Huge areas of New Zealand’s mountains were unsuited to arable farming but pioneers couldn’t resist trying. Sheep farming methods from the Scottish Highlands, especially, seemed applicable. In the decades before refrigeration sheep wool was a valuable commodity that did not spoil in transit across the globe. Thus began the business and culture of the ‘high country sheep station’. It gained considerable impetus with the introduction of fencing wire from 1868 that facilitated basic flock and pasture management.
As governments developed more socialist policies, many larger stations were broken up into smaller runs to be farmed more intensively and efficiently. A distinctive feature was that the government retained ownership of the land, which was leased to ‘runholders’ on 99 year renewable leases.
High country sheep stations were run on an annual cycle of mustering and shearing with musterers’ huts and shearing sheds built in appropriate places. Considerable folklore developed around these activities, enduring to the present day. One station owner, an immigrant from England, titled his memoirs ‘Many a glorious morning’, demonstrating a deep bond felt by many for the landscape and lifestyle.
Prosperity peaked around 1950, and high country farming has devolved in recent decades. Returns from sheep farming plummeted, labour costs rose, subsidies disappeared and unsustainable environmental factors became more apparent. At present the Department of Conservation (DOC) is involved in a process of high country tenure review. On a voluntary basis a runholder can gain freehold title to lease areas that can be sustainably farmed, with the provision of public access. Unsustainable land reverts to conservation management by DOC. Through this process DOC is progressively acquiring sites of high country farming historic heritage.
The sites DOC manages under this theme are:
East Coast/Hawke's Bay
- Acheron Accommodation House, 1863
- Black Spur Hut, Clarence Reserve, 1920
- Bluff Dump Hut, Clarence Reserve,1928
- Cob Bakers Oven, Clarence Reserve, 1930
- Horse Flat Hut, Clarence Reserve, 1909
- Old Quail Flat Woolshed, Clarence Reserve, 1860-1880
- Old Willows Hut, Clarence Reserve,1920
- Quail Flat Cob House, Clarence Reserve, 1860
- Saloon Quarters, Clarence Reserve, 1900
- Tent Poles Hut, Clarence Reserve, 1928
- Downies Hut, 1900
- Molesworth Station, Molesworth, 1866
- Tarndale Finger Post, 1887
- Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park , Birch Hill, 1865-1930, Jimmy Lloyds Grave, Birch Hill, 1872, Rabbit Fence, Birch Hill, 1888, Wakefield Track, 1902.
- Raukapuka, Levels Homestead (PPL), Levels Homestead, 1853, (Administered By NZHPT),
- The Cuddy, 1854, (Administered By NZHPT)
- Raukapuka, Jeanie Collier's Gravesite Historic Reserve, 1861, Lake Emma Hut, 1870
- Raukapuka, Pioneer Park (Geraldine Forest), Michael Burke’s Hut site - Raincliff Station, 1854
- Quailburn (East Ahuriri) Hut, 1880, Hideaway Hut, Lower Ahuriri, c 1890
- Lindis Pass Scenic Reserve, Boundary Keepers Hut site, 1860
- Quailburn Homestead Historic Area
- Arthur’s Pass National Park, Bealey Spur (Top Hut) Hut, 1925
- Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park, Avoca Homestead, 1906
- Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill archaeological sites, 1865
- Ben Avon Hut, Dingle Burn 1930
- Wakatipu, Glen Allen Scenic Reserve, Trotters Homestead, 1859
McLeod, D, (1966). Many a Glorious Morning. (Reed, Wellington).