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

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

Garston – A Place To Call Home

Overlooking the playground on the Green.

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 1860’s 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?

Cycle Trail with distant mountains, looking north towards Garston.
The “Around the Mountains” cycle trail, heading North to Garston.

The View

Let’s begin with Garston’s location.

The village is set in the narrow Upper Mataura River Valley, and mountains range on either side, as far as the eye can see. Their beauty is different from the craggy splendour of Queenstown’s Remarkables range. Ours are “working” mountains; home to animals — farmed and wild —  rare bugs, mountain plants and above all, the golden tussocks which colour the landscape.

Above the village, hidden terraces slope in layers up to the foot of the mountains, and this is where our house can be found. When I step out of the back door for my daily walk there is not a soul to be seen. It’s just me, the birds and the sheep.

What a way to begin — or end —  a day.

A Tough Start

When Europeans first arrived they farmed the Upper Mataura Valley as one giant sheep station. But later on the area was divided into 200-acre sections and these were balloted out to small farmers and settlers.

And that’s where the modern history in Garston begins. Our family came from the lean pickings of the gold claims in the Skippers Valley to try their luck at farming. Others made money killing rabbits — a lucrative enough trade in those days to enable them to save enough to buy into a farm. Some came from family farms further north or south.

Life was pretty tough in those early days. The valley had very few trees back then and firewood was in short supply. The winters were brutal. There’s a famous tale of one long ago winter when the deep snow lasted for so long that the settlers had to use their carefully-hoarded fence posts for firewood just to survive.

Money was scarce too. The kids walked to school from farms dotted around the countryside whether they had shoes or not. My father-in-law used to say:

“We never minded stepping in a cow pat on the way to school —  at least it warmed our feet up.”

I still don’t know if he was joking or not.

Gold

There’s gold in them thar hills. Or at least there used to be.

Shortly after the settlers arrived gold was discovered in creeks and cracks all around, and life got busy as the gold miners flooded in. They came from all over the world to try their luck, set up camp for a while and livened up the area.

Eventually, the gold became too difficult to find, and the miners drifted away to try their luck elsewhere. They left reminders of their stay, with a little cluster of Chinese miners’ graves in the cemetery, and the great water races which they dug high in the mountains to supply water for the great sluice guns in the Nokomai Valley just beyond Garston.

Loving Reminders

Stone picnic table and seat in Garston.
The memorial picnic area north of the Garston Green.

John Newman

It’s easy to guess that Garston is proud of its history. One of the first things that stands out when you stop is the information booth, which was updated after much collaboration by local historians. And when you start to look around you’ll find caring memorials all over the Garston Green.

North of the shops is the picnic area dedicated to John Newman, a former owner of the Garston Hotel, who planted so many of the trees between Athol and Arrowtown. Take a stroll towards the tree-covered hillside nearby and you’ll find a gorgeous little walk called Newman’s Way which takes you up over the knoll to Garston School.

Newman's Way sign and path at Garston.
One of three entrances to Newman’s Way.

The Vital Rail Link

Further down the Green, you’ll find tributes to the time when the trains ran in Garston because when the railway opened in 1878 it was a huge boon to the area.

In those days before sealed roads, fast cars and huge articulated trucks, trains were the best and fastest way to travel the long distance between the “big smoke” of Invercargill in the South and Kingston — the gateway to Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown — in the North.

Farmers transported stock in and out of the valley by rail right up until the early 1970s.

Close up of a man guiding sheep onto a railway wagon.
Loading sheep onto the train at the Nokomai Siding, 1968.   Photo courtesy of Pam and Peter Naylor.

Even when trucks took over the job, the famous Kingston Flyer steam train ran through Garston as a tourist attraction until 1979, when floods damaged the railway tracks so badly that the whole line closed.


Garston doesn’t forget, though. On the Green, you’ll find tracks, trucks and a display of antique jiggers. There, too, is a loving memorial to Russell Glendinning, a towering figure in local railway lore.

The Russell Glendinning Memorial Seat.
Russell Glendinning was a hugely popular, expert train driver. He drove the Kingston Flyer on her last-ever trip through Garston.

Peter Rabbit’s Village

Peter Rabbit’s House has been a special secret in Garston for a long time now. It’s a bit of a  mystery; who did put out that little clothesline and Peter Rabbit sign next to the rabbit hole? Whoever it was, I hope they know how their whimsy brought smiles, and that gradually other, secret “rabbit paraphernalia” appeared.

Tiny clothesline and outhouse in Peter Rabbit's Garston village.
Some of the original pieces in Peter’s village.

Eventually, someone added a diary, and visitors started leaving Peter little notes.

The House expanded in 2017 when the Garston School children decided that Peter needed company, and made a whole replica gold-mining era village.

No one will tell you whereabouts Peter Rabbit’s Village is in Garston. To this day it’s still a delightful surprise to discover for yourself.

The River

Winding through the valley, the Mataura River is world renowned for its trout. People come from all over the globe to try their luck in the cool, clear waters during the fly-fishing season. Some eat their catch or mount it to sit proudly on a wall.

But others are simply there for the love of the fish and the sport. Those intrepid fishermen are found in the tricky “catch and release” sections of the river. Some of the fish there are huge — and wily — having been caught and released more than once over the years.

My favourite river memories are set in the 1990’s. Baking summer days, at the stony beach under the old railway bridge where all the local mums and kids gathered to cool off.

The children floated down the river on giant old inner-tubes from their dads’ tractors, jumped off the rocks and ate enormous afternoon teas. The bravest of them hung over the rail of the towering bridge above.

“Watch me! Watch me!” they’d yell and then leap down into the deepest pool below.

Stretch Your Legs In Garston…

Nowadays Garston is moving on and looking outwards.

Travellers stream through on their way to the glories of Milford Sound or Queenstown and many of them stop at the Garston Green for a welcome break.

Kids race to recover from their long journeys on the playground. Adults discover the delights of  The Coffee Bomb, Craft Keepers and The Hunny Shop.

…Or Stay A While

But some opt for more than a quick stop.

Fishermen, bikers, hikers and those who just want a slice of rural peace and quiet, can all find a bed at the Garston Hotel or at one of the lovely B&Bs dotted around the district.

There’s no denying that living in the country has its challenges. Farmers tend to work the daylight hours: short in winter, long in summer. And of course, in the spring lambing and autumn harvest seasons, work can continue well after dark.

And almost every trip requires a car: we’re simply too far from everywhere to walk.

But despite that, Garston is a special place to be. Friendships run deep and beauty surrounds us every time we step out the door.

I am lucky to call this little slice of New Zealand home.

Frontage of the Garston Information Booth at the Garston Green.

B&Bs in Garston:

The Red Shed

Southern Venues High Country Farmstay

The Naylor House

Menlove Homestay

Castle Hill Lodge

Anakawa

Meadowbank

P.S.

Eventually, I plan to have many more profiles of the enterprising people who live and work in Garston, Athol, Kingston and beyond.

If you (or someone you know) would like to feature on Time of my Life I’d love to hear from you.

Please contact me through the contact form below or message me through Time of my Life’s Facebook page.

If you live further afield in the South and feel your story would be a good fit for Time of my Life, I’m happy to help. Contact me to arrange a time to connect.

Welcome Rock: Trails and Tributes

View of Welcome Rock from a distance.

A Rare and Special Building

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

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

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

Old Sod Hut on Welcome Rock Trails

Welcome Rock Memories

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

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

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

Man standing on Welcome Rock

 

Gold Mining Heritage

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

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

Sharing Past and Present

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

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

Back-Breaking Beginnings

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

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

Welcome Rock trail goes between two boulders.

Labour and Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future Beckons

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

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

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

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

Thank You Tom

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

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

Welcome Rock Trails  

Facebook

TripAdvisor

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

 

Living The Dream At Craft Keepers

Craft Keepers Dream

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

Southern Made

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

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

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

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

 

Gorgeous Gifts

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

Created While You Watch

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

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

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

Tabatha Davison outside Craft Keepers.
Come on in.

See For Yourself

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

Find Craft Keepers

ON  FACEBOOK

AT: The Container, Garston-Athol Highway, Southland