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Lake Tekapo, with its dazzling blue glacial water and backdrop of the Southern Alps, is one of the major drawcards of the South Island’s Mackenzie Country. Tourists flock to experience these mountain vistas as well as the clear night sky, water sports, tramping and skiing and skating in winter.
In High Country Stations of Lake Tekapo, Mary Hobbs has captured a community that is the backbone of this part of New Zealand: the high country farmers who farm the sweeping tussock country. Living and working in close proximity to the area has enabled the author to unravel the history of eight stations around Lake Tekapo – the original Lake Tekapo, Mt Hay, Richmond, Mt Gerald, Lilybank, Godley Peaks, Glenmore and Balmoral. She says, ‘it was a long search to find some of the stories, but it was also fun because it was a mystery as to where the clues would lead.’
Hobbs begins her journey with Tekapo Station when Barbara and John Hay took up the lease of the station in the winter of 1858. A number of other owners came and went over the years , some suffering hardship from snowstorms or family tragedies, until the property was divided into neighbouring properties when much of the land was lost through the raising of Lake Tekapo for the hydro-electric scheme in 1948.
As she travels up the gravel road to the other properties the author finds very similar stories of hardship and loss but there are also the positive ones such as how the Roundhill Skifield came to be established on Richmond in 1961. The ski club ran the field until August 1963 when the work became too great for volunteers and it was run as a commercial enterprise.
Run holders have changed their farming practices, introducing deer on to properties as well as increasingly using helicopters to muster the high peaks and gullies. Hobbs has recorded these changes with her methodical research on all the properties in the vicinity of the lake, and produced a valuable resource which will be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
The text is supported by a couple of maps and numerous photographs, many captured by the author, while old black and white photos enhance the earlier stories adding much to the whole visual experience.
Lake Tekapo is an area I visit from time to time and I will be checking out many of the sites mentioned in the book, especially the site of the first homestead on Tekapo station the remains of which can still be seen at the lake edge when the water level is low.
Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh
High Country Stations of Lake Tekapo
by Mary Hobbs
Published by Potton & Burton