If I had my way on this autumn day, I’d be standing with my back to the sea, near Seddon in Marlborough, amidst grape vines with their lime green and gold lines. And I’d be looking out over gentle tanned hills, up to a great hunk of a mountain streaked with snow.
Instead, I’ve got to make do with the cover of a book.
This is AWATERE. Portrait of a Marlborough Valley with text by Harry Broad and stunning photography by Jim Tannock, Rob Suisted and Dave Hansford.
The Awatere? You may well ask. When driving south, 24 Km south-east of Blenheim a small side road crosses the main highway. Blink and you’ll miss it. Left is where the Awatere River soon meets the sea. Turn right and head up the Awatere Valley. Here the valley narrows, mountains tower over the gravel road, and 100 Km later you’ll reach the mighty Molesworth Station.
I’ve opened a page at random. It’s a photo of Kit Sandall with his mustering stick and cattle on the dark rugged tops of his Upton Fells Run, the sun making brilliant the animals’ deep orange coats. Much of the Awatere’s a land of golden tussocks and sheep dogs and merinos. It’s all a photographer’s dream.
The first chapter, is devoted to Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku. ‘Tappy’ dominates the Awatere. It’s the mountain seen from the Cook Strait Ferry and as the highest New Zealand mountain outside the Southern Alps, Tappy has plenty of tales to tell. Ed Hillary cut his climbing teeth on Tappy.
Journalist, Harry Broad writes of life in the past and present, on these remote high-country stations, as well as of farmers and workers on the land around Seddon.
This lower part of the Awatere has seen much cropping and pastoral farming, but then around 2005 came the lure of wine, and vines began to gulp up the land. The Vavasour family tore out 50 acres of walnut trees; peas, wheat and barley were given the push, sheep bid farewell.
Now the Awatere Valley is the second-largest wine subregion in the country. ‘It wipes Otago off the map,’ writes Harry Broad.
He records interesting facts. Long-timer of the Awatere, June Ryan tells him it cost their family $60,000 a hectare in the first year to get the grapes up and running. (They owned the land) ‘Now in a good year, net returns from a hectare of sauvignon grapes should be $12,000 – $15,000, compared to the pastoral farming option of $500 a hectare,’ she says.
Who can argue with that?
‘Some will say if gorse can grow, so can grapes,’ says Angus Cameron from near Seddon. Yet it’s not all dollars and sav blanc for everyone as Harry Broad finds out.
The social spectrum in the Awatere is well covered: husbands and wives on the big country runs, a legendary cartage contractor, mustering gangs and their horses. Big names pop up in the lower valley: Rosa Davison’s elegant native garden Paripuma is featured, as is Peter Yealands’ spectacular 1100 hectare vineyard on the coast behind Seddon. Yes, that’s the Seddon, that shakes from time to time.
In recording a slice of the changing use of rural New Zealand, Harry Broad and the photographers have captured the essence of the characters and the place.
Why is there no decent map? Or an index?
But most of all, why, in this handsome book with its 176 pages, are there only four paragraphs specifically devoted to the famous farm at the head of the Awatere Valley, the biggest farm in New Zealand, Molesworth Station?
The answer comes fast. Because Potton and Burton also published Harry Board’s impressive tome and Rob Suisted’s visual feast, MOLESWORTH in 2013. So, if your appetite’s been wetted by the sound of AWATERE, you’ll be told ‘read Harry Broad’s MOLESWORTH.’
And dig in deep. AWATERE retails at $70. Perhaps the same for MOLESWORTH? If you can get it – the publisher’s website now says this title is out of print.
In spite of this, my copy of the AWATERE, only published in September last year, is already well thumbed by guests.
- AWATERE PORTRAIT OF A MALBOROUGH VALLEY
Text Harry Broad. Photographs Jim Tannock, Rob Suisted & Dave Hansford
Published in 2018 by Potton & Burton