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HIKING UNIQUE STANSBOROUGH
The first time visitor arriving at Stansborough, Cheryl and Barry Eldridge’s 1120 hectare hill farm in the Kaiwhata Valley, 50 kilometres south east of Masterton, could be excused for believing that during their drive they had somewhere taken a wrong turning and left New Zealand.
The small flock of Cape Barren geese inside the front gate are usually found in Tasmania, the long-legged, grey fleeced Gotland sheep, with their black faces, originally came from an island in the Baltic Sea off Sweden and the alpacas grazing the hills would be equally at home in Peru. Stansborough is no ordinary farm even if the green broken hills, the river valley flats and occasional stands of native bush, are typical Kiwi sheep farm country.
Situated only a two hour drive from Wellington and the Manawatu, Stansborough is an ideal weekend get away destination for the city based hiker. One can feel the stress levels reduce as the town of Masterton is left behind and the road enters the countryside heading in the direction of the coast. The last few kilometres before reaching Stansborough are over a winding, unsealed road. However, the road is well graded and the drive always interesting, as it passes through a mixture of native bush and pine plantations.
At present Stansborough offers a variety of day hikes within the farm
boundaries, although longer overnight trips across other properties may be
available in the future. Accommodation for the hiker is a 1920’s farm cottage.
Although plain in appearance, the cottage provides very comfortable sleeping
and living quarters inside for a party of up to twelve persons. The polished
matai floors and the farming memorabilia hanging on the walls give character to
this very comfortable and surprisingly roomy dwelling. The farmstay is
self-catering but the well-appointed kitchen with a full sized electric stove,
microwave and fridge/freezer makes cooking easy. Bring plenty of food as the
shops are a long distance away and the country air, particularly if you hike to
the top of the farm, is guaranteed to give you a hearty appetite.
There are a number of walking tracks on the property that cater for all levels of fitness. Many of the tracks are linked, enabling the hiker to plan a variety of hikes of different duration. A map is available in the cottage. For the moderately fit hiker, the tracks leading up to the top of the farm are well worth exploring. (The mushrooms found along the way also make a good breakfast the next morning.) From a height of over 300 metres up near the airstrip, there are extensive views over the surrounding countryside as well as north and south along the rugged Wairarapa coast. One gets the impression that at most times of the year the air is rather bracing at this particular spot and a warm jacket is recommended.
The mouth of the Kaiwhata River, which is located some 6.5 kilometres from the farm, can also be seen from the airstrip. In the early years of the farm, in the late nineteenth century, the wool clip was taken by horse drawn wagons down to this area. The wagons were driven right into the sea to enable the wool bales to be loaded on to lighters to be taken out to the waiting ships. The original German settlers of the area would no doubt regard today’s road as a real luxury.
At lower levels on the farm there are walks along the Kaiwhata River. Heading up river, the track wends its way past a small lake where there are canoes available for those seeking an activity other than hiking. Further along the river, summer swimming holes and pleasant picnic areas can be found. The track then winds its way past stands of bush containing beech, totara, matai and rimu before reaching the “motels,” this being the local nickname for a collection of old army style huts once used by hunters, that are now in a state of considerable disrepair. This area overlooks a small lake, which is a pleasant place for a lunch break and nearby there are streams and bush to explore.
Downstream from the cottage there is an easy walk across paddocks and along the river bank to an area known as “Pyrites.” In the 1890s a Government survey went through the Kaiwhata Valley looking for gold and silver. Although some shafts were sunk and there was panning for gold in the river, no economic quantities of the precious metals were found. One of the creeks on Stansborough is still known as ‘Prospector’s Creek’ today. If you do not mind getting your feet wet, one can fossick for “fool’s gold” on the far bank of the Kaiwhata River at Pyrites corner and find many examples of the glistening gold-coloured crystals and other minerals that have from early times fooled the inexperienced prospector.
As a break from hiking the trails of Stansborough, watching the stock and farming operations can be a constant source of interest to the visitor. Barry and Cheryl Eldridge and their staff are an approachable source of information about their unique animals and the history of the farm and surrounding district. The fibre from the Gotland sheep and the alpacas is woven into high quality material at their Hutt Valley factory and is then exported to fashion outlets overseas. The soft, grey, lustrous fleece of the Gotlands was recently featured in cinemas around the world. About 900 metres of woven fibre was supplied to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movie to be made into Elven cloaks and clothing for Ringwraiths and other Tolkien characters. Whilst on display in New York, the fibre had been seen by the film makers and judged to be ideal for the clothing that Tolkien had described in his books.
Stansborough, despite the recent Tolkien association, is not really ‘Middle Earth.’ However, a weekend spent at this remote and relaxing farm can be a magical experience.
Where: Stansborough, 50 km south-east of Masterton
Bookings: Phone 06 372 7004 or 04 566 5591
© Terry Carson
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