Practical work experience on the Ngāi Tahu Farming high-country stations gives Whenua Kura students an insight into a unique New Zealand farming lifestyle – one that is becoming increasingly uncommon.
Whenua Kura Director and Kaiarahi, Renata Hakiwai says those students who take up the opportunity to work on the high-country stations, come away with a deeper knowledge of farming that stands them in good stead for future employment.
“I think a lot of dairy farmers in the process of hiring workers would choose one who has both sheep and beef, and dairy experience because of the extensive knowledge they gain from a high-country stay,” says Renata.
“I’m very keen to get more of our Whenua Kura students down there to experience a completely different way of farming.”
The three Ngāi Tahu high-country stations – Greenstone, Elfin Bay and Routeburn – are managed by Stu and Anne Percy, as one farming unit. They total 36,000 hectares of steep, challenging, unforgiving country that is largely worked on horseback. Parts of the property are even too steep for the horses, which means Stu, Anne, their right-hand-man Tim Morris and any contract workers need to be fit.
Located 1-2 kilometres west of the Dart River, the combined properties run 600 Angus-Hereford cross cattle, 6,500 Dale ewes and replacements and around 100 red deer.
Whenua Kura placements on the high-country stations are timed to coincide with student holiday breaks and they contribute to the sheep and beef work practical section of students’ courses. The students usually stay from two weeks to a month, with longer stays over the summer period.
Stu Percy says summer is the busiest season on the stations.
“Between August and May we cover off haymaking, drenching, tractor work, shearing, crutching and lamb-tailing, which starts after we’ve mustered-in over 6,000 lambs,” he says.
“That’s a good time for us to host Whenua Kura students because we can always use the help and they get the chance to learn an incredible amount in a short time.”
Renata Hakiwai says two Ngāi Tahu students currently studying higher level studies will go down to the high country this September.
“It’s popular – everyone wants to go and we have a waiting list; but we have to be very careful about who we send down there. They have to be competent horse riders and know how to work a dog, plus they need to be able to look after themselves.
“It’s a challenging lifestyle down there – both the climate and the environment; and from a farming perspective it can involve anything from crossing rivers with stock on swing bridges, or checking cattle herds in the back country in a helicopter. It’s exciting for sure and our North Island students in particular, are always keen to try it. The vastness of the land down there is very different to what they’re used to.”
One former Whenua Kura student who experienced the Ngāi Tahu high-country stations is Watarawi Ngata (Ngāti Porou), who grew up in Te Araroa on the North Island’s East Coast.
“I was blown away by the beauty of the Whakatipu Basin high country stations, where I spent holidays when I was studying for a Diploma in Agriculture with Whenua Kura .”
Wata has a passion for working with stock, horses and dogs and he is keen to pay a return visit to Greenstone station, and to take part in the autumn muster.
Other Whenua Kura students including Paul Seymour (Ngāti Porou) and Nikau Westrupp (Ngati Porou, Rongomawhine) have also spent time on the stations; and Tumoana Harrison-Boyd (Ngāti Porou), who was selected to represent New Zealand in the Tri-Lamb Young Leaders Programme, will also soon spend time on the stations.
“We try and provide our students with the opportunity to experience the high country stations as they are a taonga and a piece of paradise where not a lot of people get to experience. All our students that have been down want jobs there and don’t want to return home,” says Ren.