First the goldminers took to it with any means they had to extract ample precious metal, then it was water that bought the earth-movers to Cromwell and the town and valley were partially drowned to create hydro power.
Cromwell Museum tells our story many ways... through renowned photographer Robin Morrison's starkly beautiful images of the people who had great change imposed upon them and through the treasures, memories and everyday objects that give a glimpse of the lives of farming families, fruit-growers, miners and women whose work was never done.
The museum formerly shared its space with the town's tourist information centre(i-site). In 2014 the i-site moved to a new building and the Mall facility was able to become a dedicated museum space. A Trust was formed peopled largely by retired professionals, some with backgrounds in the Social Sciences. Soon after, the facility was fortunate to be chosen as the subject of a 'makeover' by Choice TV's Heritage Rescue programme.
Today Cromwell Museum is an attractive facility with a secure future.
The museum is run by seven passionate and dedicated trustees and a group of around 35 well-skilled volunteers.
Trust chairperson Edith McKay(pictured above with volunteer Graham Brown) is a retired chef with a passion for geneology. She has encouraged the team to embrace technology to help secure Cromwell's stories and artefacts. Around 1000 items are now catelogued with online archive 'Ehive' and an attractive new website was recently launched.
Edith leads a Trust that has a clear focus, through well-honed guidelines and mission statement.
"We have an absolutely tremendous Trust team because of the level of skills that they have. And it's set up now for the next forty years, for successive Trustees to be able to easily take on."
The Trust are responsible for the training of the volunteers who operate the museum each day, visiting exhibitions, talks by experts and future projects. Their business-like approach has ensured that you won't find any dusty, neglected artefacts around this place and that Cromwell's very special story is being told and told well.
The museum, located in the Cromwell Mall, is free to visit.
At Cromwell’s longest-running tourism business, the lure of finding gold, going jetboating, horse riding, and enjoying fabulous food provides a winning combination.
The rugged goldmining site in the Kawarau Gorge has drawn people in, across its narrow footbridge, for 28 years.
Local guides entertain with gold mining stories from the not-to-distant past and couples can helicopter in to be married at Goldfield’s elegant wedding venue - beautiful rustic stables.
Heather Egerton still enjoys going to work at her unique Central Otago business.
“There was nothing here when we began 28 years ago, no buildings or anything. Now we have people fly in by helicopter.”
She said international tourists and Kiwis enjoyed the guided tours through the Goldfields every day.
“As well there are interesting walks through Chinatown past the old shafts, tunnels and tailings which are included in the experience.”
Guide Geoff Hewson said mining took place at the site from the early 1860s right up until 1969 and visitors still find gold today.
The first diggings followed the great Otago 1860’s gold rush with the Chinese arriving later. The small patch of hillside at Goldfields, which was known as Gee’s Flat, was home to about 100 miners.
“There were 32 hotels in the Cromwell area at the peak and thousands of miners. And we are still finding gold just down the road here.”
Geoff says visitors often got a bit of colour in their pan.
“We had 30 school students here recently, 29 of them got absolutely nothing and one found a good nugget so you never know.”
Trek the Goldfields on Horseback
Five rather fortunate standardbred horses are the star attraction of Goldfield’s newest business.
The Mining Centre is now home for the ex-trotters and pacers, whose job is carrying tourists through the DOC reserve.
Standardbreds were well suited to trekking due to their gentle nature and reliability, she said.
“They sometimes retire them from racing at only 5 years old. It’s nice to be able to give them a good home, they have a pretty great life here. We can put beginners on them because they are so chilled.”
Karolin moved to Cromwell two years ago from Germany and is enjoying sharing the area’s goldmining history with visitors.
“People experience the landscape very differently by horseback, it’s quite a special thing for many visitors that might not have ever ridden.”
The Cromwell Basin is strengthening its position as a wine destination after the recent opening of a new batch of tasting rooms and the launch of a unique wine walking tour.
It was a natural progression, Graeme Crosbie of Domain Road Vineyard, says, to open a seven-day-a-week, purpose-built tasting space.
It’s been 15 years since he and wife Gillian began their wine adventure, doing things their way and working hard to establish a customer base nationally and internationally.
He says for Central Otago producers, geography helps provide the x-factor that make the region’s wines so good, but also puts up the biggest hurdle to success.
“We are so far away from our markets, it’s hard getting our wines out there because people want to see someone from the vineyard itself. You just have to travel.”
Domain Road now had a solid fan base in Australia, the UK and Europe and to a lesser degree the US and Asia.
“The Swedes have been drinking our rose for years, they love it.”
When the industry was going through a slow patch some years ago, the couple decided to go against the flow and expand.
This is the third harvest off their aptly named Defiance Vineyard, the site of their modern and quirky new Cellar Door. Constructed from shipping containers, it juts out from the hillside giving tasters a cosy, elevated perch from which to soak up the scenery.
Also opening in mid-January was Quest Vineyard’s Cellar Door, in the Freeway Orchard complex off the main highway into Cromwell.
Mark Mason likes to do things his own way too, living off the grid on Quest’s 145ha working farm and vineyard.
The east-west lying plantings –predominantly Pinot Noir – are at Parkburn on the Luggate-Cromwell Road.
Mark says the tasting room was all about building relationships with customers – meeting the people and sharing the Quest story.
“It was kind of a quest to find what the land would lend itself to. How it would respond and it was pretty rough before we started. We’ve got mostly Pinot Noir, a tiny bit of Pinot Gris and we make a white pinot so we called that Albino Pinot.”
He hopes to soon be offering Parkburn honey along with the wines.
Cromwell’s newest addition to the tasting room tour is Mishas Vineyard, next door to Quest at Freeway.
Vineyard owners Andy and Misha Wilkinson have a 57-hectare estate on the edge of Lake Dunstan at Bendigo near Tarras, but felt a more centrally located tasting room would be easier for guests to access.
“We had a very successful launch of our Tasting Room last week. It’s been a long time in the planning but we finally have a place we can call ‘home’ – for our wines that is. We are excited to now have an office and tasting room together and to be embarking on this new phase of our business at a time when the region and the town of Cromwell is growing,” Misha said
With 20 export markets established and 10 vintages completed, the couple felt it was the right time to open a tasting room.
“We frequently receive calls from overseas visitors who know our brand and want to visit,” Andy says. “We are also seeing increased tourism, with Central Otago growing its reputation as a wine and food destination.”
According to Tourism New Zealand, 20% of tourists arriving in the country take part in a ‘wine experience’, up from 13% in 2014. An estimated 2.9 million people visit nearby Queenstown each year. Destination Queenstown’s latest Visitor Experience Survey shows that ‘wine’ or ‘visiting wineries’ is one reason why both domestic and international visitors chose to visit the resort.
The Wilkinsons designed their new facility with the wine tourist in mind, Andy says.
“We wanted to bring the atmosphere of the vineyard into the tasting room so three walls have large-scale photographic murals by renowned photographer Tim Hawkins, who has been photographing Misha’s Vineyard since the ground-breaking ceremony in 2004.
Walking the Talk with 4 Barrels
The couple have teamed up with Scott Base, Wooing Tree and Aurum Wines to offer a four-tasting room walking tour, right in the heart of Cromwell. Visitors and local alike are delighting in wandering through the vines and along the lake shore, taking in the scenery and stretching their legs between tastings.
The total walking time on the trail is approximately 90 minutes and can be completed in 3.5 hours assuming 30-minute stops at each tasting room. The trail time may be extended if including a lunch break along the way. At three of the tasting rooms there are lunch and/or platters available or there is the option of bringing one’s own picnic and finding a scenic spot.
“Together we offer an incredibly diverse range of wines which really showcases the depth and diversity of this amazing winegrowing region” Misha says.
As well as being able to taste Central Otago’s famous pinot noir, wine selections include pinot gris, rosé, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, riesling, sparkling and dessert style wines, port, and even a beer option at one of the Tasting Rooms.
The Heart of the Desert
Desert Heart owner Denny Downie said their new tasting facility at Bannockburn would be opening six days weekly. It was built due to the development of their new vineyard at the far end of the now-famous Felton Road.
Back in town, Wine Solutions in Cromwell’s industrial area have a resident winemaker and cellar door and up the highway at Tarras, Maori Point Vineyard have completed a new facility to continue their offerings for tastings on-site. Part-owner Matt Evans says tastings have already been happening over summer seven days a week.
Remarkable Wines owner Richard Guthrey said their new cellar door at Cairnmuir Road, Bannockburn would allow him to be based everyday at the vineyard rather than travelling to Gibbston to the vineyard’s other property.
“We have a large barn here and we have converted part of that for the new cellar door. It means I can be on the vineyard working and be around for tastings here in Bannockburn.”
High on the hill at nearby Bendigo, Hayden Johnson is working to ready his new wine and function venue at Tarras Vineyard and across the valley at Queensbury, Archangel Vineyard, have also built an attractive tasting room and venue, offering various ways to sample wine and food amongst the vines or indoors.
Over 600 people packed into the Cromwell Mall to enjoy the first Light Up Winter party on August 4.
Fairy lights, entertainers, crafts, stalls, live music and mulled wine were among the elements that set the scene for a busy and fun night.
Huge effort had been put in by dozens of children and adults in the Light Up Your Hat competition. Cromwell's Clair Dwyer and her delightful jellyfish walked away with the $300 cash prize from Harcourts. Second was Skye Hadley and third Tabi Kime.
In the childrens section Toni Davies flower hat won over the judges with a combined effort from sisters Tabitha and Hannah Cameron coming second with their Barbie creation. Ruby Stevenson's butterfly hat was third.
Mall shops decorated their windows with fairy lights and lanterns in the weeks leading up to the event. Winner of a competition for the best display announced on the night was hairdressing salon Red. Second was vintage and antique dealers Sentimental Journey and third was Central Otago Optical.
The evening ending with people releasing lanterns from the Big Fruit Reserve. SBS Bank had pre-sold over three hundred of the biodegradable paper lanterns making for a beautiful display.
The Cromwell & Districts Promotion Group would like to sincerely thank everyone who helped make the night a success. We're already looking forward to making plans for next year's event.
Hatching plans...Cromwell & Districts Promotion Group chairperson Janeen Wood talks outdoor sport with event organisers Terry Davis(centre) and Bill Godsall.
A new agreement on the running of five popular Cromwell events will give organisers “surety to start building the events going forward”, according the Cromwell & Districts Promotion Group chairperson, Janeen Wood.
Longtime sports administrator, Bill Godsall and Highland Events, run by Terry Davis, have each been granted a three year contract to run the well-known fixtures, collectively known as the Cromwell Summer Series. Owned by the Promotion Group, the series has been running for over twenty years. The first race held was the Bannockburn Classic mountainbike race in 1996.
“We have signed a three year contract with our enthusiastic event organisers which has given us all security in planning for the Half Marathon 10k Run and Walk at Labour Weekend, the Pub to Pub Gutbuster in November, Bannockburn Classic in late December and triathlon and Lake Dunstan Cycle races in January,” she said.
The first two will be run by Highland Events, the remaining three by Bill Godsall.
Both the organisers and the Promotion Group had some fresh ideas to continue to improve and evolve the events.
A major change already being put in place was a new course for the half marathon, aimed at eliminating traffic issues and improving safety for runners.
“Due to recent growth in Cromwell and Central Otago it has become apparent that our streets are too busy to comfortably and safely hold a running event over them,” Terry Davis said.
The start and finish location for the October 22 event, would move from Anderson Park to the Alpha Street sports field.
“Runners will head north around the lakeside track under the Cromwell Bridge and around towards Pisa Moorings. The 10k runners turn around at Lowburn and run back. Half marathoners turn around at Pisa Moorings, run back around the lake and on to Butchers Drive Boat Ramp then back to the Alpha Street finish line.”
Bill Godsall said a date change for the Lake Dunstan Cycle Challenge in January was likely, also in response to increasing traffic volumes. Further discussions would be held over the coming months to look at more ways of improving and growing all of the five events.
By Jill Herron
Tarras: Baking hot summers, dry, stony soil and in the winter, bone chilling frosts…and that’s just the way they like it. Italian olives have found a happy home in the Ardgour Valley near Tarras and are producing delicious oil the country’s upmarket restaurants can’t get enough of.
There’s bonuses as well as challenges in the climatic extremes here, as Squeaky Hinge olive oil owners, Simon Gibbard and Nicola Mulvena, have learnt. The couple admit it was a “very steep learning curve” from arriving with no knowledge to now being one of area’s most significant growers in both production and reputation.
“We really just got into olives because they came with the house,” Nicola says. “We learnt by reading books, joining the Central Otago Olive Growers Association, and from our neighbours.“
The trees are 15 years old, Simon and Nicola having arrived to take on their care six years ago when they moved to Tarras following the Christchurch earthquakes. Nicola, a massage therapist, kept a diary of daily activities and in their first season the couple excitedly produced 150 litres of oil, imagining it to be a great haul.
On becoming more acquainted with the incredibly hardy trees, the couple began to fine tune operations.
“We’re on a slope here and we noticed an amazing difference in temperature from the top to the bottom of the hill. The frost rolls down and we pick at the end of May so it’s a real timing juggle”, Simon said.
The first season they started picking at the top of the block and worked their way down. By the time they got to the bottom, the fruit there was frosted.
“Now we pick from the bottom and work up, aiming to start when a third are ripe, a third are turning ripe and a third are still green.”
It’s a big job, especially now as production has grown three-fold and there’s three and a half tonnes of fruit to gather by hand. The thick trunked trees are fruiting heavily, aided by many factors, not least, a new irrigation system.
Work Force No Problem Thanks to Nicola's Cooking
As harvest time approaches Nicola puts the word out for WOOFers and backpackers to help pick in return for board and food.
It’s no problem finding takers and many stay on longer than planned. The food part of the deal is a big factor, the couple say, and also the chance to stay in comfortable accommodation as the weather cools, pre-ski season.
“We usually get three couples and I start stocking up the pantry a month before. I start freezing meals two weeks out then just keep on cooking to keep them fed. They love it,” she said.
Large sections of netting are laid out under the trees and pickers use special plastic rakes - not unlike something you would see in a child’s sandpit - to gently remove the olives. The fruit is then taken straight to Cromwell for pressing.
Every year an olive press is set up in Freeway Orchard’s commercial kitchen. Growers from all around book a slot and turn up with anything from a cardboard box of olives and an empty wine bottle, to fruit by the tonne and large drums to fill.
The press operates continuously day and night to get the job done, Simon said.
“Once the fruit’s at room temperature the leaves are blown out and it goes into a water trough then through an auger into a press to become a paste. The nuts and skins are separated off by centrifugal force at about 40,000 rpm. The oil flows out a stainless steel pipe.”
Ours goes into 50 litre drums and settles for a few weeks. We used to keep them in the house because they need to be warm. That was okay for three drums but now there’s ten.”
Simon works week on week off at the huge Macraes gold mine in East Otago. He’s one of a staff of around 700, his job being in the deep underground part of the operation. Not surprising then that an underground option for storing the precious oils occurred to Simon as the perfect solution.
The cool, dark cellar is dug deep into a bank behind the house and now that the memory of the painful consent process has faded the couple are delighted with how well it works.
Even on a blistering hot afternoon the interior is invitingly cool and in winter severe cold is kept at bay.
Chefs at Minaret Station, Federal Diner, Fedali and many others who have been waiting for the new season’s oil receive their much-anticipated deliveries and there's never any left over.
The Big Prune Begins Again
Nicola and Simon then toil through the winter prune. It’s the biggest job on the place due to the tree’s vigorous growth.
“They’re like willows, they grow fast and want to hang down. They say they should be open enough in the middle that a bird can fly through, otherwise the fruit there won’t ripen,” he said.
The cold and dry keeps pests away so there’s very little spraying aside from a few weeds. Fertiliser is added but it’s mostly Central Otago sunshine and water that goes into producing the peppery, green liquid gold that the couple sell under their Squeaky Hinge label.
According to the literature you can gain a myriad of health and beauty benefits from this good oil. Consume a teaspoon a day to help fight arthritis, aging, cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Rub it on for burns, dry skin and psoriasis or in the ear to combat earache.
Or forget all that and just do what those savvy chefs do, drizzle it on a salad and enjoy.
Above: Brook and Lucie Lawrence, part-owners of Aurum Wines, Cromwell
Aurum Wines head winemaker Lucie Lawrence brings a bit of French flare to Central Otago’s wine scene. She recently shared some of her knowledge to an audience of international experts as part of a panel discussing the evolution of structure in Central’s pinots.
The event, hosted at Aurum near Cromwell township, was part of an international Pinot 2017 celebration based in Wellington.
“As part of the programme wine regions were given the opportunity of hosting international guests on tour pre or post Pinot 2017. They are leading wine writers, critics, buyers and sommeliers and had the opportunity to spend time in Central doing tastings, masterclasses and dinners.”
Lucie says the visits were co-ordinated by Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd(part of COWA) and funded by the participating wineries.
“It’s a great opportunity to promote wines from throughout the region and our individual sub-regions like Bannockburn, Cromwell, Wanaka, Bendigo.”
Winemaking has an artistic, fun element to it, Lucie says, but it’s mostly science and hard graft and getting together with others in the industry always helped maintain the motivation.
Aurum are a small organic vineyard, family owned and operated, producing a unique style of wine for a niche market.
The reality of winemaking, particularly for this small operation, is quite different, Lucie says, to the glamourous picture people sometimes imagined. At harvest time the oenologist(winemaker) is flat out processing grapes as they are delivered to the winery from the vineyard.
“We go out in the morning and look and look again at the grapes then tell the crew what to pick that day. In the winery, we are receiving the new grapes and we are processing them, pressing, placing them in tank or de-steming. We are dealing with them, putting them where they need to go, then maybe starting the wine from the grapes bought in the previous day.”
Some years if the harvest is short, everything may come in at once. Four days straight could be spent just processing new grapes before actual winemaking could start.
“Then we are tasting, looking, smelling, and measuring everything. It is very involved, intuitive and scientific… there are good yeasts and bad yeasts and good bacteria and bad bacteria so we are promoting the good stuff, eliminating the bad stuff.”
A Family Operation
Lucie, husband Brook and Brook’s parents Tony and Joan, work together to grow and harvest the grapes as well as maintain the property and develop the business. Each has their own areas of responsibility within that, Lucie says.
Joan looks after the property’s olive plantation, the beautiful cottage gardens and the cellar door in the weekends. Tony manages vineyard staff, especially during harvest and maintains the property while Lucie runs the tasting room, is head winemaker and paperwork controller and Brook, also a qualified winemaker, ultimately takes charge of the viticulture. The couple work together during vintage in the winery.
Tony is also an orthodontist with a practice in Frankton he attends one day a week. Then there is Brook and Lucie’s two young daughters, Mathilde and Madeleine, who help with chores in the organic gardens. The girls are also continuing a long family tradition in wine - on Lucie’s side - by each lending their names to an Aurum vintage.
Lucie grew up in Burgundy, France, where her grandparents owned a vineyard and other family members, including her mother, had restaurants.
The couple met when both were apprenticed to a wine estate in Burgundy near the end of their studies. Lucie loves her adopted home in Cromwell, as do her family from France who often visit and have become familiar with our local golf courses.
The tasting room at Aurum is open everyday, all year round, providing significant sales and the important opportunity to showcase the wines to customers and distributors.
Backpackers are bought in to provide labour at busy times but the Lawrences’ mainly do all the work themselves from picking the grapes to marketing. It’s busy, constant, even relentless at times but there is a huge bonus to owning it and doing it yourself, Lucie says.
“We can do our own thing. Here we only need a small audience for our wines so we can make it how we like.”
Being organic is key to Aurum’s way of being and they wouldn’t have it any other way, she says.
What interests her is the texture of the wine, how it feels to drink and making a clean, transparent, restrained wine that truly reflects its origin without being over the top.
“That is my style and we are so lucky we can make the wines we love, we don’t have any pressure from shareholders to make a certain wine. We are tiny, we don’t need to find so many people because we are not making millions of bottles to sell. We are making for a niche market so we just need to find our own audience.”
Every Pinot Noir from Central Otago is different, she said, as all wines are different. They express where they come from and the people that make them and Cromwell was producing great variety in a small geographic area.
Central Otago wines represent less than 5% of New Zealand’s annual production but punch way above their weight in terms of recognition nationally and internationally.
Lucie says this is a huge help in marketing the wines and is testament to a lot of hard work being put in over time by organisations like the Central Otago Winegrowers Association.
“It is a big credit to these organisations, what they have done over the past twenty years and the pioneers of the wine industry here, they have done such a great job.”
Lucie says seeing what others are doing in the industry overseas and also getting together with winemakers here is hugely inspirational.
The prospect of creating new and exciting wines every year exactly how she pleases certainly helps fuel the motivation too.
Aurum Wines Fact File
Size of Vineyard: 4ha
Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay
First vintage: 2006
Style and characteristics of wines: organic, transparent, textured wines
Favourite accolade: Winestate top 5 Pinot Noir Wine of the year for the 2014 Estate Pinot Noir
The grass is actually quite a bit browner on the other side but that doesn’t seem to deter dozens of Southlanders who every year pack up their lives and move to Central Otago.
So what’s the attraction and why do they leave green valleys behind for the land of rocks and rabbits?
Lloyd and Suz Allison say it was not just the sun in what’s known as ‘Sunny Central’ that brought them there, it was opportunity.
There’s no denying the community spirit in Southland and it forms a big part of the Allison’s memories of raising their family around Wyndham, near Gore.
Fourteen years ago, however, the couple made the decision to move permanently to Central Otago. They’re now fully converted Central-ites who say they can’t ever see themselves leaving the area.
The couple were enjoying a minibus wine tour on a weekend away from Southland when their driver announced he had to shoot out to a house in Bannockburn to drop something off.
“I’d never even heard of Bannockburn,” Suz says. “But I’ll never forget it, we drove up and I remember thinking this is the best view in the world.”
The property they stopped at - a small, dated house on a rough sloping section - was on the market. The couple instantly sold their Arrowtown holiday home and “got stuck in” commuting two and half hours up from Wyndham during weekends to work on their new get-away spot.
They ferried up plants, tackled the large section head on and tidied up the little house, weekend after weekend.
It was the weather that first prompted some serious discussion around making the place a permanent rather than a holiday home. Driving out of rain into sunshine one way, then leaving sunshine and driving back into rain was becoming a feature of the couple’s busy weekends.
“We thought bugger it, let’s just take the bull by the horns, really make something of this place and move,” Suz says.
“The builder said it would be cheaper and quicker to take the whole house away and start again but we couldn’t see that at the time, we had a budget and just redesigned, reroofed, rewired, the whole thing. Of course it totally got out of control,” she laughs.
Suz had long harboured a desire to have her own B&B so the couple added an apartment, got some hens, created a huge vegetable garden, mini-vineyard and large flower garden.
“We’re fairly self-sufficient now, we have a green house and as long as you have compost and water everything just goes nuts in the garden.”
While the climate was certainly a catalyst for change, employment opportunities in Central Otago were a major consideration for the Allisons.
The couple’s three adult children had well and truly flown the nest and home economics teacher, Suz had retrained as a chef. Lloyd was also in need of a change in the employment stakes.
“After 23 years as a stock agent and lamb drafter I was just stale in the job,” Lloyd says, “And with some hard years price-wise down there it could be pretty depressing at times.”
Prospects for farm ownership were getting worse instead of better as dairying drove up land prices. Lloyd now drives a tractor at Carrick Vineyard, plays a fair bit of golf and sees to the couple’s own vines and winemaking adventures.
Suz initially worked part time at Wooing Tree Vineyard and was delighted to be able to use her culinary skills, but with the B&B now thriving she’s given that up.
The couple make around 150 bottles of Riesling off their own vines, much more than first expected, Suz says.
“The idea was to be self-sufficient in wine but we got loads so lots of friends and family get a bottle. The first year we made it in the kitchen with a sieve and a wooden spoon, the extraction rate was absolutely terrible, I think we got about 35 bottles.”
They progressed to pressing with feet then last year moved up in the sophistication stakes and purchased half-shares in a wine press.
“It’s been years of learning but it’s great fun, you learn by your mistakes and we get help from some good friends… one is a winemaker so that helps a lot.”
So what do they miss about their southern home…well the lush green of the Wyndham Golf Course is fairly high on that list. The couple find it amusing that unlike their fellow golfers from the deep south, locals here won’t play in the rain.
They miss friends but say many from their area - which did not benefit in the employment stakes from the dairy boom - have gradually sold up and also moved to Central Otago over the years.
While statistics are difficult to pin down, real estate companies report that around seven to nine percent of residential sales in Cromwell and Alexandra are to Southlanders. Many are retirement age but certainly not all.
Lloyd and Suz say Central Otago’s health services being pushed further away, and the travel required for shopping, cultural events and even coastal fishing, were things they had learnt to live with in Central…as were the cold winters.
“Southland and particularly the area where we were was a great place to bring up kids, everything was right there sport-wise and recreation-wise.” Lloyd says. But once the kids were gone, Central Otago’s opportunities became more and more appealing.
The couple have made new friends and don’t think they will ever want to leave the Cromwell area. They certainly haven’t forgotten however, the warmth of Southern people.
“Southlanders are so friendly, you could bump into someone you hadn’t seen for five years, walk into their home, have a cup of tea and it would be just like you’d seen them yesterday,” Suz says.
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.