A vase of peony blooms can instantly transform a room from dull to delightful.
Even the names of the different varieties are charming…Bowl of Cream, James’ Pillow, Coral Sunset, Christmas Velvet and on it goes.
Central Otago provides what Tarras grower John Morrison describes as ‘the bloody best climate” in the country for peonies and sixteen years in the export business has allowed him and wife Mary Wood to fine tune their grower skills.
The reward for the hardworking couple is an enviable lifestyle and good financial return.
Peonies like their personal space, John says, and when the winter comes, an undisturbed sleep is in order with lots of good hard frosts.
“They don’t like competition from other plants, they need all the sunlight they can get. And they have got to have a certain amount of cold and hard frost to allow them to break dormancy.”
The latter is mainly why the plants thrive in Central Otago, producing premium buds that can fetch upwards of $30 each in high-end Asian and Middle Eastern markets.
“All those buyers want is a peony that is going to bloom spectacularly and they don’t care what it costs.”
The biggest threat, John says, would be a hail storm prior to the intense six week harvest. There would be no saving plants and their fat, vunerable buds, spread outdoors over three hectares.
Thankfully this had never occurred during their 16 years at Tarras, steadily working at establishing a reputation of reliability with buyers and exporters.
“They know now that we can supply a large number of consistently high quality peonies, often these days the buyers won’t even check our boxes.”
Harvest Season All Go
The couple and a neighbouring grower work together at harvest time and a crew of about 11 people pick and sort the buds. Stems are plunged straight into buckets of cold water to retard the progression to bloom and placed in a chiller at between one and three degC.
“They stay in there for at least 12 hours to take the field heat out of them, then they’re graded and processed, boxed up with ice and twice a week the truck takes them overnight to Auckland.”
Some go to florists in the city but most go straight out to luxury-market buyers overseas. The rest of the year John and Mary happily handle the work, between other jobs, assisted only by four-legged pruners.
“We leave four or five stems on the plants to allow the starches and sugars to go back into the roots for next year’s production. In autumn the neighbour’s sheep come in and strip all the dead leaves off for us and leave a bit of fertiliser behind.”
The plants are irrigated in summer but are pest and disease free due the region’s dry climate. There’s no spray regime, John says, aside from zapping a few weeds along the rows.
“I’m really happy to tend them, I don’t regard it as a burden. There’s never a pressing need and I really love going out and tending them as required.”
His best tip for home gardeners is to resist the urge to pick all the buds for adorning the house.
“Don’t ever pick off all the stems in any one year…as tempting as that may be.”
Weather Adds to the Challenge of Nevis Mountain-Bike Race
After three gruelling hours there was one second in it for Bannockburn Gutbuster competitors Tim Rush(1st) and Micheal Vink(2nd).
Full rivers and cold windy conditions greeted over 200 mountain-bikers who lined up at the Garston Hotel in Northern Southland on Saturday.
Their 75km journey took in over 20 creek crossings and a tough climb, complete with snow flurries, through the Nevis Valley, over Duffers Saddle and down to Bannockburn.
The race was the second in the Bike it Now! Cromwell Summer Series, owned by the Cromwell & Districts Promotion Group. The XS Storage Cromwell Bannockburn Mountain Bike Classic is on 30 December, The Golden Gate Lake Dunstan Triathlon on January 2 and Lake Dunstan Cycle Challenge on January 8. These three events would be run by veteran athlete and sports administrator Bill Godsall from Cromwell.
Results were Junior Boys: Fletcher Sharman, 3.38.13(12th overall), Sam Porteus, 3.41.06, Ty Sarginson, 3.50.59. Open Men: Tim Rush, 3.05.31, Micheal Vink, 3.05.32, Liam Aitcheson, 3.15.04. Open Women: Kate Fluker, 3.48.02, Erin Greene, 4.03.43, Shannon Hope, 4.10.21. Senior Men: Mike Wolfenden, 3.11.27(3rd overall), John Mezger, 3.32.16, Warwick McLaren, 3.40.45. Senior Women: Annabelle Anderson, 3.55.35, Kristy Jenniip, 4.05.47, Melissa Newell, 4.18.21. Veteran Men: Shaun Portegys, 3.35.03, Nicolas Noble, 3.41.44, Wayne Miller, 3.44.16. Veteran Women: Mary Russell, 4.43.45, Linda Hope, 4.45.24, Helena Sodergre, 4.57, 49. Masters Men: Neil Sutherland, 3.45.07, Ray Hope, 3.49.40, Barry Dick, 3.50.47. Masters Women: Polly Buchanan, 5.06.33, Jo Wilson, 6.37.37, Cathy Lewsley, 7.35.54.
By Jill Herron
If it were not for the efficiency of our New Zealand embassy staff of the early eighties, Swedish glass artists Marie Simberg-Hoglund and Ola Hoglund would probably have been Australia’s gain rather than ours.
The renowned artists recently moved to Cromwell where they are setting up their glassblowing studio, adding a certain lustre to the Central Otago arts scene.
Ola’s father Erik was a celebrated glass artist, responsible in part for Swedish glass art becoming recognised worldwide. Ola, who knew from a young age that he too would live by the craft, wished to move far enough away from his famous father to make his own name. He and Marie, who met in high school, set off and first found themselves in Swaziland setting up a studio as part of an aid project.
Casting about for a more permanent base they wrote to both the New Zealand and Australian embassies.
“We couldn’t seem to get any information out of Australia but the New Zealand Embassy was so helpful, they sent us all the information and pictures of houses stacked on the hills in Wellington and the lovely old street in Arrowtown,” Marie said.
The charming cottages of Arrowtown caught Marie’s eye and were never forgotten. When the couple eventually arrived in New Zealand, Hokitika was their first home, then Nelson. Raising two boys - who are now both glass artists - the couple’s business savvy flourished along with their skill in crafting exquisite pieces of art.
They have owned studios and galleries in various countries –most recently India and Australia - and exhibited literally all over the world, gaining a considerable following. Customers have include Bill Clinton and the Americas Cup and Sydney Olympic governing bodies and individual pieces can fetch over $15,000. In Nelson, as their staff numbers swelled to around forty and the boys matured, Ola and Marie began migrating each winter to a glassblowing studio they built in North Queensland.
This past winter was their last at their well-loved tropical rain forest haven which has had such an influence on their work.
“Our container has just arrived in Dunedin with all the glassmaking equipment and tools including the 15 ton glassmelting furnace. It has been sad, we have said goodbye to all our friends and customers there of 16 years but coming to Cromwell has been such a positive experience and we are very excited.”
Bringing the studio from Australia was necessary to set up in Central Otago, Marie says, as the glass business is as expensive as it is challenging.
Equipment costs a small fortune – Ola’s furnace is worth $100,000 alone -and some of the sand required to make their glass has to come from Europe.
The glass-blowing process is notoriously difficult and no one piece can ever be replicated.
Marie equates it to being a classical musician - regular practice is essential. Without it the pieces would lack the high technical standard and sophistication that has made the Hoglund’s work so sought after.
The glass is made from silica sand, some very clear which has had the iron removed by magnets, some slightly green like window glass, which comes from Mt Somers in Canterbury.
People often assumed, Marie says, that the couple bought readymade glass in great blobs to start the process, not realising that they make it themselves.
“We melt a mix of sand, lime and sodium carbonate in the furnace at 1380 degC for a minimum of 12 hours.”
The couple use the ‘Graal’ technique, one of the most complicated in glassblowing and practised by only a few glass artists worldwide.
Marie starts with an ‘egg’ of solid glass which she decorates by painting, etching or other methods. Ola takes this and heats it to temperatures that make your eyes water just thinking about them…again over 1300degC, Marie says. He heats it and blows puffs of air into the blob then heats it some more and a shape is formed. Two assistants are required and it’s a race against time to shape the glass before it cools and hardens.
“You have an idea in your head before you start of how you want it to be but it never works like that. It always comes out differently and we often don’t like the result so put it away in a cupboard. Sometimes you find it six months later and then you like it and get it out again.”
Occasionally, when somehow all the right elements are present and the creative gods allow, another masterpiece is born, which is then buffed and finished to perfection.
But mostly, she says, Ola polishes his technique through practice sessions and once their new studio is built visitors will get to see that in action.
The Hoglund’s new gallery is lined with heavy-walled multi-coloured vases of great beauty as well as Marie’s large paintings. Each is utterly unique and perfectly finished including flocks of tiny glass birds in glorious greens, reds and blues. The birds are probably instantly recognisable to many New Zealanders who have grown up with the couple’s work.
Glass blowing workshops are in the pipeline, where participants would travel from overseas and all over New Zealand to Cromwell to learn the craft and explore Central Otago.
“We are loving it here everyone is very friendly. I’m impressed especially with our artist painters, there is a very high standard. This area has lots of potential in the arts especially if everyone works together.
Over 100 children will line up this Sunday(October 23) alongside the adult competitors for the first race of Cromwell’s long-running five-event series.
The Cromwell Half Marathon, 10km and Teams Relay has attracted close to 250 entries and more were expected on the day, organiser Terry Davis of Highland Events said yesterday.
“It’s great to see so many kids taking part again in the relay section, there seems to be a lot of very sport-orientated kids in this town.”
Starting at 10am, the event kicks off the Bike It Now! Cromwell Summer Series which has been running for over twenty years.
Second is the Bannockburn Gutbuster mountain bike race on November 26. Mr Davis said this would have a new team relay section to allow people who were perhaps not “super fit” to take part in the iconic 75km event through the Nevis Valley.
“The solo ride is very scenic but it’s a good honest effort, really only suitable for fit riders that are firmly in the ‘keen as mustard’ category. The relay will be perfect for a group of friends to mix a bit of four wheel driving and mountain-biking and share the rigours of the Gutbuster”.
Highland Events were contracted by the Cromwell & Districts Promotion Group earlier this year to run the two events.
Veteran athlete and sports administrator Bill Godsall has taken on the running of the last three events in the series, the XS Storage Cromwell Bannockburn Mountain Bike Classic on 30 December, Golden Gate Lake Dunstan Triathlon on January 2 and Lake Dunstan Cycle Challenge on January 8.
The Bannockburn event now has four categories with something suitable for all abilities and ages, Mr Godsall said. A new 56km adventure mountain bike course had been added this year to challenge more experienced riders.
Registrations for this Sunday’s Half Marathon and 10km begin at 8.30am at the Cromwell Sports Club on Barry Avenue and motorists are asked to watch out for runners around the streets until about 12.30pm. Barry Avenue will be closed to traffic from 9.50am to 10.10am as the race begins.
“We would love to have lots of spectators come out and give all the kids – and adults - some encouragement during the race and come and join us at the prize-giving at 1pm”, Mr Davis said.
Judges Annemarie Hope-Cross and Eric Schusser had the unenviable task of choosing our winners. Thank-you to everyone that entered, there was a huge range of styles but all showed various aspects of what is special about our region. We will be sharing more of the photos over the coming weeks.
It was Chris Jones' image(above) of a starry sky that won the judges' hearts for first prize. Chris is a regular visitor to Cromwell, has family here and took the photo while on holiday in Bannockburn.
"We felt this was technically well done, with good use of lines leading to the home, well processed and a lovely expression of a star lit evening," Annemarie said.
Chris is looking forward to his 45 minute helicopter flight with Heliview Flights on his next visit.
Second prize winner Peter Hoskin grew up in Omakau and now lives in Auckland but regularly visits family here. Melanie Keele, whose image came third, lives with her family - the subjects of her image - in Cromwell. The pair will receive hampers from Jones Orchard and Ritchies Gully Store. Melanie's two daughters, Amber and Jasmine, very much enjoy spending time around the lakeshore, she said. The family's love of the area was certainly captured in her image.
Highly commended were fellow Cromwell residents Mary McKenzie and Sam McIntosh. Sam's image of the Cromwell Heritage Precinct was taken on an iPhone.
The competition, organised by the Cromwell & Districts Promotion Group, attracted 28 entries, all of a high standard.
Native flora in olive greens and browns, lichen-covered rocks, cruising Karearea and the odd rabbit inhabit the steep mountainsides above Tarras Vineyards.
Owner Hayden Johnston has a passion for this rugged and difficult place…the dramatic canyons, the eye-wateringly beautiful vistas. A passion, it turns out, that has caused him a few sleepless nights of late. The former-chartered accountant recently hatched a plan to create a unique wine tasting and function venue high on this hill, to allow others to experience what has so inspired him.
At Cromwell’s swish motor racing and tourist facility, Highlands Motorsports Park, a resource consent issue had caused the closure of a popular restaurant adjacent to the park entry.
“I was having a coffee with Luke the Scottish manager there at The Nose and he said the place was closing and the building was going to be dismantled. Before I finished my coffee I had decided I was going to move it and that I had just the spot,” Hayden said.
Two spots emerged as the plan developed, the other being at Earnscleugh near Clyde. As the logistics of moving the monster became clear, a narrow bridge across the Clutha River ruled that one out.
Now that the two day transportation operation, possibly New Zealand’s largest and trickiest, is behind him, Hayden can safely say it was meant to be. The building’s curved roof and perfectly matching colours have allowed it to blend remarkably well into its surroundings. Even the locals say they really have to know where to look to spot it on its high perch, surrounded by nature’s landscaping.
“I don’t think I could have paid an architect to design a better building for this site. I’m very aware of the environment, we are right next to a DoC site here but it’s very suitable and just blends in.”
At 16.7m(four lanes) wide and 22m long, road signs had to be pulled out and traffic cleared as it made its carefully orchestrated way up the highway. Remote controlled steering, hydraulically-tilting wheels and the impressive skills - and courage - of the Fulton Hogan transportation crew allowed Hayden’s idea to become a reality.
The interior fittings and appliances later arrived by shipping container and all is quickly being reconstructed by a team of builders who have probably the most scenic smoko spot in the country.
Food and Wine at Altitude
Originally from Dunedin and of Ngai Tahu descent, Hayden moved from crunching numbers into the wine industry in 2002. Tarras Vineyards, once part of Bendigo Station, sits on a terrace above the river valley. It’s a fairly small block at 3.5ha and is an organically managed, boutique, hands-on operation.
“On very good years, only when I think it’s going to be worthy of a gold medal, we make a single vineyard Pinot Noir here called The Canyon. Every time, it has won multiple Gold Medals. The 2009 vintage won the international Pinot Noir trophy at Decanter Asia Wine Awards… judged better than the regional winner from Burgundy in France.”
In addition the vineyard sources fruit from other growers for Alexandra-based, French winemaker Antony Worch to create Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris blends. These are eventually sent to fine dining restaurants and retail outlets throughout Australia and Asia. Tarras Vineyards also produces a complex Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.
Hayden looks forward to being able to host wine industry colleagues for tastings at the new venue which will be called Tarras Vineyards The Canyon.
“We can start to have fun with it, invite our customers over and have wine events here. I have an idea to have lovely big double-glazed cedar doors opening up at the front to take in the views.”
Never short on ideas, Hayden also plans to add a mezzanine floor to the building and open the whole floor space up to allow large groups of people to be catered for. Four hundred square metres should do it for the weddings and big functions he has in mind.
Then there’s the celebrity chef idea…cooking demonstrations in a fully commercial kitchen with groups of guests.
A second chunk of building, a movie theatre which is thankfully much smaller – will be on its way up the hill once its platform has been prepared. This will sit behind the main building and be accessed down a natural pathway between huge rocky outcrops.
The plan is to be operational by late summer, Hayden says, and the builders are not mucking around. Already the layout is taking shape in the opened up interior only a few short weeks after the building arrived.
“We’re not starting from scratch, we’re just reassembling.”
Kawarau Station’s historic stone woolshed will again provide the backdrop for a screening of early film footage from Otago and Southland.
The return of Reel Life in Rural New Zealand was initiated by organisers of the Across the Bridge at Bannockburn event being held from September 28 to October 2. The 75 minute programme features farming history, kiwi inventions and interviews with Otago identities from 1913 to 2007.
It was put together in a partnership between by Nga Taonga Sound and Vision -New Zealand’s film archive - and Heritage New Zealand.
Richard Anderson of Kawarau Station said about 230 people attended the first screening of the footage held in February this year. The woolshed, which was built around 1860 is still used for shearing the station’s 9000 merino sheep. It originally had 20 stands for blade shearers, Mr Anderson said, and electric shearing machines were installed in 1935 when powerlines reached the valley. The family also run 200 beef cattle on Kawarau’s 20,000 acres.
Jan Hawkins, one of the Across the Bridge at Bannockburn organisers, said many people had requested a repeat of the films after the February screenings. A matinee and evening showing will be held on Wednesday, September 28, as the first of a range of cultural events at Bannockburn’s fifth annual festival.
Owen Marshall, master of the short story, poet Brian Turner and non-fiction writer Mary Hobbs would provide the literary inspiration for the event, she said.
The trio will give readings at the Bannockburn Hotel at an ‘Essentially Central’ literary forum on Saturday, October 1.
“The discussion, facilitated by Robin Dicey, will focus on the importance of conserving Central Otago’s unique character.”
Bannockburn Hotel was also hosting a ‘Budburst Festival’ on Sunday, October 2, with blind wine tasting and build-your-own fascinator competitions.
The popular Banny Beanie-making competition will be judged this year by artist Alan Waters, felter Bev Muir and former seamstress Janet Middleditch. It will be accompanied by a textiles exhibition at the bowling green and the artists of Bannockburn will display work at Cairnmuir Station woolshed throughout the event.
There would also be a performance by a brass quintet, Scottish feast at Carrick Vineyard, craft market with children’s entertainment, guided rambling with Gordon Stewart and a day-long photography workshop with Tim Hawkins. Tickets for all events are available from the Cromwell i-site.
It didn’t worry Willie Moore that most of the onlookers during his early golfing days were merino sheep. Cromwell’s resident golf professional has fond memories of starting out, just up the road, at the well-loved, rural course at Tarras.
Today he is living the golfing dream, having worked hard in Australia gaining his professional status then returning to settle on home turf, Central Otago.
Willie(30) has high hopes for the Cromwell course this summer, as a destination for the increasing number of golf tourists coming to the area. Newcomers to Cromwell and those wanting to learn the game would also be a focus, he says.
Cromwell’s course had a central location, some unique characteristics and a host town now offering other quality tourist attractions.
“Queenstown has become the number one destination in New Zealand for golf tourism. We are talking with golf tour operators there about including us in their packages because they can really make it a day out here now –play in the morning then go to Highlands[Motorsport Park], have a helicopter flight and visit a winery.”
Cromwell’s course was unique in being sand-based, open, scenic and in a location where sunny days were frequent. It was considered a ‘links’ course, a term usually associated with coastal terrain.
“It’s the only inland links course in the South Island…not too many trees, tussocks and marram-type grasses and free draining sand,” Willie said. “It gives us a point of difference. People might come to Queenstown and play five different courses but they could all be same style of course and they can get bored of that. Cromwell is a bit different so it mixes it up a bit.”
Willie believed the new cycle trails planned for Cromwell would also bring more golfers over the coming years as the two activities often attracted the same demographic.
Because the course was large and open, he said, it never felt crowded.
“It is a lot quieter and it’s a really peaceful environment here. People like that too. And it’s cheaper. If you are a member of any club in New Zealand you can play 18 holes from only $35. At the Hill’s course in Queenstown its $600.”
Twilight Gatherings Friendly and Fun
Club golf in Cromwell was strong with about 350 members registered, he said. Twilight meets were probably most popular local gathering with up to 100 people sometimes taking part.
“Twilight golf is great here. It’s really social and open to anyone, members or non-members. That will start again in October and run through until March.”
Willie’s passion is helping people with their golf through coaching and club-fitting and after a year in the job he is thriving on the challenge. He operates his business, Moore Golf, from beside the clubrooms and is PGA professional golfer.
The course is familiar territory for him, playing here first as a high school student at Cromwell College. The school’s golf academy programme gave him the skills to go on and represent Otago then Canterbury. Six years in Melbourne followed, doing his PGA traineeship while working at an exclusive members club on the famed ‘Melbourne sandbelt’. He then earned a living on the Australian professional circuit often playing in front of large crowds.
Willie, who has a young family, hopes to meet lots of visitors and some of Cromwell’s newer residents on the course this summer.
He is also looking forward to helping host the final qualifying events for the New Zealand Open held in March 2017. This attracted high calibre talent from all over New Zealand and overseas and made good use of the hardest of the course’s five tee options.
“They love the course, it’s long and it’s challenging enough for them. It holds up to the pros and we get lots of spectators…I get to play too so that’s a bonus.
If you want to learn more about Cromwell’s great course contact Willie on firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone 03 445-0165.
One of Central Otago’s best kept secrets, the Cromwell Heritage Precinct exudes historic charm with its warm stone walls, cottage gardens, lakeside location and character-filled stores.
Created by volunteers 27 years ago when the rising waters of man-made Lake Dunstan began lapping at Cromwell’s former main street, the historic village continues to grow. It is not only a delightful and free visitor attraction with interactive historical displays and beautifully restored buildings, but also a hub for artists and craftspeople.
The schist stone cottages and shops are tenanted by an arts collective, master printmaker, renowned goldsmith, highly original wire sculptor and bone carver The goldsmith, Les Riddell, has been plying his ancient trade for over 25 years, the talented Canadian reworking family heirlooms as well as crafting new pieces. Wire sculptor Marie Velenski’s work is as original and quirky as it is intricate and plant expert and maker of herbal creams and perfumes, Karen Rhind, also adds unique character to the precinct.
Unique imported and New Zealand-made giftware is found in Jan Hawkin’s ever-changing treasure-trove of a store, Sequioa. Italian cuisine including delicious gelato at Armando’s Kitchen is one option for great eating, the other is the delightful Grain & Seed Café where visitor’s sip coffee from vintage crockery.
Named last year as one of New Zealand’s best ‘hidden gems’ by AA Directions Magazine, the precinct is gradually being discovered by overseas visitors, Kiwi families, and locals.
Historical displays tell the story of the frantic 1860s gold rush when sparsely populated Central Otago was suddenly inundated with thousands of prospectors. Children love the talking ‘locals’ who tell the yarns, life-size horses and secret alleyways, as well as the ducks, fishing wharf and picnic areas.
Located on Melmore Terrace, the Precinct hosts the Cromwell Farmers Market every Sunday from November to March. The market incorporates crafts now too and is great place to grab a coffee some fresh baking and catch up with friends.
Original and Innovative Arts at Hullabaloo and OCTA Gallery
Quality art work of international standard can be found at both the Hullabaloo Art Space and Old Cromwell Town Art Galleries.
The majority of the 15 professional artists that make up the Hullabaloo collective have been recognised in the art world with awards and other accolades.
The success of the gallery, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is attributed to the group’s focus of maintaining high standards of work that is constantly being refreshed.
“The gallery is rehung each month with new work and we exhibit a wide range of artistic disciplines. It’s an artist-run initiative so there is always one of us on hand to discuss the works with visitors,” collective member Lynne Wilson said.
At OCTA gallery, master printmaker Chris de Jong displays fine works by international and national artists, some of whom are his former pupils. Before he and his artist wife Gail moved to Central Otago to pursue their artist careers fulltime, Chris was principal lecturer at the School of Art in Dunedin. Gail’s stunning landscapes, often depicting the ruggedly beautiful terrain around Bannockburn, can be found in both galleries.
Thirty-seven years ago, Eletheria Jones asked her husband if he could build her a little roadside fruit stall so she could read books in the sun and sell some fruit from the family orchard.
“Well, I haven’t read a book yet,” she laughs. “It was a funny thing. A bus stopped and when they were leaving the driver said Mrs Jones you better get some more fruit, two buses coming tomorrow.”
Today the bustling business is a tourist attraction in its own right with some groups being driven there from Queenstown Airport straight off international flights, then back to the resort to check into hotels, head to Milford Sound and tick off other South-Island-whirlwind-tour highlights.
The stall hums everyday with hundreds of visitors who come to see and to sample the elaborately displayed goodies, and to meet Mrs Jones.
It was the government’s worker recruitment programme of the mid-1960s that bought her to Cromwell from her home in Crete. It was quite the adventure in those days, travelling halfway across the world then finding a job in the Hotel Cromwell, waitressing and housekeeping. Here she met Doug Jones who had set up a crayfish and venison export business in an old rabbit processing factory and was staying at the hotel.
A few years down the track, when ten barren, rabbit-infested acres came up for sale near the entrance to the Kawarau Gorge, the couple bought it with orcharding in mind.
“Everyone said you’ll never grow anything on that, it was so rough and dry, only rabbits and briar bushes. Doug, he was very determined and worked so hard.”
They persevered with their challenging block until trees were established, then bought more land on nearby Ripponvale Road and planted that out.
In the early days of the stall, women from throughout the region would make an outing of their annual fruit buy-up for preserving. Many would swap recipes with Mrs Jones and today some of their children now bring their own children to the stall.
Suncrest Orchard in Ripponvale was added to the Jones’over the years operation and the stall has undergone three major expansions. The couple have two children, Michael and Christina, who are fully involved in the business, as is Michael’s wife Dianne.
The property now covers 70 hectares, Michael says, including 55 hectares of cherries. The balance is planted in nectarines, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums and in grapes.
The fruit stall carpark would now occupy almost half a rugby field and when that’s getting full, Mrs Jones says, she sometimes sends a few buses down to the Cromwell Heritage Precinct with instructions to come back when there’s more room.
At the peak of the busy summer season the Jones’ can have up to 280 people on the payroll. They provide accommodation for up to 180 and many staff come back year after year.
During summer Doug opens the stall at 7.30am and closes it at 8pm. It’s always been his job and even now in late winter, the apples, pears and multitude of other goodies are still attracting customersfinding buyers until he closes up in the dark at 6.30pm.
“He’s good like that. I was lucky with him. But we are all workaholics, the whole family. It is very hard work and long hours and everyday busy but we enjoy the people and we all get on well together. We are very lucky to live here and because we are a family orchard.”
Mrs Jones says she doesn’t advertise and never has. She believes stone fruit in Central Otago simply tastes better than anywhere else in New Zealand and that is what keeps the people coming.
The other major attraction is, of course, Mrs Jones herself. Some of the longer serving bus drivers and tour leaders call her Mum and she greets everyone like an old friend. Mrs Jones’ smile has appeared on Chinese television, in countless visitor ‘selfies’ and doesn’t seem to falter even after eight hours on the shop floor.
Twelve years ago when a block came up for sale next door, Mrs Jones quickly claimed it before her husband and son could line it up for more fruit trees. She finally had a chance to realise her dream of creating a formal English garden. Doug planted the roses -all 1500 of them- set amongst classical statues, neatly clipped buxus hedging and formal walkways.
The garden and her three grandchildren aged 15, 13 and 9, are great sources of joy for Mrs Jones. She travels to Crete every second year to visit family and the couple enjoy cruise ship holidays as a way to unwind from the frenetic pace of summer. Sadly the migrant crisis in Europe has prompted them to postpone travelling to Crete this year.
That human tragedy is a reminder of how lucky people are to live in Central Otago, Mrs Jones says, and of the importance of tolerance, being kind and of making our visitors feel welcome.