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

Altitude Brewing: The Great Adventure

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.

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.

More Stories On The Blog

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.

You Can’t Beat A Great Coffee Bomb

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.

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?

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

Athol Valley Market: A Delightful Day Out

The Athol Valley Market is a welcome addition to the summer scene in the Upper Mataura Valley villages. I went along to talk to local organiser Amanda McMillan about her latest venture.

Athol Valley – A Community Market

At the heart of a local market is the sense of community. People want to come together and support their local artisans and businesses. It’s less about dashing in and out to grab groceries and more about lingering to chat and chill.

And that perfectly describes the laid back vibe of the Athol Valley Market and its host The Hide. In fact,  Amanda and Hide owner Meegan have a shared goal to support local enterprises and the diverse community found within the Upper Mataura Valley.

Meegan, Amanda and cheese at the Athol Valley Market.
Meegan and Amanda with The Hide’s latest delicious offering. You can buy Gibbston Valley Cheeses at the Athol Valley Market on Sundays and at The Hide every day of the week.

This cosy market is for all the locals of Athol, Garston, Kingston and beyond as well as the passers-by who know a good thing when they see it. Most Sundays you’ll see tourists, as well as locals, browsing the stalls, and relishing the opportunity to stop and shop.

Indian bags at Hillary's Athol Valley Market stall.
Hillary’s an Athol local. When she left India she stocked up on sturdy, beautiful Indian bags which she now sells at local markets. These colourful bags are hard to resist.

Talented Locals Offer Their Wares

The stall holders are a varied bunch and the goods on offer change from week to week. You never know quite what you’ll get at the Athol Valley Market.

Vegetables for sale at the Athol Valley Market.
Gardens Without Borders: Recently relocated from busy Queenstown to laid-back Lumsden, Josie’s just starting out on her gardening dreams. I love the philosophy behind her passion and her produce was so fresh and inviting, I wanted to buy the lot!

Fresh food stalls are the stars of a local market. The fruit, vegetables and eggs stalls have come and gone as summer became autumn. Some gardeners’ produce is coming to an end but Matt Menlove has been a stalwart, bringing his sweet honey and garden vegetables to sell every week.

Stall holders Brie and Matt with their local honey for sale at the market.
There’s no shortage of honey around the Upper Mataura Valley, thanks to an enthusiastic group of local beekeepers. Matt Menlove and young Brie are often found selling their sweet jars at the Athol Valley Market.

The local children have had their first taste of business this summer, too. They’ve industriously set up a wide-ranging variety of stalls over the season.

We’ve seen honey, vegetables, flower bulbs, cakes, sweets, toys, face painting and — winning the prize for most unusual child stall — painted rocks, kina and paua shells for sale.

Hunter manning his stall at the busy Athol Valley Market.
I’m not sure which is more winning, the produce or the kids’ beguiling smiles but they all seem to have gone home happy.

All In It Together

One thing that Amanda’s learned while organising her first market season is that market people are a helpful lot. She’s been chatting to market organisers from markets around the area and they’ve given her many tips of the trade. She’s incredibly grateful for their help, because organising a weekly market is no easy task.

Rob, Jan and slippers at the Athol Valley Market.
Kozi Toez: Handcrafted Footwear for the Whole Family
Rob and Jan from Dipton sell their handcrafted, sheepskin, wallaby or possum-fur slippers online and at markets all around Southland and beyond, They inherited their pattern from its 92-year-old creator and are proud to be able to continue his tradition.

If you haven’t taken the chance to chill out at the Athol Valley Market over the past few Sundays take heart. There are still a few market days to come. Amanda and Meegan are hopeful that the sunny days will hold and the market can continue till Easter.

The Robinson Family with Robbies sauces and pickles.
Robbies Pickles and Preserves
Josie Robinson, from Tuturau makes pickles, relishes and sauces — mostly from organic ingredients. First-time customers quickly become raving fans. You can find Robbies online or at many of the markets around Southland-Otago.

So pick up your purse and cruise on down to the Athol Valley Market this Sunday.

Take in a little food, chill to the music, soak up the sun – or shade – and take the chance to buy fresh food, art and crafts or that little luxury you’ve always wanted.

We’d love to see you there.

Update: Motors At The Market

Amanda’s been experimenting with themed days at the Athol Valley Market over the summer. She had a great response from restored vehicle enthusiasts for her Motors at the Market Sunday in March. Here are just a few of the beauties on display.

More Athol Stories To Enjoy

Craft Keepers is a cute little container store full to the brim of locally-made crafts and The Coffee Bomb is even tinier – a trailer selling delicious coffee, burgers and snacks. Both businesses may be in Garston but their owners are Athol locals. You can read Tabatha’s and Kylie’s stories here on the blog.

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Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

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

Altitude Brewing: The Great Adventure

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

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

Altitude Brewing.

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

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

Well, they both love beer, of course!

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

The Brewer

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

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

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

And that’s where Eliott met BEER.

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

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

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

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

Coming Home

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

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

He didn’t follow other people’s ideas.

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

Introducing Eddie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complementary Strengths

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

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

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

Contract Brewing And Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local And Proud

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

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

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

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

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

The Altitude Ethos

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

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

After all…

“Every great adventure ends with a beer.”

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

Connect with Altitude Brewing on Facebook.

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Dwane Herbert – A Spearfishing Legend

When Cobey Herbert arrived in my class as a skinny five-year-old, I sent home the usual note asking about food allergies etc. Back it came, duly filled in: Cobey can eat anything except paua.

“Paua?” I thought. “Who would give a little kid such an expensive shellfish? We won’t be cooking paua here, at the most inland school in New Zealand.” That was certainly way out of my comfort zone.

It wasn’t until Cobey’s dad arrived with undersea treasures to show the kids that I understood, because it turns out that Dwane Herbert, is a 7-times National Spearfishing Champion of NZ.

Dwane and a student inspect a kina.
Garston kids were fascinated with Dwane’s underwater treasures.

I had no idea what spearfishing was, so I went to visit Dwane, and his wife Annie, to find out.

Dwane’s Day Job

He may live near the most inland village in NZ, but in his day job Dwane Herbert is the skipper of a kina and paua fishing boat, working off the southern coast. If you’re thinking dredge nets or fishing lines stop now. There’s none of that in this niche industry — it’s all diving. What’s more, the divers only wear snorkels and masks. No oxygen tanks allowed.

The job is tough — and so are the crew. You have to be, in a job that’s weather dependent and involves a fair amount of danger. It’s certainly not for everyone but Dwane loves it. As he says:

“I’ve  done it all my life. I started at age 7, up in Whitianga, going out on the boat with my Dad — who’s one of the best in the business.”

But much as he enjoys the snorkelling and fishing, they are the daily routine stuff. Dwane’s real passion lies with spearfishing.

“Growing up, we’d always have to work first, then we got to play. The rule was fill your sacks with paua or kina and then we’d get an hour of spearfishing. That’s the hour I lived for.”

What is Spearfishing?

Spearfishing is a technique that’s been around for centuries. Simply put, it’s throwing a spear at a fish, but of course there’s a lot more to spearfishing than that.

Forget those movie images of spears hurtling towards far-off leviathans. You have to get in close to the fish with spearfishing. There’s a 3-4 metre rope which attaches the spear to the speargun so that’s the maximum distance you can shoot from. And once again, it’s strictly snorkels, masks and flippers in this sport.

It actually seems more like hunting, than fishing.  

Dwane says it’s important to identify the fish before you shoot. Each species has its own characteristics, and a good spearfisher has to know how a particular fish will react. If you know which way the fish is likely to dodge, you have a good idea whereabouts to aim for a quick, clean kill.

Spearfishing is an environmentally-conscious sport too. “We eat everything we catch,” Dwane explains. “That’s the rule. There’s no indiscriminate hunting and you don’t get the damage to other species that net fishing can cause.” Even the competitions don’t allow waste, with all the fish being auctioned off for charity.

“In NZ the fish still aren’t used to being hunted. Sometimes they’ll swim right up to you and take a good look.” That’s because spearfishing is a relatively new and small sport in NZ.

But in Europe spearfishing has been going on for centuries. It’s a big sport with big money involved. In European countries you can sell the fish you spear, so the top divers actually are spearfishing for a living. They do it day in and day out.

“The competitions over there are at a whole ‘nother level.” says Dwane.

Spearfishing Championships — New Zealand…

Spearfishing New Zealand Nationals are held in various locations around the North Island each January.

Competitors are likely to be swimming, diving and contending with wind, weather and waves for up to 6 hours while they hunt for specific fish on the competition list. One boat takes everybody out, and they all hunt within the same boundaries. It’s demanding and dangerous, which is why the NZ nationals are a team competition.

Divers work in pairs as a team, and both catches are weighed and judged together. They take turns at diving so that one is always watching to check the other’s safety.

Dwane and his family are regular attendees at the NZ Spearfishing Nationals. As he explains, “I’ve been to them for most of my life; it’s just what we do in January.”

Spearfishing Grandfather, sons and grandsons.
Spearfishing goes through the generations in the Herbert family and most summers you’ll find them at the New Zealand Spearfishing Nationals.

… And Beyond

But his passion for spearfishing has taken Dwane well beyond the New Zealand competitions. He’s a regular competitor in the Inter-Pacific championships and has even been the Australian Champion. Biggest of all, is the chance to compete at the World Championships, and 2018 will be Dwane’s third — and hopefully best — experience of that heady event.

“I haven’t had the best luck at the World’s,” Dwane admits ruefully.

His first competition was a sobering experience — or rather a non-experience.

“I had surgery on my ankle two days before we were due to depart and turned up on crutches. I thought I’d be fine.”

The team leader had other ideas, and Dwane spent the next fortnight as a reluctant bystander

Taking on the World

Competing at the World’s is a huge step up. It’s a completely different set-up to the NZ and Inter-Pacific competitions because divers work solo with a specific area assigned to each competitor. Each diver has a team on a support boat, who are responsible for his safety and catch.

Because the Competition is usually held in Europe, the list of fish is different and includes far more fish species. That’s partly because there are far more edible fish species in European seas. We don’t have that many edible species around NZ so the lists in our competitions are small compared to overseas ones.

Dwane has to memorise what each fish on the list looks like. He has to know their behaviours and likely reaction to being hunted.  European fish are used to being hunted. They understand that humans are dangerous and will scatter or hide as soon as the spearfishermen appear.

The sea presents a new challenge in Europe, as well.

Coastal waters around NZ are very tidal and can be rough, with less visibility, but they are also shallow by comparison. In Greece, for example, spearfishers dive to far greater depths without an oxygen tank. And of course the fish are very shy and hide away in holes and crevices, so you spend longer underwater looking for them.

So when Dwane took his family to the World’s in 2016, they found that the clear, deep water presented a new danger.

Scary Experiences

When I asked Dwane about his scariest moments, he couldn’t really say, but Annie was in absolutely no doubt. The deep waters of the Greek Islands provided a huge shock.

Two weeks before, while practising for the big competition, Dwane got the bends (decompression sickness.) Because he was diving for long periods in water far deeper than he was used to, nitrogen bubbles in the blood were trapped and caused a blockage in his brain which led to a stroke when he came up to the surface.

Dwane says “I wasn’t really scared”
But Annie counteracts.  “That’s because he couldn’t see himself — the rest of us were terrified.”

Fortunately a nearby Greek diver had an oxygen tank. Dwane was given aspirin to thin his blood and relieve the blockage, taken 10 metres down underwater and pure oxygen pumped into him while slowly bringing him up little by little. Once back at the surface, Dwane was rushed to hospital. Amazingly, there was no lasting damage and Dwane was fit and ready to compete by the time the Worlds began.

But then disaster struck when Dwane got a lung squeeze. He says…

“The lungs get compressed at those depths and a sharp turn or twist can cause a tear. You don’t feel it — it doesn’t hurt, but when you get to the boat you start coughing blood and breathing is hard. I knew immediately that was it and I couldn’t go on.”

Portugal

Dwane Herbert with a large fish caught in Portugal.
Dwane with a fish caught on the 2017 recon trip to Portugal.

This year the biannual World Championships are in the south of Portugal. Once again, conditions will be different, but this time around Dwane feels much more prepared. In 2017 he, and other members of the NZ team, travelled to the competition area to check out the water conditions and fish.

They discovered that Portuguese coastal water is not as deep as in Greece, so the fish stay shallow. On the other hand, the seas are quite murky so visibility can be very poor, making the fish even harder to find.

Hopefully Dwane’s luck changes this year and there are no nasty accidents waiting in the 2018 competitions.

Family

One of the best parts of Dwane’s spearfishing lifestyle is the opportunity to travel. It’s even better when his family can come too.

They love to travel with him and experience the lifestyle of different places.

“The Greek islands were so much fun,” says Annie. “We could have stayed much longer.  Everyone was very welcoming but what we found the most strange was how everyone was out and about at night. Even the little kids were out way past 11pm.”  

Just like Dwane, his boys have been in and around boats and fish all their lives. During spare weekends and school holidays it’s the family’s joy to take the boat away to remote waters and enjoy the peace away from daily chores. Cobey and Eli love spearfishing and have taken to it with a passion. They would love to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Dwane with sons Eli and Cobey in wetsuits with their fish.
Eli, Dwane and Cobey – a spearfishing trio.

I love learning. My favourite saying is “you learn something new every day.” So I found it fascinating to listen to Dwane and Annie’s stories of spearfishing and to learn a little about the fishing life.

Their life and experience is so different to mine, and yet we live in the same little New Zealand community. Thanks, Dwane and Annie, it’s great to know you a little better now.

Follow Dwane on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DwaneHerbertSpearo/

Sponsored by Beuchat NZ                 

 https://www.facebook.com/BeuchatNZ/

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