Monday, November 06, 2017

Life on Muzzle - NZ's most remote station

Random House NZ
RRP $45.00
Life on Muzzle
Fiona Redfern.
Photography by Derek Morrison
‘After the wedding, we went on our honeymoon to Akaroa. After the first day, we got pretty bored and decided to come home early. That’s how it’s always been with us — there’s always so much going on here that if you are not home you feel like you are missing out.’
Guy and Fiona Redfern may have missed Muzzle Station when away on their honeymoon but they aren’t the only ones to have pined for the station when away from the place.
Dwayne, the big tabby cat, clearly wasn’t happy with having to move to Kaikoura with Fiona’s parents when they retired. Not long after Colin and Tina Nimmo had settled in to their new home, Dwayne disappeared. The family joke was that he’d packed his bags and headed back to the station, but that’s exactly what he’d done! Astonishingly, he turned up back at the Muzzle some five weeks later. Not only had he walked for weeks, Dwayne would also have had to cross a mountain range and swim the mighty Clarence River to get back to his beloved station.

Remote Muzzle Station in southern Marlborough has captured the hearts and minds of generations, including Fiona Redfern and her parents before her, not to mention cats.

Now Fiona and her husband Guy, both Lincoln University graduates, are running the station and raising their two small children in this wonderful but challenging environment.

And, as if she doesn’t already have enough on her plate, Fiona Redfern has now written their captivating story in a new book, Life on Muzzle.

Although Redfern would argue that she’s just an ordinary mum, juggling busy fam­ily and station life and trying to get a work-life balance, the book’s cover with Guy, Fiona, baby in backpack, toddler and dogs in tow, set against the breath-taking, snowy mountainous backdrop suggests life up at Muzzle is far from ordinary.

Taking over the station from her parents Tina and Colin left Fiona Redfern with mixed feelings and she still very much misses having them there to guide them but there’s no doubt that the young couple are relishing the chance to make Muzzle their own.
They’re not only facing the same climate extremes that generations before them have, they are determined to make the station the best it can be, navigating all of the thorny environmental and best practice issues facing farming today.
Although Muzzle over the summer months is a surprisingly social place with people coming and going all the time, the Redferns have decided not to look to tourism as an alternative income stream, instead opting to focus on farming. They believe just as important as protecting the fauna and flora, they are also committed to protecting traditional high-country culture and ‘retaining a reasonable extensive traditional farming system’.
Most of their merino wool is contracted to Icebreaker. They run a large herd of Hereford breeding cows, and the house cow herd. They also have horses on the station and run a stallion for broodmares.
Like for most women, life with two busy youngsters has meant Redfern has had to put her ‘day job’ — which she has always adored — on hold, but she still runs a large and productive dairy herd and helps Guy whenever she can. She alludes to the fact that, although having a young family is the most rewarding of all, she does miss not being able to give the station her undivided attention just at the moment. As the children become less dependent, she looks forward to being back at Guy’s side as his ‘main labour unit.’
Although day-to-day life varies enormously, a ‘normal’ day for Fiona will probably be something along the lines of: organise the kids, feed the chooks, milk the dairy cow, feed the lambs and pups, shift fence breaks, smoko, correspondence pre-school work with Arthur, their eldest, and then the rest of the day’s work will vary enormously depending on the season.
And, although the internet has meant that even the most remote high country stations like Muzzle have never been more connected, the 2016 quake was a dramatic reminder of just how vulnerable these remote stations will always be at the hands of Mother Nature. The main vehicle access through the Kaikoura range was completely gone, slipped away and littered with rocks as a result of the earthquake and the only way in and out of the station was by aircraft for over a month.
As the crow flies, Muzzle Station is not too far from Kaikoura. But quakes and other natural disasters aside, it’s never been easy to get there. First, the truck — and it has to be a truck — must make it across the Clarence River. If the river is swollen or in flood, there will be no journey. Once safely across, there are more than 25 smaller river crossings and a 1370-metre-high mountain range to get across. If all goes well it takes three hours to make the drive, but it is often blocked with rockfalls and slips, not to mention snow, or rain that turns the track’s clay surface to mud, rendering it completely undriveable. There is another option. On a good day, it’s just a 15-minute flight by Cessna 180 four-seater aircraft to Kaikoura. But good days are not always easy to come by in this part of the country, especially when they are needed!
This is the story of family life and a modern young couple on New Zealand’s remotest station, and what it’s like to live and work in what is literally the back of beyond.
09 442 7467; 021 482 093

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