Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter at Helms Deep

This Good Friday I flew with my friend Megsie and her four month old German Wire-haired Pointer 'Orion' from the North to the South Island of New Zealand. From Christchurch we drove three hours south and inland until we came to the entrance to the beautiful valley where I grew up. Welcome to the Rangitata Gorge. Our journey continued right up to the head of the valley in the above picture until we reached my parents' farm and the house where I grew up. That evening we settled in and Megs met my sister and brother, my parents she had met before. My older sister Mel (Ju's twin) manages the farm while Dad looks on and tries to let go. Brother Andrew has worked for over a year as a well-paid tractor driver but has recently shifted this job to the weekends so that he can attend an apprenticship at an engineering firm. Since he had the weekend off he came up home as well since I rarely get to see any of them anymore.

It rained on Friday night while we were all tucked up in our respective beds, and Saturday dawned dull and grey, and threatening to rain again at any moment. Nevertheless I was keen to show Megs the land where I grew up and she was just as keen to discover it. The photos on the blog were taken on her camera, so there might be some things I mention but don't have photos for.
Mesopotamia Station sits right at the very head of the valley and was originally settled by an English scholar and author, Samuel Butler.

Samuel Butler's Original Homestead

Butler named the place 'Mesopotamia' after ancient Mesopotamia which lies between the Euphrates and Tigiris Rivers in what is today Iraq. The word is greek, and is made of mesos meaning 'between' and potamos meaning 'river.' -ia is a suffix which denotes the name of a place. Therefore Mesopotamia literally means "the land between two rivers." In Iraq these were the previously mentioned bodies of water, and here in South Canterbury, New Zealand Butler refers to Forest Creek and Bush Stream. Not rivers perhaps, but romantic and fitting. But Mesopotamia has never really been resistricted by the Bush Stream, though Forest creek is in fact its southerly border.
He also named the land directly on the other side of the river too, and even wrote a book about it. The name of the country across the river is called Erewhon, even today. The origin of the word Erewhon is not greek. I challenge readers to tell me what it means. If you already know then don't spoil it for the rest!

My grandfather was employed as a manager for Mesopotamia when it was owned by the bank (long after Butler was gone) and then later bought it from the bank and ran it himself (with a myriad of sheperds and other farm hands...). When his sons were grown the massive station was split into three farms, and given to three of those sons. My Uncle Laurie took over the main station, still called Mesopotamia, my own father owns the farm next door "The Tui" Station, and my Uncle Ray and his family took over Garondale Station, which borders Forest Creek. (This has since been sold and renamed Forest Creek Station.) As I was growing up I went to Mesopotamia Primary school - school roll of ten - and learned a great deal about the history of the area I called my home.
The one-room primary school is situated right next to the site of Butler's original homestead and you can still see the outline of the sod-walls were they have sunk into the ground with time. I wish I had a photo. More impressive is the ruins of his dairy, made of stone and crumbling next to the homestead. The door frame (though wooden) is still there. But not all the history (and I'm sure the brits reading this will be laughing at my idea of history, but New Zealand is very young so you have to gove her a chance.) is about Butler. The wagon in the picture below has never been out of the shed as long as I have been driving past it on the way to school or visit my cousins, but my Dad can remember a childhood with it in full service.

I haven't posted the close up, but it is marked with 'Mesopotamia' in a semi-circle on the side, which I have always thought was pretty darn cool.

After visiting the school we ducked a few hundred metres up the road to drop in on my cousins who are now running the station, and on the way back my brother was good enough to take Megs and I in the truck out the back of The Tui.
My Dad farms perendale sheep, aberdeen angus cattle and red deer - all for meat. Megs and her husband hunt wild fellow deer in the North Island, so she was impressed to catch sight of our magnificent specimens, and she even heard one of them having a good roar! She tried to get some photos of them without the fences, all to show her husband and make him jealous, but unfortunately the ones we were looking at were in quite a small paddock.

Two stags and their hinds.
(hind = doe)

Easter Sunday dawned beautiful and sunny - perfect for a picnic. The sandwiches were made in no time, the billy packed and off we went. We were going to help Megs discover Middle Earth. I'm not sure if I have mentioned this, but there are two places - one over the river by Erewhon (have you figure it out yet?) and one further up the river on Mesopotamia. Mt Sunday lies across the river from us. Compared to all the mountains around us it look like an insignificant mound, but this little glacial remenant was the site of Rohan's Edoras.

The picture above is almost split in two horizontally. Tussock and black matagouri in the foreground, and mountains and sky in the background.
From the left of the photo, follow the line along the top of the black vegetation, just inside the edge of the picture is a little hill lying in front of the larger hills behind it. It doesn't even stretch into the middle of the image. That is Mt Sunday, and perched atop was the village of Edoras.

On our side of the river, and much further up yet lies the mouth and delta of a stream which emerges from the deep gully it has carved from the mountains. This is where we were headed, and this is where we would stop for a traditional kiwi 'billy-tea.'

But before we reached our destination we came across a little two (TWO!!) roomed musterer's hut. This is known as the Black Mountain Hut, but is also sometimes refered to as the Alma Hut. The hut itself is rather boring to look at from the outside, and inside there is a fireplace, bench and some bunk beds. There are more bunk beds in the tiny ajoining room. There is no running water and for a long time there had been no electricity. But now if you want to bring a generator with you then you can run it outside and you'll have lights at night. As far as hygeine is concerned, there is a shielded space designed for you to hang up a bladder of water for a shower and pictured below is the loo-with-a-view. A long-drop, or 'dunny' as its refered to in NZ, is a hole in the ground with a seat build over it. This one has three walls and the view fortunately faces away from the hut. Megs took a photo of the back of it.


After a poke around and watering the dog, we headed on for another ten minutes or so to reach the mouth of the Alma Stream, and Helms Deep.

Priority 1:
Get the dog some water.

Orion and I scramble down to the first level of stream-bed

Then we clamber up-stream to find some water
(running through the second level of the stream bed)

At last! Orion drinks his fill

Priority 1a:
Boil the Billy.

Boiling the billy is a Kiwi term for boiling water and making a cup of tea. The Billy is the soot-black pot you can see swinging over the fire. The water is boiled then a handful of tea-leaves is thrown in (almost literally) and the 'billy' stews.

Then it's off-the-fire! with anything that's handy and poured straight from the billy into your cup. So the next time you turn on the jug for a cuppa, have a think about the effort it took us to make this one!

But finally the tea was drunk, the sandwiches eaten and we made our way up the Alma to where it emerged from the gully. This was were Peter Jackson had the studio-built replica of Helms Deep transposed by computer. I tried to get the magnificent (and I really mean that) MAGNIFICENT arial view of the fortress from the movie, where it is full day and you can see the fort nestled right inside the valley - an impenterable marvel of design and build. Unfortunately the internet only seems to have dark, night-time, stormy pre-battle images, so here are the two for your comparison;

I really think the angles are all wrong!

So to finish off this rather long-winded post, I have added a couple of shots from the movie Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers;

As I mentioned, the village of Edoras (Riders of Rohan) was built on top of little Mt Sunday, which lies across the river from us. In this shot you can see Eowyn (Miranda Otto) as she steps out of the main hall. The mountains on the other side of the river belong to Mesopotamia Station, and the flats to the far left (also on the far side of the river) are known as Butler Downs. What you can see of the Butler Downs is owned by "Messy Station" too, but most of the downs make up "The Tui" Station, my father's property (further to the left, out of shot.)

You can only just see the edge of 'old' Mesopotamia under the mountain on the very right of the picture. As you must really have been able to appreciate - where I grew up there are mountains all around!

Thank you for sticking through the whole of this post. It took a while to write it, and I hope you enjoyed it. Megs, Orion and I made it safely back into horrid Auckland City on Monday afternoon, and I have been dying slowly inside to be back in front of a computer screen at work instead of out in the glorious South Canterbury High Country!

Notes on copyright for last two images:

Eowyn (Miranda Otto) niece of King Theoden, stands at the magnificent Rohan capital of Edoras Photo by Pierre Vinet/New Line Productions 2002 - © 2002 - New Line Productions - All Rights Reserved

Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersPhoto by Pierre Vinet - © 2002 - New Line Productions - All Rights Reserve


Del said...

NZL is just so gorgeous!
I love your post's about NZ!

Maalie said...

Long winded or not, I enjoyed every word. Makes me feel really nostalgic! And now I know why a hippopotamus is so called - it simply means "river horse". Brilliant, I never realised that before, thanks JLS!

Is that you in the white dress on the steps? You look very elegant. Aotearoa is becoming quite stylish :-)

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

What a cool cool post! Your farm is in such a wonderful spot and what a great place to go walking.

simon said...

THIS is a GREAT post! I have watched the Lord of the Rings ( extended version) SO many times. I feel I am there for real...

What I also love is the "link" between NZ & Aus.. boiling th Billy.. the loo... the dray.... the terms.

But what I love too are the colours of the rocks and grass and sky.....

Ju's you have out done yourself on this post!

thanks!!!! I MUST get on a plane and do the South island as well as north again!

Ju's little sister said...

WOW! Thank you everyone for your kind words, I am so very glad you enjoyed the post!

I am proud of the land I come from and could talk about it all day, but my dad (who was boiling the billy) knows so much more.

Maalie, of course that's me on the steps. Where I come from we are all elegantly yet inadequately clothed for the harsh NZ weather.
If you have come across the term 'hippogrif' then you now know what it is - a cross between a gryphon and a horse... And as children in school we were taught the hippopotomus connection. Cool eh?

I'm sure you could find some wicked tracks to bike Simon, and except for some cows and some sheep you would be totally alone! I was pretty sure that Dad does call that wagon a 'dray' but didn't want to put it in incase I was wrong but you're so right about the little links across the tazman.

TCA said...

A stunning landscape and beautiful part of the world to call home. You are very lucky and I can see why Ju pesters me to head south for a trip! I often here debate over which is more stunning, North or South Island. They are both magical but when I see pictures such as these I think the South may just edge it.

I use a Kelly Kettle rather than a Billy, it is a traditional Irish Fishermans kettle, It is very versitile and shaped like a thermos with a central chimney flue soon boils in no time.


Ju's little sister said...

Ah ha!
Well BB as I'm sure you understand the culture of NZ is a heady mix of cultures from all over the world. Though on this trip we 'went traditional,' these days we will often 'boil the thermos' which sounds very very similar to your kelly kettle. Only it's a little hard to get all the tea leaves out afterwards.

And the South Island is definitely the best, but then I'm a one-eyed Cantab.

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

yes.... and when you rank Kiwis by one-eyedness..... Cantabs are right up there :P

Ju's little sister's aunt said...

REally enjoyed your account of Easter at Helm's Deep - How many 'high country picnics' have we gone on over the years?? Lucky me! I remember one many years ago when you, Ju and Ju's twin were able to sit in the holes created when small rocks were removed from the turf, where billy tea was being made by the nice man and you all fell about laughing at billy tea calling it "Billy T James" (famous NZ comedian - now dearly departed :() That episode has always amused me. When I saw the nice man still on the job in your blog, I thought of him as "Billy Tea Don" You looked gorgeous at Edora!! xoxoxo Ju's sister's aunt.

Anil P said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It brought your trip to life, very vividly too.

Elise said...

Great story! Makes me feel 'homesick' again..

I worked up at Messy from March 'til May 2007 and I met your father (Frank, right?) on the autumn muster..I was packie, great experience. Love to come back some day...:)


Elise said...

Sorry, I just saw that it's Don ;) Sorry for the mix-up..