That Mountain Must Come Down
A Visit To Peel Forest in Canterbury New Zealand
World Wide Copyright Neville Forsythe
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1 the daisy-speckled grass, beside the squat, corrugated iron rain tank, the three year old lad drives the home-made wooden articulated truck.  The smell of fresh paint competes with the sweet aroma of newly cut grass.  Gleaming grey, with bright red cab and trimmings, the vehicle is completed by a set of six fresh new black, hard rubber wheels. On the deck lie miniature bales of fresh grass, cut by Dad's sharp pocket knife and bound with long blades of lush grass.  In the tradition of all young families, frugality has been matched with resourcefulness. The wood has been recycled from old packing cases.  Fruit boxes cut to size and sanded to stroke-able smoothness; nails straightened and reused; the paint, extracted from some aging tin, strained through an old stocking and stirred interminably.

The only expense has been those lovely hard rubber wheels - nowadays, when my mechanic paints the side-walls of my tyres with new black rubber paint, I feel once again smart, like the wearer of freshly polished shoes.

The summer sunshine, filtered safely by the un-holey ozone layer, blesses the family group relaxing in front of the old wooden bach.  Looking on are three generations of committed Peel Foresters who have come to love the peace and tranquillity of this remnant of Canterbury's once widespread bush.

Native Wood Pigeons, (or Kereru as the Maori termed them), dive, swoop, climb and stall in dare-devil displays, revelling with exuberance in the sheer freedom and recklessness of flight.  Alighting on a fruit-laden cherry tree, the fat birds weigh the whip-like branches down as they clamber more and more precariously out to the extremities in search of the tender leaves.  Bellbirds chime and cough in a contest of mimicry, while riflemen, with absurdly short tails, dart across the open grassed spaces and disappear into the cool inviting shade away from the lazy hum of insects and interminable ratchet of cicadas........

The earliest memories of my entire life are of this scene, (perhaps not in quite the same detail), as I played with my pride and joy in front of the wire-fronted verandah with its soiled, weatherbeaten grey canvas blind rolled up for the daylight hours.

The old family "bach" had begun life as a construction workers' hut on the electricity project, at Kurow, hydro town, located inland from Waimate, on the mighty Waitaki River.  Towed over Burke's Pass, through Fairlie and Geraldine, to its location, it had then (in typical practice of the day) acquired an unlined verandah, closed in with weatherboards - fully at each end, and to waist height at the front. Leaving an open window, covered in chicken wire to keep out the possums (but not night beetles, wetas, huhu beetles, moths, sandflies, cicadas and an assortment of other insect life), a canvas blind had been installed to provide a little night-time privacy and reduce the effect of the ever present elements.   A farm "whare" or working-man's hut, was added, (already Maori words had permeated everyday English especially in farming circles), the whole completed by the construction of an attached  bedroom, on site.

(All of this with no reference to district plans, building regulations, building inspectors; or any of the overbearing bureaucracy which now permeates every decision from building a mansion down to erecting a simple garden shed).

A small entrance hall contained numerous ancient coat racks, lines of gum-boots and an old, wrought-iron wash-stand, hosting enamel jug, tin basin and assorted ranks of toothbrushes, pastes and face cloths.  On the faded linoleum floor lay the old hand-made rag mats, created by canny grannies out of depression days' necessity.  The recipe.... take a jute wheat sack; cut up old garments into strips of finger width, and using a bodkin, loop the lengths of rag tightly through the sack  backing.  Using recycled resources, coupled with natural artistic sensitivities, these highly-durable and long-serving items could be made into colourful creations by skilful design and careful planning. (Our current bach in 1998 still contains  functional  survivors from those days of self-reliance and resourcefulness).

Some families have a long connection with this area.  As I mention elsewhere, my great-grandparents were among the earlier campers and hut holders.  The extended family runs to second cousins and relatives by marriage, who at one time or another, have owned baches at Blandswood Peel Forest.

Where a large proportion of Australian immigrants were guests of His or Her Majesty in one or other of the notorious prisons, most New Zealand immigrants came of their own volition, albeit to escape the depressed economy of Britain.  Among these folk were those, like my maternal Grandfather, who (with a number of his  English public school friends), made his disillusioned way to the furthest corner of the realm to escape the aftermath of the First World War.  Coming to the newly created small holdings, carved out the giant estates established by pioneers such as Tripp, Acland and Grigg, the future promised much.

Most of my family, on my maternal grandparents' side (Irish from the area of Auchedoey), lived in the Lowcliffe area, just north of the snow-fed Rangitata River, between the Main South Road and the coast.  Some of their descendants still farm land in this area, though a new economic recession sees most of the family spread far and wide from New Zealand to Australia.  Almost none farms the land; however the one place acknowledged as a sort of "spiritual home" is Blandswood, Peel Forest.


The early family "pioneers" first came here around 1910, from their coastal farms, to obtain timber from the sawmills located in the area; timber for buildings fence-posts yards and gates.  Picnics and bush parties soon became a regular part of the summer calendar.

Before long the captivation of a bush holiday, in the most idyllic of surroundings, caught up whole families friends and even church bible-class groups.  Camping under canvas on a site adjacent to Kowhai Stream, males were housed on one side of the dirt road with females on the other.  Sharing cooking facilities, (a canvas shelter containing a brick fireplace), these groups spent fun-filled hours exploring trackless forest, tramping to waterfalls, climbing ridges and summits; briefly dipping in the icy pools to cool off.

Educated and articulate, they even published a daily camp newspaper, complete with anecdotes reports and notices.  They mounted camp concerts which consisted of sung and instrumental items, along with literary offerings both original and recited.

As time went by, simple structures appeared on the small holdings, subdivided from the farmland which had occupied the lower slopes and flood plain for a number of years.

The first family bach  was built on the site of those original camps, for one of the numerous  Ford family.  Letitia, fifth in a family of nine children, was born in 1870.  In 1920, Aunty Tish, as she was known, commissioned builder, Bert Day,  (a friend of my great uncle Ted Cross, also a builder), to construct  a holiday hut. It bore the name of the home village in Ireland, that the Fords had left to come to New Zealand.  That name, Auchedoey, still adorns the small house, which was transported in to replace the original hut, totally destroyed in the 1975 flash flood.  Located only metres from the neighbouring site, where four children lost their lives, the old hut, (in the words of an eye-witness),  "sagged before it squashed its garage".  Bearing the full brunt of the cataclysmic deluge, the old place never had a chance.

The second construction was erected for my great-grandfather, William Ford, (also by Bert Day), around 1930.  Named Fordell, it was (according to one source), adapted from stables belonging to the original farm which was subdivided in the early 1900s.  It consisted of two small rooms, (kitchen and parents' bedroom), with verandahs front and back, where children and guests slept.  The customary chicken-wire netting screen, only kept out marauding possums, while the rain blew in at times.

Located a little distance from the stream, on Blandswood Road, it still stands, despite the ravages of the mighty 1975 flood, which filled it underneath and inside with silt.  With its low ceilings and different floor levels, it retains its aura of quaint cottage atmosphere.

Personal  ablutions were carried out in the early days, in the icy stream, a tradition carried on daily by my father Ian into the 1960's. I recall seeing his six-foot tall form disappearing down the road, wearing swimming togs and carrying a towel, flannel and soap dish.  Some time later, glowing with the pink flush of invigorated flesh, he would return whistling cheerfully, ready for action; a walk, a game of swing-ball, or a turn on the bow-saw at the wood-pile.  Very infrequently, I tried to emulate this brave ritual.  Squatting on the river bank, I would wet the flannel in the icy water and apply it first to soap, then to various areas of my anatomy.  Vainly hoping for a minute rise in the temperature of the damp flannel, I would finally slip off my togs and lather away at an ever  diminishing appendage and moony backside.  In a final brief conclusion to this self-inflicted ascetic rite, I would step into the shallow stream; lean forward to form the familiar starting position of a Physical Education "press-up".  Bravely, with an involuntary in-drawing of breath, I would lower myself into the frigid pool and totally immerse head, shoulders, back - all.  My exit was delayed by the need to wash off the soapy lather, but finally I would stagger out breathless, head aching, to clutch the towel around me and step, shivering, back into my togs.  I now know at first-hand, the origin of the coarse saying about low temperatures and their ability to emasculate one.  The positive glow which followed resulted in an acute state of awakeness and feeling of refreshment and invigoration rarely experienced.  These days, I don't think my heart would stand the shock and I am grateful for the modern amenities available in our warm hut.  Anyway, the stream no longer affords either the flow, depth, or privacy to allow such bravery to be staged.  I am thankful for small mercies.

Great-grandpa Ford used to retreat to the quietude of Fordell  to get away from what Great-grandma owned up to as "mother's muddles", a state of domestic chaos; it seems while maintaining a high standard of cleanliness, she often found it difficult to concurrently maintain domestic order with the items of daily living, (an attribute I have unfortunately inherited).

Rumour has it that the old boy, (an amateur beekeeper), used these brief escapes from the local, teetotal atmosphere of  Presbyterian Lowcliffe, to indulge in the sampling of his home-made mead, away from no doubt disapproving gazes.  He was a meticulous accountant, working as secretary for the Hinds District Roads Board - one of the local bodies responsible for establishing, extending and maintaining roads and bridges in the rural areas.  Perhaps with a premonition of his death, the highly respected guardian of community resources, died of a heart attack in his sleep, leaving  everything in perfect order for his successor.

The third family bach was the one described at the start of this tale, named Kauranga, the Maori word for "ford".  Great-grandma Ford selected one of the best sites on the flat; open and sunny and above the flood plain. From its elevated position, views can be had of the ridge leading up to Little Mount Peel.  In front, the grassy expanse of a road reserve provides rare, flat space for ball games, badminton and the occasional visitor's tent.

For a time, (up till Great-grandpa Ford's death), both Fordell and Kauranga were retained, by the Ford family, often being used concurrently to accommodate larger gatherings.

Great-grandma, used to gather up her grandchildren along with her "late lamb", youngest daughter Elsie, (who was only a few years older than her own nephews and nieces), and pack up the dray with a sack of flour, tin of honey and generous quantities of lard, rendered down from weekly mutton roasts.  Leaving at first light, the party would travel over hot dusty shingle roads, all day, to reach Peel in the cool of the evening.  Feeding the horde of youngsters on deep-fried scones dripping with honey, she would send them off into the trackless bush,  wearing neck-to-knee woollen swimming costumes.

Regardless of the weather, there were never any problems trying to dry out soaking clothes.  The adventurous youngsters, (led by one  of their own, who was blessed with an unerring sense of direction), scrambled through stream and fern, to reach waterfalls, ridges, tarns, rata stands and big trees, returning safely to Grandma's scones.  Other fare included lumpy oatmeal porridge, potatoes, cream and milk (bought by the billy-full from Popplewell's - a large family who occupied a tiny cottage, now lying derelict in a field off Brake Rd; or from Evans' farm across Kowhai Stream).  In those days a billy of milk cost sixpence (5c - the smallest coin in today's 1998 currency).

.... Clutching the pewter-coloured tin billy, I set off down the gravel road to the stream.  Dawdling across the sturdy bridge I pause to gaze down into the crystal stream.  No trout. I listen to the light musical tinkle of the water as it emerges from overgrown bushy banks, briefly sparkles as it passes the seldom-used ford and disappears into the dark shadow of the bridge. The solid, timeless heavy-beamed wooden-railed bridge.  Decades old, it wears a respectable weather-beaten surface, equal to the heavy rainfall of the area. An occasional coat of white paint is applied to the heavy rails which complete the open sloping sides.  The heavy hardwood planks hardly jostle as a vehicle crosses.  Like the mountain, the bridge seems permanent, unchanging, there for eternity; part of the secure fabric of the beneficent world.
I pick up the slightly battered wire-handled billy and climb the steep curve to Evans' farm, lying sunlit on the gentle lower slopes below the southern ridge of the mountain.  Sheep and cows graze quietly till I pass.  The sheep, disquieted and distrustful, retreat alarmed in a low thundering canter of hooves, while the cows, inquisitive and unruffled, raise their heads to stare as I pass.  Their heads turn to follow my passage past the field.  Their aloof, motionless stance coupled with an unflinching stare is very disquieting to a seven-year-old.  I cautiously open the gate and cross the "home-paddock" to the cow byre.  Inside, the two bails contain a cow apiece, tethered by a length of dirty dung-crusted rope passed tightly behind one of the back legs.  From the shed comes the monotonous drone of an electric motor accompanied by the chuff of a vacuum pump beating endlessly.  Beside the entrance, the pump bounces and groans while the sight-glass fills with a spray of white milk which momentarily obliterates the surface. It cascades down in a fascinating trickle to briefly clear before the next spray.  Beside the pump, the galvanised milk-can receives the warm, aromatic liquid, sweet and maternal.  Alongside stands the separator, a hand-wound, squat object from which emerges two spouts.  A quantity of milk is poured in the top, the handle turned slowly (it has some sort of governor and requires considerable strength over a continuous period) and magically, from the larger spout streams light skim-milk suitable for feeding to the cute, nudging calves; (I'm sure they would prefer the full rich nutriment which we steal unashamedly for our own pleasure).  From the other smaller spout dribbles a thick yellowy liquid - pure gold.  Fresh cream is unsurpassed for oatmeal porridge (topped with melting sugar or better still, dribbled liquid honey), and to accompany the hard-won wild berry fruits gathered from cane and briar.  Raspberries, blackberries (sweetened with a little icing sugar) and fresh cream!  No wonder we have a high rate of heart disease.  I pay over my shilling (10 cents) as the milk is ladled using a tin measure.   Clutching my brimming half-gallon billyful of milk, I make my way carefully back across the "home-paddock" to the gravel road.  This journey is not so pleasant.  The weighty billy's fine-gauge wire handle now cuts deep into my flesh, requiring frequent hazardous changes of hand.  The sloping gravel slips out from under my gumboots, making me slop the precious contents, despite the lid on the billy.  Ages later, having stopped repeatedly to rest, massage my aching hands, I enter the old bach with a mixture of relief and apprehension.  Relief at the end of a torturous journey; apprehension for the chiding I may get due to the "short-measure" I deliver.  Usually the journey goes well, the spillage minor, the appreciation great - "home comes the hunter, home from the hill..."

Great-grandpa Ford gave each of his grandchildren a nickname - Eileen Banana, Peggy O'Neill, Ruby Ina Castiglione, Molly Muggrams and Ralph the Rover.

No "mod-cons" for these hardy souls. Depression days had instilled in them a sense of necessary frugality; but equally, there was no sense of deprivation, amusement coming cheaply and readily from card evenings, singalongs around the piano and the free and generous intellectual exchanges of family and friends.  This circle included the local Postmistress (Great-grandma), English Public School "Old Boys", University-graduated school teachers, as well as canny farmers with essentially self-sufficient small holdings.

Fordell was sold in 1935, and around 1940, when Great-grandma became too infirm to travel,  her youngest daughter, Elsie took over duties as chaperone to the happy bunch of cousins.  Dubbed Lady Disdain by her charges, Elsie, then in her early twenties, maintained an orderly establishment of up to seven youngsters.  Coming from a dedicated family of Presbyterians and Methodists in their home district, the children would be sent off each Sunday morning, to walk to the Anglican Service at Peel Forest township, some five kilometres away.  Travelling through Dennistoun Bush, along Brake Rd and through the sycamore forest and fields of the farm, they were often late, having stopped to pick and consume wild gooseberries on the way.

Wartime visits to Peel by family and friends were infrequent but after hostilities ceased, a group of young Ashburton Methodist lads, (including my mother's only brother Lawrence), visited by truck, purloined from a young bible-class youth leader who established a well-known apiary in Ashburton.

This cheerful company included two lads later to be inducted ministers, (one of whom rose to rank of Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand), a Supreme Court Judge and Knight of the Realm and other community leaders of the post war decades.  Sadly, the one who never lived to fulfil his emerging promise, was Lawrence - killed in a freak accident while working as a linesman for the burgeoning post-war electricity supply boom.


........giggling in girlish glee, the two sisters sit side-by-side, on the two-holed, doorless, "long-drop", decaying in regenerating bush.  Peggy O'Neill and Eileen Banana, now in their seventies, (having lost their old nick-names, but not their sense of fun and companionship), have scrambled through fern and blackberry to the site of the old house which, (octagonal in shape, surrounded on all sides by low-roofed verandahs), hosted generations of bush-stricken enthusiasts.

Now the only evidence of this once grand structure, (which even housed a harmonium), is the tipsy toilet, mouldering near its last remaining foundation post.  Unusual for its double design, a closer inspection reveals two sizes - child's and adult's.

Indistinguishable in the dark rich leaf litter nearby, lies a rusting metal sheet, about the size of an open newspaper.

 Dragging it from its rotting surroundings, I inspect the indented faint lettering - P.. L... U... M.... E - embossed in the very fabric of the metal.  The accompanying scraps of paint reveal fragments of a longer word .  Piecing them together in a bizarre  outdoors version of word-find, I finally arrive at BENZINE.  Here again is evidence of the resourcefulness of those frugal farmers.  In early days, petrol was sold in 4 gallon cans,  thousands of which appeared throughout the land.

When empty, they were cut open and flattened into useful weather-resistant sheathing, for garages, barns, hay sheds, shearing sheds... yes and even holiday baches.

Perhaps sensing the history of the area, perhaps subconsciously claiming communal ownership of all this forested reserve, today's residents welcome opportunities to visit each other's properties during the annual "rambles" that have occurred in recent years.  Prompted by the celebration of 25 years of existence, the Blandswood Residents Association, held a reunion coupled with a "ramble", during which various owners gave what details they could about their own and others' baches.  Much historic detail came to light as present and past owners shared reminiscences. Many played together as children, going on to inherit or establish their own baches; in turn bringing their own children to this wonderful, varied playground.  Many residents keep a contact with Peel as long as mobility, (even considerably limited), allows.  Sadly, some owners, due to pressures of work, in city or on farm, catch only brief visits; often just for a few hours, to mow lawns, clear rainwater supply pipes and turn water off before winter frosts cause damage.

The innate curiosity of human nature is born of an inquisitiveness, which when satisfied, gives the inquirer a sense of historic and social place in the scheme of things.

Browsing through a family bach is often like capturing a glimpse of New Zealand as it was a generation ago.  Many baches, while boasting such "mod-cons" as electric range, refrigerator and heaters, still house amenities of half a century ago and more.  A bach is a wonderful repository of family cast-offs, still serving a useful, albeit part-time function.  Occasionally a real gem is discovered; in its dark recesses, lurking wood-fired range, free-standing tin bath on four lion's paws, cast-iron cooking ware, iron-framed bedsteads, fading linoleum, tongue-and-groove match-lining.  One of my favourites, a neighbouring house, (still unpretentiously displaying glowing walls of oiled native timber), has a special place in the memories of old identities, who used to gather for home movies, screened by the then owner, a doctor from Ashburton.  As one of the larger dwellings in the Blandswood area, this house has served as permanent residence over various periods, including as home for an artistic couple who installed a large pottery kiln outdoors.

I remember the late owner, as a quiet, unassuming man, who practised neighbourly goodwill, (reciprocated willingly), typical of the sense of common interest which many Peel Foresters display.  Whenever either of us had our lawn mowers out, each would mow the frontage of the other.  Nothing was ever spoken, negotiated, expected; it just occurred as naturally as the many courtesies which civilised folk bestow on each other.  Sadly, in many of our urban settings, such neighbourliness has retreated behind automatic garage doors, high fences, guard dogs and "keep out" signs.


..... beside the old bridge, in a clearing beside the stream, the bright orange tent glows in the warm morning sun.  Reluctantly responding to the sleep-refreshed piping voice beside me,  I struggle to emerge bleary-eyed from my sleeping bag.  The night has been colder than I was prepared for;  every crack of twig, every brush of leaves has brought anxiety.  This must be what early man felt like every morning!  The presence of cattle droppings has made me uneasy about the safety of the site chosen for my son's first camping experience.  What if a steer wanders through the tent?  As it turns out, no disasters have occurred and we emerge from the tiny, flimsy shelter to set up the gas cooker, frying pan and billy.

Within minutes we are tucking into delicious bacon and eggs, cooked tomatoes, hot tea made in a billy - this is really living!  The dishes are rinsed in the icy water of the stream, scrubbed with handfuls of shingle, then rinsed with the remains of the hot water from the billy.  Blessed sunshine warms us and a sense of tranquillity pervades, as a lark sings above us, almost too high to be seen in the intense cloudless blue.  Those endless warblings have been a part of my Peel Forest awareness wherever I have gone; at the top of 1000 metre high Little Peel,  outback in Mesopotamia, lazing in a river gorge.  This is truly what must have inspired that tranquil composition of Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending.

The high-country in Canterbury draws one back again and again, in all weathers, seasons, times of day.  Dusty roads lead to distant vistas, wide expanses, lonely locations; one's sense of self-importance is returned to perspective in these towering-sided valleys, formed millions of years ago by the sculpting forces of ice, rain, wind, earthquake and gravity.  The folk who choose to live in these remote regions are a hardy self-sufficient bunch , perpetuating the pioneering spirit to this day.  Light aircraft, helicopters, four-wheel drive vehicles, crawlers, loaders, motorbikes, may replace the technology of yesteryear, but the essential equipment - a resilient, resourceful mind, still reigns supreme.

Here one can hide away in a gully, river bed or natural depression and be totally unaware of the presence of man in this vast wilderness.  Scree-covered slopes, still wearing patches of winter snow, give way to towering peaks permanently covered in a layer of ice.  Braided rivers gather shining water from every side but one, meandering through tussock covered flats.  The silence is as immense as the space itself; electric on a frosty day, oppressive in the heat of mid-summer.  Occasional birds raise a brief, futile clamour and flee away into the vastness.  Even with the knowledge that farmers run sheep, cattle and deer up here, no sign can be detected on the scooping slopes; it is only when in a mob, that they can be detected by the naked eye.  Windswept by fierce nor'westers, it can sometimes be difficult to remain upright against the hot dry wind.  Conversely, still, on a frosty day, not a breath stirs.

Mesopotamia - land between the rivers; Erewhon - "nowhere" spelt backwards (well almost).  Vast tracts of land with names echoing history.  One the Biblical land of plenty; the other, the brief hideaway of Samuel Butler, author and gentleman.  Today both destinations are worthy of a day trip.  We regularly drive the dusty road to Mesopotamia, being on the south side of the Rangitata and quite accessible.

A high-country barbecue is sometimes a memorable feature for overseas visitors, unused to the vastness of the landscape and inexperienced in outdoor cuisine cooked over a fire of driftwood in the converted plough-disc mounted on three stubby legs.  The central square mounting hole welded over, a smaller hole has been drilled slightly up the side to allow cooking fat to drip away, while retaining a simmering, sputtering pool in which to fry eggs or potato chips.  The aroma of woodsmoke flavours such pioneer dishes with a delicious piquancy.  Chased down by billy tea, the experience is visceral.

At the end of the road, station buildings enjoy the shelter of tall pines, planted more than a century ago.  Little remains to remind the visitor of Butler's brief sojourn in this lonely place; just a plaque beside the grassy mound which outlines the foundations of a cob building long since decayed.  Although Butler gave the area its enigmatic name, Erewhon refers to the land on the opposite side of the wide Rangitata headwaters from his home at Mesopotamia.

At the end of the road to Erewhon, lies the Urquhart farm, near glacial hillocks which I have only ever associated in their humpiness with some of the curious hills in pictures of rural China.

The farm park is well worth a visit as in addition to the usual trappings of high country farmyards, there is a collection of enclosures featuring long-haired goats, keas, deer and other high country animals; most fitted out in heavy coats to withstand the rigorous climate.

 Runholders are usually welcoming to visitors who offer a little social contact with the outside world.  Our "towny" children have always easily befriended their country cousins, spending a brief hour or two playing in a natural playground with children who are probably more starved of peer contact than their parents.

For a time, the modern day landowners of Erewhon, the Urquharts, supplemented their farming income by establishing and running a ski field and lodge.  Competition from the mega-million-dollar Mount Hutt ski field has seen the Erewhon field revert to club status, with fewer patrons bothering to travel the extra distance for the grandeur and solitude offered.  When the field was still open to the general public, we made a family excursion to the lodge which offered hearty meals.  Situated close to one of the original station houses, we were able to wander the grassy slopes and clamber up the steep stream bank to the small hydro plant which provided constant electricity to the lodge and its neighbouring buildings.

Old rust covered hand-riveted pipes still conveyed coursing icy water to the wooden shed which housed the generator.  Surrounded by tussock and scree, the setting was picturesque.

Peering through the dusty windows, one could make out the  shadowy curves of the plant, which emanated a constant screaming pitch as turbine whirled within metal housing.

.... Returning to the lodge we sit at a table and order from the menu of wholesome, hearty fare.  The cook and waitress, is elderly Mrs Urquhart, well into her seventies I guess, but vital, bustling and animated.  As we wait, a glance around the dining room reveals a wall papered in a realistic looking rock pattern.  On it hangs a calendar, pinned to the plasterboard partition.  At that very moment it falls to the floor but the disbelief that appears on my seven year old son's face is most entertaining as the diminutive dynamo picks up the offending calendar with its drawing pin and uses her bare fist to hammer it back into the solid rock wall.  "Did you see that?" he gasps in amazement, puzzled by our stifled laughter.  Jed Clampett's mother from the Beverley Hillbillies TV show couldn't make a more convincing or spontaneous display of strength and gutsiness.

As the sun sets over the towering mountainsides, the atmosphere is breathtakingly beautiful; calm and tranquil.  These landowners have something no monetary value could be placed on.

Many New Zealanders regard their excursions into the high country for skiing, picnicking, sightseeing as formative, fixing experiences, rooting them firmly in their adoptive home; as firmly as those first immigrants the Maori.  Perhaps it is a universal condition of mankind world-wide,  but immigrants from Europe, Britain and many other places seem to absorb an inoculating dose of high-country on first contact, never to lose that inexorable drawing back to the very essence of the landscape.  Like a love-hate relationship, this hostile, stark landscape prevails against lush bush, sparkling harbours, productive plains, in a one-sided tug of war.  Neglect regular visits and you will only feel, when you return, that you have always belonged here.  Knowing that you cannot stay, you know you will always return.

Strangely enough, I know of few folk who desire to rest eternally in this wilderness.  Yet somehow, I suspect, most feel they will visit here again, on that last journey of the soul, which to Maori ends its Aotearoa leg at Cape Farewell, before soaring onwards to Hawaiiki.  We are all visitors and I often feel the tug of my Celtic origins; wish to see "home", though I'm a third generation New Zealander who has never ventured further than Australia.  Yet I know, as soon as I round that bend in the road revealing the high country, that this is where I join with nature; this is where I belong.

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