Imagine waking up to this scene every morning for nearly a year. I had applied for a job teaching six children in the Awatere Valley, a remote rural high country area in New Zealand’s South Island. Big wide open spaces amongst sheep farms and wineries, the job advertisement said. Sunny days with little rain and a chance to get out of Auckland and work on my book. I was hooked.
What I didn’t know when I applied for the teaching job was that it came with an unexpected bonus: a cottage on Molesworth Station, the largest farm in New Zealand at 180,476 hectares (approximately 500,000 acres, or over 700 square miles). Now Government owned, Molesworth Station is run by the Department of Conservation as a farm park (open for a few months a year – end of December to early April) and leased out to a farming corporation which runs 10,000 head of cattle there. Instantly I was the envy of all my friends who said they would definitely come and visit. And they did.
As you can see, the job description was right about the remote bit; it is over a two-hour drive to the nearest supermarket. There are no daily newspapers. Mail is delivered once a week. Luckily the mail man also delivers groceries and spare parts that we order from Blenheim, the nearest main town center. So for most of the year I had this amazing farm park almost to myself. Needless to say, my camera accompanied me on all my long weekend walks. However the imposing Mount Chisolm, which dominated my lounge room and bedroom views, became my most photographed scene because of its ever changing moods.
This unique landscape was carved by ancient glaciers into broad u-shaped valleys, conical and round-topped hills, moraines and corries. Shifting layers of scree create fascinating patterns over steep rocky slopes. It is an ongoing visual feast spreading west from the knife-edged ridges of the Inland Kaikoura Ranges.
During spring and early summer, leaves from numerous briar rose bushes emit a crisp, green apple scent, accentuating the clear, unpolluted air of New Zealand’s high country. Under a clear sky watering holes glow a brilliant blue, contrasting in stark relief to the brown-sided hills rising up behind them. When I walked too close, ducks and geese alighted from the water in a cacophony of quacks and honks. Whenever I stood still near a small herd of young horses, they would come up to mingle around me as if curious to know why I was there.
It takes over two hours (more if you stop to take countless photos) to drive across Molesworth from its Bleinheim end to the Hanmer Springs’ gate. Traveling along the ribbon-like gravel road that threads its way across this ‘moonscape’ land, fine dust billows high into the air. The road is rough in places, but suitable for a two-wheel-drive when there is no snow.
Occasionally I drove to Ward’s Pass, the highest saddle over which the stockmen bring cattle to the homestead area to be drafted, ear tagged, drenched, castrated, and vaccinated, etc. in the cattle yards. In complete contrast to the sharp ridges of the Inland Kaikoura Ranges is this huge, smooth, mole-looking hill. Note the ribbon of road that leads towards Molesworth homestead.
On sunny weekends I ate breakfast on the veranda and listened to the Molesworth sounds: the lazy buzzing blowflies and bumble bees, the happy chirping of birds in a nearby willow tree, and the distant yack, yack of a plover. On frosty mornings magpies warbled pleasant tunes, reminding me of my home country, Australia. Sometimes a helicopter landed in the Molesworth homestead’s yard and the pilot dropped in for breakfast there. But most times, the only sound was the wind, or galloping hooves of stock horses as they frolicked in the paddock around my house.
That’s what it is here: quiet and vast and empty.
Journey across Molesworth Station through the following slide slow. This journey begins at the northern entrance to Molesworth, which is over two hours from Blenheim. You will see the original Molesworth homestead, a two-room cob cottage that was built in 1865 and restored by volunteers. Over summer, campers stay in this area before or after they cross the station. You will also see the buildings that make up the Molesworth ‘settlement’, as well as the larger cobb building that is the main homestead for the manager and his family.
There are views around the home paddocks and then up to Ward’s Pass. You will notice the rough road that goes straight across the plains and river flats, or winds around the hills and mountains and scree slopes to finally emerge around two hours later at the Acheron River flats. This is where there is a second camping ground and the historic Acheron Accommodation House, which was built in 1882 and was once famous for its freshly baked bread. From here is it a short drive into Hanmer Springs where you can relax in hot pools after your trip.
Molesworth Station is open to the public on 26 October 2013 until 7:00 pm Easter Monday 21 April 2014. A brochure with more information and a map is available to help you plan your trip. However note that there is no cell phone coverage in the area and no emergency call-out for car breakdowns. Ensure you carry food, water, and a spare tyre.