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 gums 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.

Eucalypts In New Zealand

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.

Tommy Planted So Many Trees

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 beside 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.

More Reasons To Love The Gums

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.

More Tree Stories On The Blog

The Old Apple Tree

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Party On: Harvest Festival At The Hops

A pile of hops waiting to be picked.

Take 30+ curious beer aficionados and a bumper crop of hops. Throw in a delicious barbeque and a keg of Altitude Brewing’s best thirst-quenching brew. Mix with a dollop of music and you have yourself a recipe for the Garston Hops 2019 Hop-Picking Party.

The Big Hops Harvest Problem:

200 hop vines on two farms —  all of them covered in ripe, cone-shaped flowers. A tiny window of time in which to pick them —  and only two busy farmers both trying to juggle multiple farm jobs. The big hop companies have this process all mechanised, but we’re a tiny outfit, just starting out.

What to do?

The Brilliant Solution:

James, as usual, had an idea.

“Let’s get a sponsor, a couple of experts and a whole lot of people who would love to know more about hops and throw a Picking Party,” he suggested.

So, that’s what we did.

Waiting For The Harvesters

The day dawned damply. River mist shrouded the paddocks, evaporating our plans for an early start to the hops harvest.

Just as well, really. We’d all been flat out preparing the woolshed —  aka the hops harvest zone — for the last two days. Rarely has a working woolshed looked cleaner.

Waiting for the sun enforced a last minute calm before the storm of activity set to come. That’s why, after the final job was done, we gathered for coffee at the Garston Hotel and waited for our workers guests to arrive.

And, suddenly, there they were:

  • Eliott the Altitude brewer, with his vanload from Queenstown
  • Richard – our expert from Nelson
  • Ian – courtesy of our sponsor, Ricoh
  • Andy – an unexpected American  
  • and a whole bunch of local family and friends.

The sun shone bright and warm. Finally, it was time to begin.

Gathering At The Hops

The convoy wound its way to the vines. For many, this was the first time they had seen hops growing and I must admit, even our small plantation makes for an impressive sight.

Hops will grow as high as you let them (in our case 4 – 5 metres) and produce copious amounts of flowers, all filled with a distinctive-smelling resin. This is the gold that flavours the beer.

At the top of the ladder, Eliott cuts the first hop vine.
Eliott mounted our specially-modified hop-picking ladder and ceremoniously cut the first vine. Nearby pickers held out their arms to catch the leafy giant as it slowly collapsed and carried it to the waiting trailer.

The party was underway.

Picking Off The Hops

It would be highly impractical to try to pick all the flowers off the vines while they’re still standing 5 metres tall. I’ve picked them off the top several times while getting samples for testing and, believe me, the novelty soon wears off.

A better idea is cutting the vines at the top and bottom and carting the whole vine to the processing room. That lets you lay them flat on a table and have multiple people plucking the flowers from each vine.

So that’s what we did on the tables set up in Hamish’s woolshed.

Picking the hop flowers at the woolshed.
With Mac’s favourite shearing music (60’s classics) booming in the background, conversation buzzed as we got to work on the 2019 hops harvest.

Garston Hotel Makes The Best Barbeque Lunch

It wasn’t long after the Garston Hotel cooks appeared before delicious smells filled the woolshed.

They had brought an incredible array of delicious rolls, salads and food to barbeque. And after several hours of steady picking, everyone was more than ready to gather outside in the sun for lunch. Eliott had provided a keg of light, delicious beer from his brewery and that went down a treat.

We All Learn More About Hops And Beer.

Richard Schneeberger was our invaluable expert who was taking a busman’s holiday from his day job as a hop adviser in Nelson. Up until now, we’ve been going on guesswork and advice from afar, so it was wonderful to have Richard right there to answer our questions.

After lunch, both Richard and Eliott spoke and gave highly interesting and informative glimpses into their hop-and-beer worlds.

But, hops won’t pick themselves, so we up-ended our beer glasses and went back to work.

Next Stage: Drying Begins

Between our plantation and Hamish’s we had four hop varieties to harvest and keep separate from each other. They were all destined to go straight to Altitude Brewing so Eliott could make his 2019 version of a Garston Green Hops beer.

Or so we thought.

But the truth soon dawned: somehow we had not fully computed just how many thousands of flowers we’d actually have. There was no way that Altitude could take them all as green hops. Some would have to be dried.

So we resurrected the drying racks that Aaron Abernethy built for us back in 2017 and Plan B swung into action.

Hops drying in their racks.
The drying process can be tricky to get right. In the days after the harvest party, Hamish and I had a crash course in deciding when the flowers were ready to bag. It was different from previous years because these hops were going to be pelletised. They had to be dry enough to keep – but not TOO dry or they’d disintegrate in the pelletiser. The pressure was on because once the flowers are ready, the heat and air they needed to dry then become their enemies. They must then be completely protected from light, air and heat or the flowers will begin to deteriorate.

Finally Finished And We Give Heartfelt Thanks

At the end of Day One we gathered at the Garston Hotel for a celebratory drink. It had been a wonderful, hard-working and satisfying day.

Our new Queenstown friends, and our local friends and family headed home, happy with their new experience.

Eliott was already busy with plans to begin his green hop brew.

And we were making plans for the next day’s harvest.

In the end, it took four days to pick and process the flowers from our 200 vines. Many local friends and family came back again and again to help over those days and we are so grateful to them for their help.

To all those who came to the party, WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

Thank you, too, to RICOH, whose sponsorship of our event is truly appreciated.

We can truly recommend the Garston Hotel’s delicious barbecue lunches. Thanks, guys, for coming to the party – and for all the other meals we ate at your establishment.

And, finally, thanks to Dwane and Annie Herbert for lending us so many crates. They are invaluable and we needed every one of them.

Your Thoughts

Did you come to the hop picking party? Let us know how you enjoyed the experience in the comments below?

Does a hops harvest on this miniature scale sound like fun? Want to join in on next year’s party? You can comment below or send me a message.

You Might Also Love…

Our 2018 harvest was an exciting, but far smaller affair. You can read how our venture began in

Altitude Brewing is the Frankton Brewery which has so far taken all the hops we can produce.Enjoy reading about Eliott Menzies and Eddie Gapper of Altitude Brewing in

Aaron Abernethy is not only the valley’s go-to-engineer for all farm machinery needs, but he is also a talented metalwork sculptor. Read all about Aaron’s beautiful creations in

This year we enjoyed learning how to grow saffron when Steve Daley of Te Anau-based Kiwi Saffron planted a trial crop of these precious flowers on our farm.

Dwane and Annie Herbert are staunch supporters of Athol and Garston locals. Even though they’ve now moved their fishing business south they were still more than willing to lend us their new, clean crates.

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.

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.

Aaron Abernethy: Starlight Metal Art and Sculpture

There are many things I admire about Aaron Abernethy.

I know he has courage. It took guts for his family to move from Auckland to our little valley to live their self-sufficiency dream. And he’s a multi-talented engineer who can solve countless problems big and small. Many farmers in the valley will tell you that. Finally, anyone who’s eaten one of Aaron’s famous barbeque meals will agree that he cooks up a superb spit-roast.

But I didn’t know until very recently, that behind the engineer lies a talented artist and sculptor

Artistic Beginnings

Can you remember the very first-time that inspiration struck way back in your childhood? Not many will be nodding here, I bet, but Aaron is one who can.

“I remember very clearly the first time I did art. We had picked some flowers and I started rubbing them on the path. You can get some good colours from the centre of flowers, and the pictures last for ages on the pavement.”

From there Aaron kept on drawing and experimenting. His parents must have been exceptionally easy-going because as a teenager his experiments took the form of drawing with black Vivid Markers ALL OVER HIS BEDROOM WALLS! You can always paint over a wall, I guess, but I’m not sure that I’d have been so tolerant.

Later, as adult life and responsibilities took over, Aaron’s art faded into the background. Little did he know that in becoming an engineer and honing his welding and metalwork skills over the years, he was sowing the seeds for a new passion.

At first, Aaron was busy establishing his home and business, DBE Engineering Ltd. But then animal sculptures and figures began to form in his brain. Tentatively he began to create them using the tools of his trade — metal and a welding iron.

Into The World

It’s a huge leap from making art to putting it out for others to see. But gradually other people began to see and love Aaron’s work. In July 2018 he made a leap of faith and submitted a beautiful stag head to the Riversdale Art Exhibition.

“Why don’t you put your highland cattle sculpture at The Ivy Box” a friend suggested. “

That was a nerve-wracking thought. However, Lynda Hensman, the Queenstown artist/owner of the gallery made everything easy.

“She was so enthusiastic and professional,” says Aaron.

Over time Aaron began to feel easier offering sculptures to local businesses such as The Athol Gallery and Craftkeepers too. Then as his reputation grew, people began to offer commissions and his art expanded with a new life and direction.

It’s one thing to see Aaron’s work in a photo. It’s quite another to see it in real life. I was bowled over when I visited The Ivy Box to see Aaron’s famous stag and highland cattle heads in person.

Inspiration — Animals and Beyond

If you ever tour around Aaron and Bonnie’s little farm you’ll quickly realise that they love animals. There are hens, ducks, Kune Kune pigs — and piglets — sheep, cows, dogs, cats … a veritable menagerie.

Added to that, Aaron’s a keen hunter. But these days he’s likely to be up in the hills to shoot with a camera rather than a gun. Sure, he still brings home meat to eat, but he’d rather re-create an animal from metal than kill just to get a trophy.

Small, intricately-worked goat sculpture by Aaron Abernethy of Starlight MetalArt and Sculpture.
This small goat sculpture is proudly owned by Stacey Edmonds. Her husband commissioned it from Aaron in 2018 as a special birthday present.

So animal sculptures came first, but as commissions started to trickle in Aaron began to find inspiration in other ways. Now, when he talks to a client it is to establish their vision. It can take a while, but eventually, a theme emerges. That’s when shapes and patterns begin to form in Aaron’s mind.

Sometimes he draws them out first. At other times the vision is so clear he’ll go straight to the metal to start cutting, shaping and welding.

Koru

Large metal koru (curling frond) sculpture by Aaron Abernethy of Starlight MetalArt and Sculpture.
This sculpture was my retirement gift from Garston School, presented at the end-of-year school concert and prize giving in 2018. I’m sure the whole audience could see how delighted and surprised I was with their gorgeous gift.

Aaron was given carte blanche for my sculpture — which is often harder than meeting a specific request. Aaron says:

“I started by drawing because I’d been given a blank canvas. And I  thought about things you’ve been teaching and how you seem to love Maori, so I started with a koru shape.

But, then I was also thinking about the land and the connection between land and sea, and about being grounded and nurturing new things.

So, you can see the wave in the koru, and then all the little extra shapes are the new growth. And if you look through it (the koru wave) you can see the garden beyond.

Also, that one can stand in different ways and each way it will look different. I like that about it.”

A Special Family Gift For Garston School

"Our Family" a towering metal tree, with 5 branches, representing the Abernethy family. Presented to Garston School by Aaron Abernethy.
Clearly visible from the road as you drive by, this beautiful metal tree by Aaron Abernethy has a lovely story behind it.

Aaron wanted to acknowledge and thank Garston School for educating and nurturing his kids. He and Bonnie love Garston’s caring vibe. So, when Quinn finally graduated, Aaron created a very special family sculpture for the school.

Kathryn O’Loughlin, Garston’s Principal couldn’t have been happier with Aaron’s gift. After all, the whole Abernethy clan was a huge part of Garston School for many years.

Even dashing past on the busy highway below you can see the rising branches of Aaron’s rusty-red metal tree. But when you know the story behind it, the sculpture seems all the more beautiful for it represents the Abernethy family.

In many families, Mum is the foundation. Her love and support for her family allow all the members to grow. So Aaron has shown Bonnie as the trunk of his family tree.

Aaron is the largest branch and then the other branches flow out. The Abernethy children have grown and are going out into the world.

It’s a beautiful sculpture and personally, this is my favourite of all of Aaron’s work.

Tools of the Trade

I don’t know much about working with steel so this was all new territory for me, and fascinating to learn.

Aaron uses metals such asZintec — which is steel thinly coated with zinc to protect it from rusting — and Corten, which seems to be the opposite.  Corten is weathering steel. It doesn’t need to be painted but instead, weathers to give a rust-like appearance over time. It’s not really deteriorating or rusting away, it just goes an interestingly rusty colour. You can certainly see this in action at Garston School. Already the Family Sculpture, which arrived as a shiny grey piece, is now a beautiful rusty red.

One of Aaron’s main tools is his MIG (Metal Inert Gas), welder. This has a continuous wire electrode feeding through the welding gun, which melts into the join as the welder fires up. This is a great tool for artists, I’m told, and seems to be a little like using a super-powered fiery metal glue gun. The “MIG” certainly allows Aaron to create some interesting effects on his sculptures.

Shaping The Sculpture

Of course, Aaron has many different techniques, depending on what type of sculpture he’s making.

The initial shape of Aaron's latest, rusty-red koru sculpture.
Every sculpture starts with a basic shape. Since he made my Koru last year, Aaron has been experimenting with many different koru styles. 

For this koru sculpture, Aaron cut out the basic shapes, “tacked” them together and then began to beat and shape the flat metal shapes to give them curves and contours. Then he welded them together. That’s when I took the photo (above.) Of course, this koru’s still a blank canvas. There’s a lot of detail yet to come.

Some of Aaron’s animals look as if they’re covered in fur or hair, and for this technique Aaron welds and melts hundreds of tiny pieces of metal onto the main body. It takes hours and hours of concentrated work to produce such a stunning effect.

Close-up detail of the goat sculpture showing the layers of metal and weld that creates the hairy effect.
Close-up detail of the goat sculpture showing the layers of metal and weld that creates the hairy effect.

Q & A

I had a couple of burning questions for Aaron:

“I know you’re flat out in your engineering business, so when on earth do you get time to create?”

“Tuesday nights are art nights. Even when I’ve had a bad day and I’m tired when the workshop becomes my studio then I’m in my happy place. It’s funny when you’re creating you lose all track of time. Hours go by and I have no idea.”

I love the name Starlight MetalArt. Where did that come from?

“We found on a very old map that this (mountain) range above our house was named Starlight. I just loved the name.”

Into The Future

Now that he’s finally giving his art a place in his life, Aaron’s finding that more and more shapes, sculptures and possibilities are lining up in his mind, waiting to see the light of day.

I hope they make it out — we’ll all be just that little bit richer with Aaron’s lovely sculptures to enjoy in our world.

Contact Aaron

Cellphone: +6421861042

More Artists On The Blog

Embroidery Artist Amy Baker

Furniture with flair – The Cusp

Locally-made arts and crafts at Craft Keepers

Whimsical Watercolours – Michelle Goggans

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.

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

Behind The Revenant: Scott Worthington

Scott Worthington is co-creator and race director of the inaugural Revenant Ultra Adventure Run being held on Welcome Rock Trails in January 2019. It was a privilege to chat with Scott and discover a little about the Man Behind the Revenant.

Scott Worthington scrambles up through native beech forest on Welcome Rock Trails.


“What do I get out of it?
I like to see how far I can go when I have to rely on myself and no-one else. When you strip away the trimmings and see what’s left.”

Scott Worthington on the challenge of Adventure Racing

How Far Can You Go?

Something I’d always wanted to do was travel on the Trans Siberian Express. It seemed like the ultimate railway adventure. So one hot Siberian Summer my wife and I took the plunge and got on board.

It might have been easier if we’d spoken Russian.

Siberia is vast — you can travel for half a day and suddenly there, in the middle of nowhere, you see two houses and then boom they’re gone and it might be another half a day before you arrive at a station.

But for some unfathomable reason every now and then the train stops. No station — not even any houses — it just stops and people get off and wander around. And there never seems to be a signal. No lights, no whistles blowing, nothing! Even at a station, there’s no signal. People wandering around suddenly reboard and the train starts again.

For a while, we didn’t dare leave our carriage. But there was no air conditioning and it was stinking hot. So next time the train pulled up at a station loads of people got off. We decided surely it’d be safe for us to go too.

So we wandered up and down, keeping a nervous eye on our carriage door, and suddenly the train started moving. We started waving and hurrying beside it, but it just went faster.

Help! The Train Won’t Stop

Now we’re really striding out and I thought “I’ve got to get Sue on the train,” so I threw her into the open doorway.

But now I’m actually running to keep up and the door’s getting away on me so in desperation I wait till the next carriage door comes along AND IT’S CLOSED. Now I’m in serious trouble — I’ve got to get on board!

So I leapt at the door-step and hung on for dear life.

STILL THE TRAIN DOESN’T STOP. I look up and there’s my wife’s head, poking out of the window and she’s yelling something I can’t hear. Then, suddenly, every window in both carriages opens up and all along heads are poking out of the train, yelling and hooting — I’m just the world’s best entertainment.

I had to get inside the train. The only thing I could think of was to get around the end of the carriage and onto the gangway that sways over the couplings.

So I peered around the corner and saw it. A gangway, a wobbly chain and a handle, all looking too far away for comfort. I’d have to leap around the corner and grab onto the vertical handlebar beside the door.

So that’s what I did. To hoots and hollers from all the spectators I edged to the corner and launched myself at the handlebar. Somehow I grabbed it — and got a toehold on the gangway. After that, getting on board was a piece of cake.

We didn’t get off the train again.

Surely I’ve seen this scene in a Bruce Willis thriller?

But no! This is the tale that comes straight to Scott Worthington’s mind when I ask about his most memorable, cliff-hanger adventure. Suddenly I understand how Scott can envisage a race as hair-raising as The Revenant.

Adventure and Risk — They’re in Scott’s DNA.

Scott Worthington comes from a family of adventurers. You could say it’s in his blood. How far back the trait goes it’s impossible to tell. Certainly, Scott’s grandfather had it in spades.

Growing up in tough circumstances in pre-war England he’d emigrated to New Zealand as far away as he could get. But England was still home, and his urge to protect it was strong. As soon as France fell he enlisted in the army.

He ended up in the 21st regiment as a radio operator in the Long Range Corps (forerunner of the SAS). Somehow he survived all the big battles and made it back to New Zealand. Scott grew up hearing his grandfather’s confidences — good and bad, terrible and scary — and learned what it meant to be tough and to survive.

“My Dad was an outdoorsman too,” says Scott. He went on this amazing adventure and spent three years cycling around Europe. Of course, this was motivation enough for Scott to want to do it too.

The Journey Toward Endurance and Adventure

So, aged 18, Scott boarded the last commercial passenger boat sailing from New Zealand to England and six weeks later he embarked on his own two-year cycling odyssey around Europe.

Back home in Auckland, he spotted a commotion near the park. It seemed to be a bike race — which turned into a run. “It’s the latest sporting craze. They call it Ironman,” his fellow spectators said.

Scott decided that running a marathon after riding a 180km bike race sounded like just his cup of tea.

No one mentioned that you kicked the whole shebang off with a nearly-4km swim first. That was a slight problem since Scott’s swimming skills were of the “flounder back to the boat” variety.

But if you try hard enough you can overcome anything. So Scott began to haunt the local pool, swimming length after length until flounder turned to flying-fish.


It’s taking on an almost impossible task and seeing how far you can go.

Time For a New Challenge

After a while, Scott decided that he was as good at Ironman as he was going to get. He needed a new challenge.

Enter adventure racing. Now, this was something he could really get his teeth into.

Adventure racing is a multi-disciplinary team or solo sport involving navigation over an unmarked wilderness course. A race can extend over hours, days or even weeks and stretch participants to the limits of endurance and courage.

You need fitness, wit, courage, skill, communication, teamwork and absolute determination to succeed to complete such a race.

Scott is hooked on the combination.

He’s competed in the legendary New Zealand Godzone races several times and often trains by doing mountainous solo adventure challenges.

But the one race that Scott has never entered — and not for want of trying — is the infamous Barkley Marathon.

So what do you do if you’ve tried three times but haven’t found the secret recipe to enter the Barkley Marathon? If you’re Scott Worthington you get cracking on starting your own unique race.

Creating The Revenant; A Kiwi Ultra Adventure Run

TScott and Leroy surveying the mountain scenery and planning the Revenant Ultra Adventure Run
Planning is well underway for The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run on Welcome Rock Trails in the Garvie Mountains above Garston, New Zealand.

It was actually Leroy de Beer, of adventure company Off The Grid Events who came up with the idea of a New Zealand Barkley-style Adventure run and Scott couldn’t wait to be involved.

The Barkley may have been the inspiration, but The Revenant is a New Zealand race and has features that are pure Kiwi.

The exact course, the competitors, the selection process, the finish line… these are all a closely-guarded secret right now, but I can tell you that developing the race has taken thousands of hours of planning and exploration and every step has been taken with meticulous attention to detail. This inaugural Revenant Adventure Run at Welcome Rock Trails will be a race to remember for a lifetime.

Small, tantalising hints keep appearing on The Revenant Facebook page. Some competitors are coming from all over the world, some from closer to home.

One decided to sail halfway across the globe — as a “small side adventure”—  in order to take part.

Another decided to turn a scheduled meeting with Scott into a training run and spent a day and night running miles through the Florida swamps (risking bears and alligators along the way) and still made it in time for lunch.

These are the sorts of men and women who dare to challenge themselves in ways the rest of us can only stare in amazement at.

I can’t wait to meet them.

Welcome Rock Trails

2019 Update

The inaugural Revenant Ultra Adventure Run was indeed a challenging affair – beyond the expectations of any of the competitors.

Wrapping Up The Revenant: A Legend Is Born


Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life?

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