Oh! Those Gum Trees On The Farm

Gum trees tower over the house.

Blue gums line the gravel road that winds past our dusty little farmhouse. Look out to the west. Once you could see for miles, but not any more. Now your gaze stops at the towering gums.

Why are they still there, blocking my view?

Eucalyptus trees, as blue gums are more properly called, are a hardy bunch with more than a few annoying features.

You couldn’t call them pretty trees. Their bark peels like last week’s sunburnt skin littering the lawn with long brown stripes. Branches sprout every which way and their dull green leaves hang limply from every twig.

Strips of eucalyptus bark litter the ground.
Imagine clearing this off the lawn every time you need to mow the grass.

They’re supposed to be evergreen, which in blue gum terms means they shed their leaves all year round. No brilliant yellow, orange and red displays outside my house, just green and brown leaves wafting down in every breeze.

And yet, these Aussie imports are fascinating trees.

So Many Eucalyptus Trees Around The World

You can find gum trees in many corners of the world. Perhaps that makes them Australia’s biggest export? Altogether there are more than 700 species, with just fifteen of them not native to Australia.

We tend to lump them altogether simply as “gums” but the reason they’re found in so many different countries is that there’s a eucalyptus tree for almost every climate. You’ll find them in the tropics, in the deserts and in swamps. Look around Australia and they’re sticking up on the coast — and the mountains. Many wilt at the first sign of a frost  — others are partial to a cold winter. The trick is to find the right one for you.

In the late 1800s early New Zealanders had a love affair with eucalyptus trees and planted them in their thousands. From Kaitaia to Bluff farmers and plantation owners invested in gum tree forests for their future timber potential. Unfortunately, they didn’t properly research the correct varieties — and they seem to have ignored the few experts who did — so many trees wilted in unsuitable conditions. To add to the confusion, the same common name was used for different eucalyptus trees in different states which didn’t help planters over here.

The New Zealand National Geographic Magazine perfectly describes the problem.

Furthermore, some difficulties were not of the foresters’ making. Harry Bunn, a retired director of the Forest Research Institute and a eucalypt sympathiser, says: “In Australia, the name of a species in one state was often different from its name in another. Some of our foresters wanted to order seed of the E. regnans that grew in Tasmania, where it was called swamp gum, so they ordered swamp gum seeds. Unfortunately, in those days most of the seed came from Woy Woy, in New South Wales, and their swamp gum is E. ovata. It was duly collected from the worst site possible, delivered to New Zealand and planted on all the state plantations, including in the hills behind Whakarewarewa and at Puhipuhi. Of course, it was a dismal failure. After that, we started using Latin species names.”

https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/eucalypts-trees-of-the-future/

Properly grown, and in the right conditions, gum trees do have beautiful timber. But that’s not why we have gums on our farm.

My father-in-law loved planting trees on his farm. Douglas Firs seem to have been his favourite, judging by all the tree lanes lining our paddocks. But every now and then he planted pockets of gums thanks to his friend and advisor Graham Mulligan. He ran a well known tree nursery in Winton, and was an expert in growing eucalypts.

50+ years ago Tommy planted the gum trees that line the road beside our house. They were only a few metres tall and still spindly when we transported our house to shelter behind them.

Take The Good With The Bad

I didn’t know — and Terry didn’t care — that their roots would suck the goodness from the ground all around, And those pesky leaves create a mulch through which very little will grow. That’s my excuse for not having a decent front garden.

In autumn, winter and spring,  their tall shadows slide over the house, blocking out the precious sunlight far too soon. On the westward side of the row, it’s bright and breezy. Behind, in our garden, it’s cold and grey.

But…

When the wind is howling along the road, stirring up a choking cloud of dust, there’s not a speck on our side of the trees. And, during summer’s scorching heat that early shade is a welcome relief.

So many storms have beaten against those trees and they’ve withstood every one. No windows have been broken, no trampolines tossed, no rubbish bins rolled: the trees are our protection and shelter.  

Tommy chose our gum trees well. We don’t know what variety they are, but they’ve withstood every drought and snowstorm the years have thrown their way.

Gum trees are shallow rooted, which means that they tend to topple in stressful situations. But the ones by our house show no signs of falling. We keep the weight off them by chopping branches off them every couple of years when the mobile hedge trimmer visits the valley.

Those branches make fantastic firewood. Terry cuts them up with a chainsaw and splits the bigger logs while they’re fresh because once the wood dries out it becomes hard as nails. It burns for hours and I love to use it in winter. Blue gum is the perfect wood for banking the wood burner overnight.

In spring, our gum trees sprout delicate white flowers and the bees love them. Their pollen is full of protein and the nectar is just what they need to kick off honey production for the season.

The birds love them too. Each morning they ring out the dawn chorus from every branch. Native korimako (bellbirds) and piwakawaka (fantails) come to feast on the nectar and the flies that constantly hang around the trees. In fact, those trees act as a giant fly-screen for our house — another blessing to be grateful for.

Yes, annoying as their leaves, bark and shade can be, we’ll leave our gum trees where they stand. We’re grateful for their shelter and to Tommy, who planted them so long ago.

Huge gum tree by the fence.
This must be one gum tree that doesn’t mind having wet feet.

Here’s to the gum trees — long may they stand.

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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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Kiwi Saffron: Proudly Growing In Southland

A single saffron flower in the paddock.

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

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

Infographic - What Is Saffron?

In The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

Going Organic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Invents The Saffron Scuffler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiwi Saffron — Proudly BioGro Certified

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

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

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

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

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

Farm To Table — Proudly Local

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

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

How Kiwi Saffron Manages Minimal Impact

Infographic: Treading lightly on the land.

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

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

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

Saffron Comes To Garston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spreading The Word

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

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


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

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

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

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The Great Rides App: Gary Patterson

The Tracks We Take

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

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

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

A Map-Filled Life

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

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

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

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


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

Gary Patterson

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

From Suit and Tie to Green Fleece and Boots:

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

“We could live here!” she said.

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

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

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

Innovating with GIS

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

It was desperately inefficient.

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

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

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

To Portugal …

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

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

But Gary nearly didn’t get the job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

… And Beyond!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Ridding The Sub Antarctic Of Rodents

Macquarie Island

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

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

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

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

Elephant seals and Gentoo penguins on Macquarie Island.

Gentoo penguins and massive elephant seals on Macquarie Island.

South Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Much Travelling

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

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

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

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

Developing the Great Rides App

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

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

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

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

Working on the App

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next For The Great Rides App?

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

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

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

Download button for Apple App Store.

More Pattersons On The Blog

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

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

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Wrapping Up The Revenant: A Legend Is Born

The very first Revenant Competitors have given of their best and the much-anticipated Ultra Adventure Run has come and gone.

It had drama and humour; tension and courage; camaraderie and respect. 
Watching it all unfold was unforgettable.

The Revenant Welcome Rock Whisky bottle close up.

Briefing 1: At The Garston Hotel, Thursday 16:00

When our dusty Mazda turned in, the hotel car park was already overflowing. In the bar I could barely hear the bartender as locals, supporters and racers mingled and mixed. The Revenant competitors were easy to spot; their common denominator was intensity.

You could have heard a pin drop when the briefing began. With no microphones, we had to listen intently to catch every detail.

This race is cryptic.

It was designed to be an enigma, so the race directors didn’t give everything away at the first briefing. Instead, throughout the evening they teased with a drip-feed of tantalising clues.

“You have 60 hours to complete four laps — and make damn sure you solve ALL the clues if you want to drink the whisky!”

Drink the whisky???

That’s your reward.

No glamour, no glitz, no money; just the ultimate satisfaction of knowing that you finished and added your number to the Revenant hall of fame.

Only you, the revenant, can open the coveted Welcome Rock whisky bottle and savour the taste of victory.

Revenant Competitors: One Race Number Forever

The Revenant Competitors group photo at the Welcome Rock Woolshed.
The Revenant Competitors lined up for a group photo – one of the few times they were all together.


“Your number is yours for life,” Leroy said. Whenever you return — your number will be waiting for you.

So in 2019, these names are forever etched on the Revenant Competitors roll:

Chad Wright 1

Shawn Webber 2

Leo Pershall 3

Jean Beaumont 4

Shaun Collins 5

Andrew Charles 6

Peter Donnelly 7

Tom Reynolds 8

Mathew Jeans 9

Bronwyn Mckeage 10

Angus Watson 12

Joel Thomas 15

Tony Sharpe 16

Dave Vitakangas 17

Tim Sutton 22

Matt Hamblett 24

Ian Evans 25

Alistair Shelton 26

Mike Field 27

Shane Tebutt 28

Bob Hun 33


So awesome to open such a heritage. How does it feel, Chad, being number one?

  • Maps distributed ✔
  • Numbers revealed✔✔

Just like that, Race Briefing One was done and dusted.

“Start plotting your course,” said Scott.

He could have saved his breath. Every competitor’s head was already bent over the maps they’d been waiting months to see.

Briefing 2: At The Woolshed, 21:00

A Revenant Contestant studies his map one last time.

The music was pumping in the O’Brien’s old woolshed. “Born to be wild” boomed Steppenwolf, and the wild ones gathered, eager for more clues.

No one really understood what they were preparing to endure, but one thing was already clear. The challenge would be monumental.

Every now and then the race directors revealed more vital info.

“Collect a numbered page from the book at each checkpoint. Keep the pages safe — if they’re wrong you’re out!”

“No mobiles!”

Solemnly, occasionally cracking a nervous joke, competitors dropped their phones into plastic postal bags which Scott sealed and handed back.

“These are for emergencies only,” reminded Leroy.

Maybe I wasn’t alone in breathing a small prayer that no-one would need to break that seal.

Race Start — The Adventure Begins: 23:01

Three competitors study their maps in the dark, moments before the race begins.
Almost time to go.

A nervous crowd gathered at the old tin hut which was Revenant HQ.

Shrouded in mountain mist Tim Riwihi’s haka rang through the dark, adding another spine-tingling piece to the Revenant legend.

Ko Ranginui te Atua, E tu nei. E au au aue ha, hi…Ko Papatuanuku te Atua, e takoto nei. E au au aue ha, hi…  Ko Tu Matauenga Te Atua…E au au aue ha, hi.

Without warning the race directors joined in then, suddenly, out of the darkness, the women sang. Romsey de Beer and Kowhai Riwihi were adding their own magic to the moment.

E whakatere ana koutou te hikoi  i te wa nei. Haere mai, kia ora, kia kaha kou tou

Navigate your way safely… Welcome … stand strong

This haka was specially written for the Revenant with words of challenge, respect and well-wishing.

It ended with a hongi between Scott, Leroy and each competitor — a “sharing of breath” which signified the transformation of the manuhiri (visitor) into tangata whenua (people of the land.)

It was the perfect way to start the race.

Ten – nine — everyone joined the countdown —  three – two – one – GO!

As one, the racers surged forward and disappeared into the fog. We wouldn’t see any of them again for a long, long time.

Race HQ: The Historic Ski Hut, Friday 0900

The Revenant tent and the Historic Garston Ski Hut disappear into the thick fog.
Race HQ, AKA the Garston Ski Hut disappears into the  thickening fog on Saturday morning.

All night, the organisers had been waiting-out the dark.

The HQ crew bunked in the ski hut, and out on the course the volunteers and marshalls were holed up at Mud Hut. There wasn’t much anyone could do before dawn.

But the competitors raced on through the impenetrable night.

Morning came, briefly clear… and then the blanketing mist rolled back in.

The tension at HQ was palpable. The marshalls were getting fleeting glimpses of an odd racer here and there and radioing in their sightings. Would anyone make it back to HQ on time?

Back at the ski hut the wait certainly wasn’t boring.

There were so many characters to meet. People had come from all over New Zealand and abroad, and from many walks of life to be on the mountain that day.

Countless others were following every Facebook update with bated breath.

Revenant Competitors' drop bags waiting for their return to HQ, the Ski Hut.
The Revenant Competitors’ drop bags, waiting patiently in the hut for their owners’ return to HQ.

The Forest Of Doom — Aka C.P. 8

Checkpoint 8 was causing navigational nightmares.

A tree in a clearing — how hard can that be? In the foggy Revenant country, it was causing chaos and despair.

One tree, a single clearing in a forest of trees on a slope so steep and cluttered with debris that every step was treacherous. If you navigated absolutely correctly — and had a little bit of luck — you’d go straight there (so Scott assured me).

Possibly, the competitors would beg to differ. 3 hours… 4 hours… more… they stubbornly searched, refusing to give in. The mist added an impossible dimension.

Finally, they teamed up and worked together, until, at last, they found that vital clue.

15 Hours In

Finally, finally, the sun came out and three tiny figures appeared over the skyline.

“Like a Revenant rising,” breathed Scott.

Angus (12) Tim (22), and Ian (25) were completing their first lap.

We supporters couldn’t contain our excitement and our cheers rang out. But once the men arrived at HQ, all the spectators fell silent.

While Scott and Leroy greeted, checked off the checkpoint pages and chatted to the racers, the rest of us listened… learned… and were too damned scared to speak in case we were accused of helping them.

The first competitors arrive back at the ski hut to check in after Lap 1.
The first competitors arrive back at the ski hut to check in after Lap 1.

We had their drop bags full of supplies out ready for them to dive into — race rules allowed that much.

And dive they did for food, drink, clean clothes and the all-important dry shoes and socks. These three were on a high: the first competitors in, and on time to boot.

But less than 30 minutes later, after a quick photo and hugs from their families they were gone.

Now we had three men on lap 2,  the clockwise circuit and everyone else still to come in on Lap 1 (the anti-clockwise loop.)

No-one knew when the next racer would appear, but everyone understood that there would be hours and hours of anxious waiting before the final runner made it home.

And so it proved to be.

One by one, in dribs and drabs, the racers arrived. A few came in determined to keep going: Shaun (5), Alistair (26), Mathew (9) and Tom (8) all set off on their second lap. For others, the time spent in the CP8 wormhole proved to be a gamechanger.

When The Expectation Is Failure, How Far Will You Go?

Now each racer knows what it’s like to run The Revenant.

Alistair Shelton, Number 26 set the bar when he tapped the bottle, the only one to complete two whole laps.

Every single person on this epic run is a legend in his/her own right. They are top athletes, used to endurance, suffering and giving it their all. But at the end of this day, the Revenant Ultra Adventure Run has won.

Who will be back to go further next year? Time will tell. For now, everyone’s learned a little more about what it will take before someone, finally, makes it home to drink the whisky.

Scott and Leroy, you’ve created an epic adventure which will become the stuff of legend. Congratulations!

I wanted more than anything to be fit enough, brave enough, (some would say MAD enough) to be a revenant racer. Coming down the mountain, returning to reality, I left a piece of my heart in Revenant country. Next year I’ll be back.

Revenant Race Directors Leroy de Beer and Scott Worthington check the Welcome Rock Whisky Bottle.
Leroy de Beer and Scott Worthington with the unopened Revenant Welcome Rock whisky bottle.

What was YOUR Revenant experience?

Whether you were a competitor, volunteer, supporter or avidly following on Facebook, I’d love to know. It’s easy to comment below, send an email, or DM me on Facebook.

It would be great to add your thoughts to this post.

More On The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run

Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life?

Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

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

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…