Book Review: High Country Stations of the Mackenzie, by Mary Hobbs

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_high_country_stations_of_the_mackenzieTourists flock to New Zealand’s shores because they contain some of the
most stunning scenery in the world. The Mackenzie Country, nested beneath Mt Aoraki/Cook is one place that draws them. The combination of snowy mountains, placid blue lakes and yellow tussock combine to produce a picture-postcard scene. But behind this iconic image lie wonderful stories. These are the rich treasure which Mary Hobbs uncovers in her book.

Mary Hobbs is a local writer and as such she has access to many stories from the Mackenzie; some oral, some written. She has already published local stories and her style is both informative and readable. From this strong background she takes us on a trip around 11 of the stations in the area. Her research has uncovered tales of courage, hospitality and tragedy.

The account of the Mary Range Station includes the amazing journey which John Hutcheson took from Scotland to Wellington, then Wanganui, Nelson and Banks Peninsula. Along with Captain Sinclair, John Hutcheson helped transport the Deans to Canterbury, the Hays to Pigeon Bay and finally he with his new wife Mary, to the shores of Lake Pukaki. There are interesting asides in each tale, such as the discovery of many Moa bones in the Mackenzie. These were described by John as being so fresh he kept a wary eye out for the birds. At that time the struggle for survival was more important than extinct bird remains. The Birch Hill Station has an equally interesting history including links to the Crimean war (Mt Sebastapol) and the sadness of losing young children, now buried in the Burkes Pass Cemetery.

Where the Hermitage currently stands amidst the Mt Aoraki/Cook National Park, was once Mt Cook Station. The heroine of this tale is definitely Catherine Burnett. To her fell the task of entertaining the many visitors and celebrities wishing to view or climb Mt Cook. In the words of one traveller she was,”full to overflowing with the happiness of her life while discussing all sorts of plans for our comfort, and descanting on the hygienic properties of the air and the sunshine”. While this may have been his view, she also gave birth to 8 children, and was known for the help she gave to others in need in the area. Obviously the writer was a man!

I have been visiting the Mackenzie for 40 years and have always enjoyed hearing of, or reading the local stories. This book is a treasure as it contains both the early history, the intervening years, and the more recent status of these stations. So many of the names in the area come from people or events from the past.

Mary Hobbs has produced a book that works on many levels. It provides good historical facts, entertaining asides to events of the past, and a sense of the vision and courage of those who settled here. The photographs, both old and new, and the maps add to the visual pleasure of the book. However, do not be deceived into thinking this is a coffee table bauble. It is a superb piece of research from someone who truly loves the tales she shares.

I have already bought 2 copies to give to friends from Twizel for Christmas!

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

High Country Stations of the Mackenzie
by Mary Hobbs
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213513