Join Kiwi Guide Tim as he experiences the outstanding locations and people on our newest tour.

Back Country Tracks: Rakaia to Kaikoura Coast – A Guide’s View

Welcome to Back Country Tracks: Rakaia to Kaikoura Coast

I have been guiding for MoaTours for many years now and I was fortunate to be the Kiwi Guide for the first Back Country Tracks: Rakaia to Kaikoura Coast tour in October 2022.

I was slightly apprehensive as I had never been to most of the locations on the itinerary though, of course, I needn’t have worried as I knew Ena had visited all the places along the way, worked with the amazing people we met, and organised us access to some very unique opportunities.

For those who have travelled on the MoaTours High Country Stations, Gardens & Goldfields tour, this can be considered a sister itinerary.

Where are we going?

Starting in Christchurch we visit Rakaia, Hanmer Springs and the Hurunui region, the Clarence Valley, Kaikoura Coast and Marlborough, ending in Blenheim with a cruise on Queen Charlotte Sound.

What is the idea behind this tour?

Back Country Tracks gets its name from the farming tracks our coach travels along from Cleardale Station in the Rakaia Gorge to Bluff Station at Kekerengu in the Kaikoura Ranges. At Bluff their private farm track winds its way inland 12km to their small settlement at Coverham with spectacular views out to Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest peak in the inland Kaikoura Ranges

How did we manage to access so many amazing places?

Ena, our tour planning guru, has family farming in the south who offered to establish connections with their friends at the stations. This tour is, therefore, very unique to MoaTours. 

What is the High Country?

We spend time on some High Country Stations. But what does that mean?

There are many high country stations in New Zealand. Some you may have heard of or visited such as Erewhon or Walter Peak Station, and many you won’t have heard of. The high country is generally considered to be 600 metres above sea level, and predominantly runs the length of the South Island.

Maori used the High Country as a seasonal food source and travelling route between the coasts. In the 19th century farming came to the fore, with sheep being the predominant focus, grazing on the extensive grasslands (as did those pesky rabbits that were also introduced and had already reached plague proportions in the 19th century). It is said that the Scottish Highlands were a model for the way we farm our High Country.

In the second half of the 19th century fencing was introduced, with cheaper, thin wire becoming available from the 1860s, leading to significant advances in farm management. In the first half of the 20th century there was serious intensification in many areas, up to the 1950s, considered the peak period. While the government retained the land ownership, they granted runholders 99 year renewable leases. In the later 20th Century, land tenure and competing interests from DOC and other conservation movements, impacted the runholders.

And so over the period of 150 years New Zealand has developed a culture and folklore around the High Country farming lifestyle that is embedded in our national psyche to this day.

On this tour we visit farms and station that are located in the high country, valleys and plains closer to the coast. 

Rakaia to Hanmer Springs

Terrace Station

Located in Hororata, near the Rakaia River and Mt Hutt, Terrace Station homestead was one of the first in Canterbury to have a Category 1 registration from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The homestead is primarily a family home which has been added to and altered to suit the needs of each generation. It also has the increasingly rare distinction of being lived in continously by members of the same family since the 1860s.

Kate Foster lived in the homestead and as a child and over lunch Kate gives an insight into the station’s history. Then we wander the station’s buildings – the Blacksmith Shop, the stables and the Swaggers’ Hut – and also the office of Station owner John Hall who was premier of New Zealand from 1879 to 1882, and a leading figure in women’s suffrage.

The extensive gardens have been adapted from their Victorian formality to a relaxed, informal style, with mass plantings of bulbs and woodland perennials. A trail winds beneath 19th century Sequoias, Douglas fir, Quercus ilex and other species.

Cleardale Station

Bob and Anne Todhunter

Cleardale Station is a great example of what has gone before and what is to come. It has been in the same family since its inception in 1914. It is now, at 1400 hectares, a much bigger version with additions, conversions, leases and expansion into other areas including forestry. Its tagline is Genes for Profit. It is in the business of genetics investment.

While the station is now run by son Ben Todhunter, we meet parents Anne and Bob Todhunter.
We visit them in their new house overlooking the Rakaia Gorge. Over afternoon tea we hear the tales and learn about a common question among some station owners that we will hear repeated. What to do about succession?

With Bob as our guide we travel the tracks in the coach around the station getting among the action. Here the Rakaia River butts against hills at a point where the impressive, eroded cliffs drop down to the river continually adding stones to the flow to help create the areas braided river system.

Tonight we stay in Methven before heading into the Hurunui region. 

Penny Zino’s Flaxmere Garden

Penny is an extraordinary host. First we lunch with Penny then stroll with her in the garden. Always energetic and enthusiastic, her passion for her garden shines forth, as well as her entertaining skills.

Flaxmere is a large country garden based on the principles of strong design and is perfectly integrated with the terraced riverbed country that surrounds it.

More than 50 years ago, Penny established her garden on a sheep farm in North Canterbury. Flaxmere was boldly designed to enhance the breathtaking mountain vistas and create a sense of tranquility with a series of ponds. The garden’s vistas have been described as “art forms.”

Located near the Southern Alps, Flaxmere Garden has evolved into a stunning garden that showcases the beauty of the changing seasons, and is magnificent throughout the year. MoaTours has been visiting Flaxmere for many years and it is always a rewarding experience. 

The Lakes Station, Hurunui Valley

The Lakes Station

Sarah and Jim Greenslade

Google might have said it is 1 hour 40 minutes up the Hurunui Valley, along the picturesque Hurunui River to The Lakes Station. Ena told me it was only an hour and, of course, she was right. Like all the places we visit, this is a working farm.

Sarah Greenslade and her husband Jim are working partners at The Lakes Station. Why The Lakes? There are six lakes on the property. One more picturesque than the next. This is the real back country, at 8000 hectares, including both alpine and a small amount of flat land by the river, it has everything.

Over afternoon tea Sarah regales us with tales of life on the station, the champion rowers in the family and Jim talks about farming life. On the couch, snuggled up to a visitor, is Burt Munro, Sarah’s slow moving “special” dog who is always quick to sort out where he will get the most attention. 

The Culverden area, Hurunui

Wynyard Farm

Lou and Tim Davison

Today we explore the Culverden region. We start with a visit to Wynyard, a beautiful farm and garden where we are hosted by Lou and Tim Davison. Lou and Tim (Penny Zino’s brother) trace the family history on the land back to the beginnings in the 1880s.

Coldstream Farm and Garden

Vicki Collett and Andrew Dalzell

Many years ago Andrew’s grandfather owned the Coldstream Garden farm. In a happy continuation of the family connection, Andrew and Vicki bought the land in 2010, they weto have also acquired a beautiful garden. We enjoy lunch at Coldstream where Vicki has used her green thumb to nurture this 1 hectare garden to its current status as a Garden of Significance.


Anita and Richard Todd

We loved visiting Saddlewood and Anita and Richard Todd and hearing the stories of farming deer. We visited the area just prior to the Hurunui Garden Festival, our timing was excellent as their garden was in full bloom. 

Leslie Hills Station

Leslie Hills Station

We start the day at Leslie Hills Station in the Canterbury High Country near Culverden. This is a particularly rewarding stop. There is quite an astonishing history here and “lucky to be alive” was mentioned as this homestead was partially destroyed by the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016.

An amazing restoration has been made to this unique 850 square metre single story homestead which dates back to the 1850s. It’s classed as an Historic Place Category 2 and is among the largest residential wooden properties.

Visiting unheard of places off the beaten track like this is exactly why we are here.
They are incredible to see and amazing to hear about first hand. It reminds me why I love my life as a Kiwi Guide getting to visit and share places like this.

Loch Leven

Lunch is at Doreen and Michael Dryden’s Loch Leven Garden. It is another amazing example of something beautiful created from nothing.

Their 3 acre garden in Rotherham began in 1989 when they purchased their small farm. With nothing but passion and occasional spare time, Loch Leven has grown into not just a much loved and visited garden but also a thriving nursery specializng in things such as Buxus. They also grow perennials and focus on the old-fashioned and unusual.

Point Farm

Peter Smith

We take the Mt Lyford Road to Kaikoura to meet Pete Smith, Doreen’s brother. There has to be some shearing in action somewhere – and Pete provides a demo for us right here at The Point in sight of the waves on the Kaikoura Coast. 

Bluff Station, Kekerengu

Bluff Station is another generational station, run by the Murray family. At 13,000 hectares, this station certainly isn’t small. The entrance is just off the main highway at Kekerengu, but the farm heads inland toward Mt Tapuae-O-Uenuku, the tallest in the Inward Kaikoura Ranges at 2,885 metres.

Sue Murray, joins us on our coach, another amazing person, we feel like we’ve met a few so far. I am again reminded that visiting a region is significantly enhanced when you can meet the people and hear the stories that help you live and breathe a place. This is one of those occasions. 

The Clarence

The Clarence River meets the sea around 40km north of Kaikoura and runs nearly 200km from its source at Lake Tennyson traversing the valley between the ranges. Today we are visiting stations either side of the historic bridge that traverses the river, not too far from the ocean. This is earthquake country. Clarence was cut off for some time after the Kaikoura earthquakes and today we get to understand a little of the impact on the land and life of the people here. (The Clarence River notably also runs through Molesworth Station, a highlight of our Molesworth Station, The Abel Tasman & Golden Bay tour.)

Woodbank Station, Clarence River Valley

We spend time on the northern side of the Clarence River this morning with the Murray family. We meet Johnny and Robyn’s son Ben Murray at their bull ring sales yard where the station auctions their Woodbank Angus bulls and Matariki Herefords several times each year. We enjoy our time out on the spectacular farm tracks with Ben. It’s hard to get your head around the changes that happened here. During the earthquake the flat roads were turned into hillsides and thrust many metres upwards. The valley filled with debris, the flat farm road became undulating, the river changed its course and the landscape changed forever.

Waipapa Farm

Jane and Derrick Millton

Here we are across the Clarence River for lunch with Jane and Derrick taking in the magnificent views down to the ocean. We are just a few hundred metres off State Highway 1 in Waipapa Bay in an area that was hit hard in the earthquake. If there is a photo that many remember from the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake it is the one of the cows marooned on an island of grass. That was here on the Millton’s farm. Jane, a watercolour artist, wrote a children’s book about those cows, “Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too”. Derrick guides us over the farmland and past the quarry. He has established the only limestone quarry in Marlborough and, since the earthquake, has been treated to a sea view from his office. 

Blenheim and home

We finish our tour in Blenheim including a visit to the Marlborough Falcon Trust
Karearea Falcon Experience. We hear about the conservation work, visit the Avery and watch a flight display, depending on the conditions. Then we enjoy a last hurrah on the Queen Charlotte Sound, with an enjoyable lunch cruise passing by the mussel and salmon farms.

Then sadly it is time to head home.

What a unique and engaging experience this tour has been. 

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