The Magic of Mt Nicholas

A rustic gate guards the entrance tot he caged kitchen garden.
A rustic gate guards the entrance to the caged kitchen garden.

Just a 40 minute cruise from Queenstown, but a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Central Otago’s overgrown tourist-town, lies an experience you’ll never forget. Mt Nicholas Station, named for the magnificent flat-topped mountain that towers over Lake Wakatipu’s southern reaches, offers a warm welcome to visitors who prefer a quieter destination.  The 44,000 hectare run of tussock-clad hills, pockets of native bush, and scree-clad slopes provides its visitors with an up-close peek at a working high country farm that was first settled in 1860, and which has been in its current family’s ownership for over 4 decades. While you’ll definitely have the opportunity to explore the station’s history by wandering around its saddlery and blacksmiths building, don’t kid yourself that everything is in the past. In many ways, Mt Nicholas still relies on pioneering skills to keep it ticking over.

Spend the night in the comfortable shearers quarters.
Spend the night in the comfortable shearers’ quarters.

Despite its severe and challenging winters, the farm, which is off-grid and has generated its own electricity since 1950, is stocked with 30,000 merinos, over 2,000 Hereford cattle, and a kitchen garden the size of an average domestic section! Pet sheep and pigs, free-range hens, and farm as well as pet dogs, are as friendly as the station’s staff, and tourism managers Adrienne McNatty and partner Bruce Collins provide a welcome second to none.

A rustic gate guards the entrance tot he caged kitchen garden.
A rustic gate guards the entrance to the caged kitchen garden.

It’s Adrienne who bakes the scrumptious morning and afternoon teas, and prepares the hearty breakfasts and delicious meals that are enjoyed by guests who can opt for a variety of accommodations. Larger groups of up to 20 can mix and mingle and bunk down in the authentic ‘Shearers’ Quarters which perches right on the lakefront, while those who are looking for a more private bed for the night have the option of staying over in pretty White Bay Cabin. ‘Cabin’ is an understatement as the self-contained cottage-in-miniature is luxuriously furnished and enjoys spectacular panoramic views of the lake and mountains. As evening closes in, there’s the option of dining with Adrienne and Bruce, or enjoying their home cooking in the privacy of the cabin. During the day, kayaks are available to take out on the water (be sure to look out for the virtually tame trout that swim close to shore).

Enjoy the stations delcicious fresh produce.
Enjoy the station’s delicious fresh produce.

If you don’t have time to take the boat from Queenstown to Mt Nicholas, and want to sample a truly special outing, enquire about the helicopter day trips which chopper pilot David Buston operates. Not only is the journey superbly scenic, but David will land you right in front of the sweetest little stone musterer’s hut which Bruce restored a few years back. Adrienne’s homemade scones and Mt Nicholas fruit jams will be waiting for you, and if the day is chilly, don’t be surprised to find the hut’s fire has magically been lit!

Is it history or still in use
Is it history or still in use?

If you’re energetic, skip the chopper and opt instead for a hire-bicycle ride from Mt Nicholas to neighbouring Mt Earnslaw station. The 14km backcountry road takes in panoramic mountain views, and once you arrive at your destination, there’s no need to backtrack. “The Lady of the Lake”, the vintage TSS Earnslaw will be waiting to steam you down the lake and back to Queenstown.