I’ve lived on a farm in Garston for 35+ years so that almost makes me a local. But my husband is truly Garston born and bred. His family were one of the first to settle in the valley when it was opened up to farmers in the 1860s and the McNamees have been here ever since.
So for our family, the ties to Garston run very deep, and we’d find it pretty difficult to leave.
But what is it that makes this quiet country village so hard to beat?
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.
Today I have another story – this time about connecting children and cultures to share.
Overseas Travel: The New Norm
When I was young very few children travelled overseas. Certainly I didn’t know anyone who had even set foot on a plane, let alone travelled to another country.
How different it is today. Even from faraway New Zealand, families regularly head overseas for holidays and adventures. In tiny Garston School all of the staff and 65% of the students have travelled abroad — many more than once. Some have family in England and Australia and travel to connect with friends and relatives there, and to learn something of their history and culture. Others return with tales of theme parks, shops and sandy shores.
But some lucky youngsters get to move out of their comfort zone and experience cultures that are very different from their own. And that was certainly the case for the group of Chinese-Filipino teenagers who visited Garston School recently. Their visit opened a gateway between the Philippines and New Zealand and created connections on a very personal level. It’s a visit that the students in my class will long remember.
The seven teenagers and their teacher were in NZ to learn about our culture, but also to learn about themselves.
One of the many reasons schools at all levels organise Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) is to give their students the chance to be independent. From day outings to school camps; Duke of Edinburgh tramps to overseas sporting or cultural trips, a key purpose is always to foster growth and self reliance. This sort of trip gives youngsters a chance to gain skills and confidence in their own abilities, while still enjoying the support and safety that traveling with a group brings.
Laugh, Learn, Love.
So Joseph, Nicole, Christine, Joanna, Jim, Cheska and Haslie came to Garston School. (Their only visit to a NZ primary school, in fact.)
It was a chance to discover part of our culture and to share a little of theirs. The teens wanted to interact with children, and that’s exactly what happened when they joined a technology lesson about buildings with my 5 – 7 year olds.
My students loved the chance to work in a small group with their chosen teen. They talked about their own homes and found out about the houses of their new friends. What a contrast – from tiny Southland villages to Manila, one of the most densely populated cities on Earth.
Of course there was a practical task too, as they experimented with blocks to build towers which would stand up in an earthquake. The room was buzzing with conversation and the occasional groan as another tower bit the dust.
I’m Longing to Visit the Philippines Now
All too soon it was morning tea time, and our newfound friends disappeared to visit another class. But that afternoon they returned to give a presentation about the Philippines to the whole school.
I was impressed by the care they’d taken to introduce their culture to younger students, connecting with meaningful images, songs and games. We loved the slideshow pictures of beautiful islands, and animals so different from those found here. Every pause for questions brought a host of hands waving in the air, as the children begged to know more.
When a Chevrotain — or mouse deer — appeared on screen, Alex’s hand shot up in the air. I knew immediately the delighted connection he had made because I’d made the same one: on separate trips, we had each been amazed to see the tiny mouse-deer in the Singapore Zoo.
All too soon the special day had finished. My children rushed to exchange goodbye hugs and selfies.
Our new friends were heading to Invercargill for the weekend and then to Blue Mountain College. We hope they had a lovely time there too.
21st Century Education: Connecting With Knowledge…
A vital facet of 21st-century education is learning to make connections. We teach this from the very earliest days in school.
We want our children to see the patterns… connect the dots… make links between what they know and whatever they’re learning about. Nowadays we don’t just teach facts. Instead our emphasis is on:
How to find out what you need to know … and
How to apply that knowledge to solve future problems.
These are essential skills needed to function in the modern world.
… and Communication.
But we also need to understand where other people are coming from. Why their ideas might be different and how differences can enhance rather than threaten.
We live in a global society where communication skills are rated as the top priority in many jobs. Therefore social and cultural connections are just as important as knowledge.
Student exchanges and visits like this are one way to foster understanding. My children have fond memories of this visit and the lovely people they met. I’m sure that Christina, Joseph, Jim, Haslie, Cheska, Joanna, Nicole and their teacher do too.
There’s an old sod hut nestling high in the mountains above our Garston 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.
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.
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.
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 50people eventually helped Tom to painstakingly create that first track on the mountain.
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.
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 gruelling “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:
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.
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.”
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.
See For Yourself
Tabatha’s got a great thing going at Craft Keepers, right next to The Coffee Bomb and The Hunny Shop. 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.
Kylie Sutton loves delicious food, cheerful chat, and great coffee, so when the chance came up to combine all three passions by buying the Coffee Bomb food trailer, she didn’t hesitate. Literally a small business — the whole trailer is only 4.5m long — the Coffee Bomb sits right in the heart of Garston. Travelling along the main tourist route of S.H.6 you just can’t miss it. In fact, its the perfect place to buy food-and-drinks-to-go.
Food Faves and Raves
The food in the Coffee Bomb cabinet has that homemade touch that’s hard to beat. Kylie cooks it daily right there in the Coffee Bomb’s tiny oven. Even the burgers have her famous home-style touch, with the gluten-free patties made onsite to delicious old-fashioned recipes. Add in slow-cooked lamb roasts and melt-in-your-mouth-tender pork belly — all cooked in the van — and you’re in burger heaven. You won’t find burgers like these anywhere else.
“I’d have to say ‘The Bomb’ is our most popular burger” says Kylie. “Tabitha (from next-door Craft Keepers) and I invented it when we were cold and hungry one slow, winter’s day.”
Featuring fresh burger buns, pork belly & bacon, coleslaw, and dripping with tasty sauce, The Bomb has been a menu staple ever since. “There’d probably be a customer riot if we took it off the menu now,”
My personal favourites are the muffins. Kylie’s muffins actually taste as good as they look which, in my experience, is a very rare thing. Other locals rave over the homemade carrot cake, lolly cake, and of course, the locally-roasted ROAR coffee.
Village With a Vibe
But why would a former butcher, busy farmer, and volunteer fire fighter/medic set up a food stop in this tiny tourist town?
“I love the vibe in Garston,” Kylie explains. “The locals are fabulous. So many people give us their whole-hearted support. The businesses complement each other too, and everyone is always willing to lend a hand. It’s great to have travellers who stop in on a regular basis, and of course the tourist trade is fantastic. We’re just in the right spot for a stop.”
But the Coffee Bomb vision doesn’t stop there. A boutique accommodation business “The Bomb Com” is planned for 2019. Watch this space, folks; with Kylie’s gift for customer service, it sounds like a winner to me.