time left we’ll pull them out.

The Revenant is an exciting innovation for Welcome Rock Trails. What makes this the perfect place to run an ultra-endurance event like yours?

A mountain ridge on Welcome Rock Trails, part of the route for  Revenant Ultra Adventure Run.
Is THIS part of the route for The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run?

When I first started thinking about this race I wanted to do it in a uniquely Kiwi way. The Barkley was just the beginning.

The terrain around here varies quite a bit but you’ve got to travel to get to different types like Fiordland bush, or high-country tussock. But a few years ago I did a running race that Tom put on and that’s where I saw the property.

Welcome Rock is the perfect place for The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run because within a loop of roughly 50km you can travel across just about every type of terrain that we have in the area; rocks, water, bush, tussock and more. That’s pretty unique.

Who’s running this inaugural race and what was your selection process?

The type of person that we thought would enter was going to reflect what we called the race. It’s called an Ultra Adventure Run for a reason, it’s not just 3 words strung together.

So, basically, Ultra — you’re looking for people who can do long distance; Adventure — that’s the map and compass type navigation and that’s adventure racing; And then the Run. If you’re going to finish this race in the time allowable then you’ll have to be able to run where the terrain allows.

So the people coming are a good cross-section. We’ve got adventure racers who are learning how to run. We’ve got runners who are learning how to navigate. They’re all on the fringe in terms of long distance.

Then we have the military aspect. Leroy, my partner who’s putting the event on, is ex-military and it was his idea to do that.

So we’ve got Navy Seals from the United States and some of our Elite Forces from New Zealand.

And that’s great because a lot of the fringe endurance athletes like to measure themselves and our people in the military are generally pretty good. So it’s a good measure.


Our goal is to create a bespoke, unique challenge that will endure.

What are your goals for this first event, and what is your vision for its future?

For this first event, our focus is really putting on the best event we possibly can.

We’ve got a great sponsor in VW Commercial, but we haven’t overly worried about how many people turn up and therefore the way we’ve publicized it has been fairly organic. We just want to make sure that the event we put on is the best it can possibly be.

And we think after that the rest will follow.

We want to establish this worldwide as a true adventure challenge.

How can people get involved in the build-up?

The race briefing and the start on January 18th will be the only times you’ll see all the competitors together.

VW Commercial has given us vehicles to transport people up to the start after the competitors have been taken up there. That’ll be a shuttle service, and that’s when we really encourage people to come — to the briefing at the Garston Hotel and the start on Welcome Rock Trails.

And how can we follow the race while it’s on?

We’ve opted not to go for live tracking because that’s notoriously unreliable, but also because of the nature of the event. The Revenant is really for the competitor, not for the supporter. It’s a bit of a back to basics sort of race.

However, we will have a live Facebook feed. There’ll be volunteers out on the course to keep an eye on things and they’ll be able to radio in snippets of information as they see the competitors go by. So that’ll be on the live feed, but you won’t be tracking individual people.


Personally, I think that this inaugural Revenant Ultra Adventure Run is an exciting new event for Welcome Rock Trails and for the village of Garston. You can be sure that I’ll be there at the start line to cheer the competitors on.   

WILL YOU BE THERE TOO?

Look out for future posts on The REVENANT

Find out more about Scott and his Revenant Ultra Adventure Run dream in Behind The Revenant: Scott Worthington

Weather Matters on the Farm

Is The Weather Changing?

There is still fierce opposition in some quarters about whether the weather is changing and the whole climate change debate.

It seems to me that humankind has indisputably contributed to the raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And don’t get me started on plastic mountains in the ocean! Or how we’re chopping down our rainforests.

Whether or not you agree with climate change, we really need a radical overhaul in the way we treat our environment — local, national and planet-wide.

This week I took a look back at some memorable weather moments on the farm in Garston. Snow, rain, wind, storms, droughts and of course many, many lovely days. We’ve had them all and more in the 35 years I’ve lived in this beautiful place.

View over snow-covered mountainside and farm paddocks in Garston, winter, 2015.
Wintry weather over the farm in Garston, 2015. 

Weather And Water

Last Summer was a hot, dry one. The faithful stream which feeds our farm and two houses dwindled to a trickle. Day after day the sun beat down, the thirsty sheep drank more water than ever, and the pool which feeds our precious water pipe came within an inch of failing.

Dry weather took it's toll. Our farm's water supply creek, reduced to a trickle in January 2018.
Just a trickle left in our precious creek. January 2018.

But Spring this year has been the opposite: sun — sure — but also wind, snow and so much rain! Our lovely stream is transformed from trickle to torrent. Now instead of drying up, our water pipe is in danger of being washed away.

Water supply creek in flood, November 2018.
The trickle has changed to a torrent. November 2018.

When you work outside the weather plays a huge part in your life. You’re at the mercy of the elements day in, day out. And no one is quite so vulnerable to the whims of the weather gods as a farmer.

Weather Varies Throughout The Valley

When glaciers carved out the Upper Mataura Valley in the last ice age they left a narrow river valley and a series of terraces rising up towards the mountain ranges which line the valley east and west. This formation gives the weather gods plenty of ways to play their tricks.

It’s only a small valley by world standards, but the weather in one part can be completely different from what’s happening in another. I well remember one desperate summer when day after day afternoon rain bands swept up the valley floor but left our farm on the terraces parched.

That was the year that we put a mob of sheep out on the back road every day so they could graze the roadside while we guarded them and warned the occasional car that drove by. We even tried cutting down willow branches to give them some extra greenery to eat that summer.

A Hailstorm! Where?

1991, early evening. Thunderclouds covered the mountains and loomed above our little farmhouse. Windows rattled and the house shook as thunder pealed overhead. Goodness knows where Terry was – somewhere out on the farm. But the kids and I didn’t know whether to dance in the rain or cower under the bed.

Then came the hailstones. I’ve never seen anything like it. They poured in torrents and formed a fountain shooting down the carport roof and off the end of the gutter pipes.

I was due at a school meeting but I phoned Kitty (from the next door farm) who was coming to babysit.

“Don’t come yet ” I yelled down the phone line.

“I’m not going anywhere in this,” she hollered back.

Then, just like that, the hail stopped. So Kitty braved the slick road round to our place and I dashed down to Garston school. Just three kilometres away, and not a hailstone in sight. No wonder they were disbelieving when I said why I was late.

Etched In Our Memories

But none of those weather memories can compare to the wall of water which swept out Blackmore Creek and down the road towards our two thousand sheep and lambs one fateful summer evening.

Stormy weather looms. Storm clouds brewing over Garston.
Storm clouds brewing late on a hot afternoon.

January 2001. It was a hot, hazy day — and we had spent it bringing sheep and lambs down to the holding paddocks beside the woolshed, ready for weaning the next morning.

It’s quite a tricky job — lambs and ewes are notoriously hard to move. While the majority of them will run where you want them to, there are always lambs which bolt in the opposite direction — and ewes that are determined to search back through the mob for their missing lambs.

However, by evening the woolshed paddocks were filled with a great noisy mass of sheep and lambs. Gradually they settled enough to eat and to drink from Blackmore Creek, which winds through our farm on its way to the Mataura River.

On this fateful day, towering storm clouds had built up over the mountains as they often do on hot afternoons. Thunder rumbled occasionally but no rain fell on the milling mob of sheep and lambs and we were pleased about that. A thunderstorm over the outside yards would have meant we’d be working with drenched sheep and slippery mud the next day.

Flash Flood

By 8 o’clock the clouds over the mountains were thick and black. It was clearly teeming up there. Most of us were just relieved it wasn’t pouring on the sheep but Terry was nervous. He could hear a rumbling in the hills that I didn’t even notice.

Abruptly — for no reason that I could see — he dashed out of the house and headed to the hill paddock above our house where he could spot the creek as it came down the mountain.

Casually we watched, wondering why he was driving up there. Suddenly his truck spun around and shot back down the paddock at high speed. At the gate, Terry leapt out, dashed towards his dogs and yelled at me —  “Get help! There’s a flood on the way!”

Action time!

Down to the woolshed we dashed with one purpose in mind — to get the sheep away from the creek paddocks and onto higher ground.

Chaos reigned: dogs barking, kids screaming, sheep bleating and Terry yelling orders which no one heard. Suddenly into this confusion burst Andrew — the neighbour I’d called for help — bringing more dog-power and urgency. He had come dashing down ahead of the flood and he’d seen the wall of water sweeping down the narrow gully towards us.

Minutes later the last animal was hustled through the gate onto the hill above the woolshed. James, his new partner Lizette — making her first visit to the farm — and 7-year-old Chris dashed across the bridge in their truck seconds before the wave broke across it.

On it swept, spreading across the paddocks, inundating gardens and flooding the State Highway as it crashed its way towards the Mataura River.

1 km north, Scotts Creek was flooding too, leaving its farmers equally stunned. And yet, in the whole valley, these were the only two streams affected. All the water in that intense thunderstorm was concentrated in one narrow band — flooding the two streams and leaving every other waterway untouched.

What A Mess

You wouldn’t believe the mess that a flood leaves behind. Our road and all its culverts were washed out. The fences were piled high with torn branches, bushes and mud. The water swept away everything in its path and left it high and dry on all our fences. It took weeks of effort to clear the mess away. And more weeks to repair the damage.

Fences piled high with debris after the flash flood. Garston 2001.
Fences piled high with debris outside the woolshed. As you can probably guess, we postponed the weaning for a week that year.

Andrew’s water system on Blackmore Creek was destroyed — but not ours, thank goodness.

For weeks afterwards the kids and I wandered up and down Blackmore Creek and marvelled at the path of destruction. The mud-covered bushes high above showed just how far that wave had reached.

Brown vegetation high above the creek bed shows where the wave reached.
Brown vegetation high above the creek bed shows where the wave reached. We are so thankful for the warning rumble that alerted Terry to the potential disaster.

Farmers Are NEVER Happy With The Weather

My farmer lives and breathes the weather. He is always out in it, rain…hail…snow…wind…sunshine, and so are his animals and crops.

As you can imagine, it’s not a lot of fun for a sheep out in the wet and cold. We have sheltering trees and bushes in most of the paddocks, and of course, they have their woolly coats for protection, but they still look miserable in the sodden paddocks on a rainy day.

However, too little rain is equally bad. When the dry weather goes on and on the ground dries out and the grass doesn’t grow. The sheep lie panting under the trees and are constantly looking for food.

Even when I think the weather is perfect, something will be wrong with it from a farmer’s point of view. Inevitably that nice drop of rain in a dry year seems to come just after we’ve cut the grass for hay.

In a really good year (weather-wise) I’ve even heard farmers muttering about “too much grass” on occasion.

Weather Matters

When I first came to the valley way back in 1981 I used to phone home to Auckland on an expensive toll call once a month.

When I hung up my landlady would always say “What’s the weather like up there?”

Well, that wasn’t a question I ever thought of asking. Still very much a city chick, the weather wasn’t important to me back then. But nowadays, I’ve lived so long on the farm that I understand just how much the weather matters.

I don’t phone home much these days — but thanks to the world wide web I message my Mum daily, and you can be sure that now we always mention the weather.

Blue sky and sunshine weather. The view South overlooking the green farm in late spring.
But still, often the weather is beautiful.  And the valley looks green and lush after all that rain.  November 2018.

And Your Weather Is…?

I often thankfully remark that whatever the weather gods are throwing at us in Garston, its always far worse somewhere else in New Zealand. Our weather is mild and kind compared to the extremes some of you face in the world every year.

What are your best and worst weather memories? Comment below – and/or share a photo on Time of my Life’s Facebook page.


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Garston Hunny Shop: Bene and the Bees

Sign outside the Garston Hunny Shop

Q: What do Beekeeping, Scotland and a tall lanky Kiwi have in common? A: Garston Hunny Shop owner Benedicte Sparks loves them all.

And It’s probably lucky for Garston honey lovers that Scotland has such a cold, damp climate. If Scottish summers had been better, Bene might never have left the country that she describes as “beautiful — such a beautiful country… and the people are so friendly.”

But after 12 years of getting dressed up to go out, only to have to cover up with a coat or risk getting soaked Bene decided to find warmer pastures. It was a long road that eventually brought this petite, dynamic Frenchwoman to the other two loves of her life.

Bene Sparks, always happy to serve up some of her delicious honey in the Garston Hunny Shop.
Bene Sparks is always happy to serve up some of her delicious honey in the Garston Hunny Shop.

In The Beginning

Dijon… Paris… France. To my ears exotic, exciting, magical faraway places that I dream of visiting. To Bene, they were just home. And like any teenager, she didn’t find them the least bit exciting. School was particularly boring. She left at 16, served in a bookshop for a while, and then moved to the bright lights of Paris to work for a dictionary publisher.

Ah, Paris!  City of dreams and romance. The Louvre… Eiffel Tower… shopping… cafes on the left bank and not a honey bee in sight. Bene wasn’t really into honey at that point, but she quickly discovered that she wasn’t into publishing either.

A chance meeting with a Scottish lad who spoke a smattering of French gave Bene a new direction.

“I’d love to learn English,” she told him. Six months later — when she’d almost forgotten her chance remark —  a language school brochure landed in her mailbox.

So Bene — still a teenager — packed her bags again and moved to Scotland to study English. Her sister drove her there, dropped her on the doorstep of her new home, waved goodbye — and left!

A Prince and a Punk in Scotland

Well, there was no turning back, so Bene picked up those bags and went in to meet her new flatmates — a Swiss who was into punk and a boy from Nepal who turned out to be a prince.

“On my very first night in Scotland, my new Swiss flatmate said, ‘We’re off to a concert in Glasgow. You should come!’”

In hindsight, the safety pins and punk outfit should have set off alarm bells in Bene’s mind but she was so relieved to hear someone speaking French that she went to the concert anyway.

“I felt very unsafe in my little French skirt with all the skinheads and punk music,” Bene recalls.

So there she was —  a teenager in a foreign land — and no wonder she was scared. Life is infinitely more difficult when you don’t speak the language. She had just two choices: run home or learn English FAST!

Slinking back with her tail between her legs didn’t seem like a great option so Bene knuckled down at school. Full immersion is the way to go, of course, and after a few months, Bene could speak well enough to land a job.

Scotland is a beautiful country and Bene quickly grew to love everything except the climate. But Scotland is renowned for its rain, and in the end, Bene had had enough of that, so she and a friend decided to see the world.

Round The World

So many countries; too many experiences to recount. But after nearly a year of travelling together Bene and her friend were still talking to each other — a minor miracle — when they reached Australia. By that time they definitely needed a break from travelling and each other. So they settled in Sydney and went their separate ways.

If they’d landed in Melbourne then Bene might never have come to New Zealand. She’s since been to Melbourne and loves its cosmopolitan vibe. But living in squalid digs in Sydney and working for peanuts wasn’t much fun and Australia’s such a vast country that it’s hard to travel around if you have no money. So Bene saved up enough for an airfare and moved on.

The logical next step, of course, was New Zealand.

A Land To Love

First, a stint in Auckland followed by a kiwifruit season in Te Puke —  Bene was slowly working her way south. Eventually, she discovered Queenstown, as most traveller-workers do in the end.

Like many a Scot before her, Bene had at last found a country with the beauty and friendliness of Scotland but without the chilly summers and depressing damp. Then she fell in love with Tony Sparks, and that sealed the deal.

Garston

The opportunity to move even further south came when Tony and Bene bought the Garston Hotel. The tall Kiwi and the tiny Frenchwoman brought new energy to the Garston Hotel, and business boomed.

But running a country pub is exhausting, and you can only do it for so long. So eventually, they sold the pub and settled down to renovate the old stone building next door and to begin their next ventures — The Garston Stables and the Hunny Shop —  just across the road.

Beehives in the Hunny Shop's bee-friendly garden.
Bene’s beehives — supplying Garston with delicious local honey.

Bene and her Garston Bees

Bene’s right into bees now, but she didn’t expect to fall quite so crazily in love with them when she joined Matt Menlove’s local beekeeping course.

“I was interested and I wanted to help save the bees,” she says.

There’s so much to learn, too. Matt’s lessons were only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing about bees. Bene’s constantly finding new information and new challenges.

Every year is different because no two seasons are the same. Spring could be warm and dry one year and cold and wet the next. Even more confusing for bees and the plants they feed on, this year Spring started early and has been alternating between the two states all season. Consequently, the bees got ready to swarm around the end of October and Bene had to keep a close eye on them so that she could separate out the new queen and her followers and move them to a new hive before they actually swarmed.

It’s A Honey Bee’s Life

Bees need good food and Bene has made sure that there’s plenty around for her particular pets. She’s in the never-ending process of creating an extensive garden around the stone cottage, filled with bee-friendly plants.

Honey bees need both pollen and nectar from the flowers to feed the hive, but they also inadvertently transfer the dusty pollen from flower to flower as they forage, and so ensure that the flowers are fertilized. Of course, that leads to fruit, seed production and eventually more flowers. It’s an elegant cycle.

Bee on a nectar-filled white flower.
Bees and flowers. You can’t beat nature’s elegant cycle.

The Garston Hunny Shop

If you add many bees and lots of flowers together you get an abundant supply of honey, so why not have a honey shop? Thus began the Hunny Shop, Bene’s Garston tribute to all things honey.

It’s fun to go into the bright orange-and-yellow shop. There’s honey to taste and buy, as well as pills, potions, lotions and Bene’s very own honey-based cosmetics line “Abelha.” The walls are covered with bee information, too, so you can learn while you browse.

You can even have an escorted “bee experience” if you like, and visit the beehives to see first-hand where your honey came from. After all that, who wouldn’t want to buy a delicious honey-filled pot?

Finally, when you get home and regretfully lap up the last drop of your Garston Honey, you can buy more online at the Hunny Shop’ Shopify store.


Decorative wooden cabinet displaying honey products.
Just a few of the delicious honey products on display at the Garston Hunny Shop.

Doing Her Bit

It’s great to make a contribution to the world around you, and most of us have our own unique way of making things a little better.

Bene’s style mixes French flair with downright hard work. She’s doing her bit to save the bees — and bringing more visitors to the vibrant little business hub of Garston.

Next time you’re dashing to Queenstown, or buzzing South, stop into Garston and relax with a coffee, food, gifts and gorgeous honey-to-go.

Nothing could be better than that.

More Honey Stories On The Blog

Buzzstop Honey Centre

Altitude Brewing: The Great Adventure

Many small businesses have a special story to tell. They are built on passion, commitment and a long-held dream. Each has a flavour, history and ethos that is all their own. Some are steeped in history, others are brand-new and excitingly different. Altitude Brewing, who last year took all of our green hops to flavour the delicious “Me and Jimmy McNamee” beer, is one such business with a story to tell.

The other day I popped into their new building on the Frankton Marina, to visit partners Eliott Menzies and Eddie Gapper, and hear the tales behind…

Altitude Brewing.

Altitude Brewing's Motto: Every great adventure ends with a beer!

So what do a Queenstown local lad and an English former-advertising- executive have in common?

Well, they both love beer, of course!

But they also love adventure, the great outdoors, and the thrills and spills of owning their own business. Combine them all and you get a great little brewery called Altitude Brewing.

The Brewer

“I’ve been a beer maker pretty much all my life.”

When Eliott Menzies left Queenstown at the tender age of 17 to seek adventure in far-flung lands, he knew no more about beer than the average “under-the-legal-age-limit” teenage boy.

But after a traditional Kiwi 6-month-stint in London, Eliott — now 18 and legally allowed to sample a brew — decided he’d had enough of cities and travelled north to Scotland. Looking for adventure (and perhaps hearkening back to his Queenstown mountain upbringing) he headed for the Highlands, where he landed a job at a mountain pub.

And that’s where Eliott met BEER.

Not your normal, big brewery, continuous brew type beer, but craft beer — ales, lagers, hops; beer to fall in love with. And that’s just what Eliott did. He fell in love with the whole process of beer from the brewing to the drinking, and everything else in between.

It wasn’t long, in fact, before Eliott decided he wanted to know more than just how to drink beer, and so began the journey which ultimately led to Altitude Brewing.

Fortunately, half an hour down the Scottish road was a small brewery. Eliott simply invited himself in one day and began to help out. Of course, it wasn’t a paid position; he was strictly a volunteer, but it was just what he needed. A free introduction to the brewing world.

Eliott Menzies in the Altitude Brewing Brewery
Eliott Menzies, creating a brew.

Coming Home

Back in New Zealand, Eliott decided to spend 5 years in Wellington, studying architecture at Victoria University.  Although he never did become an architect, it certainly wasn’t wasted time.

Aside from his formal studies, Eliott continued his beer education by becoming a dedicated home brewer. Student flats always have a convenient cupboard — ideal for a homebrew setup —  somewhere in the house.

He didn’t follow other people’s ideas.

In fact, it wasn’t long before Eliott branched out and began experimenting with his own unique flavour combinations. And after a while, those recipes became the basis for the various lagers and ales that Altitude Brewing crafts today.

Introducing Eddie

Eddie Gapper drinking a glass of Altitude Brewing beer.
Eddie Gapper, checking out the perfect brew.

Eddie Gapper came to Altitude Brewing via an entirely different route.

Growing up in England, Eddie already knew what life was like in the Northern Hemisphere. His journey to beer heaven began with a job at an advertising agency. But while that was a lucrative path to follow, it wasn’t exactly living the dream. At least not the dream in Eddie’s head.

So he and his wife followed their love of adventure and the great outdoors and headed off on their own O.E. Travelling in the opposite direction to Eliott’s northern adventures, Eddie escaped south, via Canada and eventually landed in Queenstown.

At first, Eddie’s idea was to start a business in the adventure industry. Queenstown is, after all, the Adventure Capital of New Zealand. But the market is fairly saturated with adventure activities. After a good look around, Eddie decided that it didn’t really need one more.

What Queenstown did need was a business that was interested in the locals. A place tourists could enjoy, but which was ultimately focused on being a good citizen in its own backyard. So Eddie began looking for just such a business.  

It took a while. But one day Eddie had a beer with Eliott, and the Altitude Brewing team was born.

Complementary Strengths

It’s not often that a single person has all the skills and strengths necessary to run a business. And even if you are that rare breed, the time and energy it takes to do everything eventually results in burnout.

Eliott loves brewing and beer — he’s not keen on managing and marketing. Eddie didn’t know much about brewing, but marketing and management — those are right up his alley.

Together they made the perfect team to take Altitude Brewing to the next level.

Contract Brewing And Beyond

Eliot’s first plan for Altitude Brewing was as a contract brewer.

Each beer was made to Eliott’s recipes but he contracted a Christchurch brewery to do the actual brewing. Altitude Brewing then sold the resultant beer in Queenstown pubs and selected other South Island venues. This was the path the company was following when Eddie joined the team.

But Eliott and Eddie’s strength is their flexibility and willingness to investigate new ideas. Not long after Eddie became Managing Director, they realised that the contract brewing model wasn’t really the way to go. It was time they brewed on home turf.

At first, this seemed like an impossible dream. We all know the price of land in Queenstown is horrendous — and availability is just as bad. But somehow, things came together and in 2017 they managed to secure a dream spot at Frankton Marina.

Fast forward less than a year and, finally, Altitude Brewing has come home to Queenstown.

Eddie and friend clinking Altitude Brewing beer bottles.
Eddie brought an Altitude Brew for the Fulton Hogan IT team to sample
on their recent team-building expedition in the South.

Local And Proud

We have tourist bars aplenty around here. Altitude Brewing, however, is one of those rare places that does focus on the locals.

That’s not to say that visitors can’t find a good brew there; of course they can — and they’re very welcome. But first and foremost, Altitude Brewing is there for local people.

I love their flagon initiative. Fun as it is to go out, sometimes you’d rather just have a quiet beer at home. Altitude Brewing makes that possible — and reduces litter and waste at the same time — by encouraging their take-out customers to bring their own flagon.

Yes, you read that right. You can take along a container, fill it up with tap beer and head on home for your cold one. Brilliant.

Then there’s Altitude’s “One per cent for the Wakatipu” scheme which donates to local environmental and outdoor causes: think bike clubs…wildlife…youth trusts…

The Altitude Ethos

If you had to distil Eliott and Eddie’s Altitude Brewing attitude into just three words they’d be Adventure, Environment and Local.

I love their energy and their enthusiasm for new ideas. They’re all about local connections and keeping the story going.

After all…

“Every great adventure ends with a beer.”

The bright red Altitude Brewing brewery at Frankton Marina.
The new Altitude Brewing premises at Frankton Marina.

Connect with Altitude Brewing on Facebook.

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