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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shearing season at Mt Nicholas Station gets off to a stellar start

For the first time in 25 years visitors and locals will be able to experience the annual shearing season at Mt Nicholas High Country Farm courtesy of leading tourism operator Southern Discoveries.

Once a year 29,000 merino sheep are mustered down from the surrounding hills and mountains for the shearing season, making for a spectacular sight.

29,000 sheep are mustered down and shorn in over six weeks_mediaSouthern Discoveries is the only company with boat access to Mt Nicholas, enabling tourists and locals to experience the season first hand.

Mt Nicholas is one of the only family-owned high country stations on Lake Wakatipu, and supplies wool exclusively to world-renowned Icebreaker clothing company.

A team of highly-skilled shearers and wool handlers arrived at the station late last week for 30 solid days of shearing.

Spread over seven weeks, to allow for mustering and bad weather, they will shear about 1,200 sheep per day. That's about 200 each for the six shearers.

Kate Cocks from Mt Nicholas Station said “the woolshed is a hive of activity during shearing time with everyone working hard on their individual jobs”.

“By the end of shearing we’ll have clipped over 115,000kg of wool and made over 600 bales,” she said.
“It’s a busy and exciting time of year for us.”

All mustering at Mt Nicholas is done by horses and dogs_mediaSheep are mustered the old-fashioned way at Mt Nicholas using only four people, 40 working dogs and four horses to locate the sheep across the 100,000 acres of high country.

Starting at 7am each day the gang work in blocks of two hours shearing with just a half hour break in between and an hour for lunch, finishing their day at 5pm.

“It’s incredibly hard work” said head shearer Kelly Hokianga who has shorn at Mt Nicholas for the last 40 years.

“Each shearer will burn the same calories as running a marathon on a daily basis and eat five meals a day to keep up their energy levels.”

Shearing at Mt Nicholas High Country Station started last week_media“It’s a tough but rewarding job and we spend around three or four months a year touring the South Island shearing.”

From now until mid-October, Southern Discoveries will run two trips daily from St Omer Wharf in Queenstown specially to view the shearing activity.

An experienced farm guide will show visitors through the shearing process and explain all the different jobs that are going on around the shed.

“It’s busy and noisy but fascinating to see the start of an Icebreaker garment being created,” said Mrs Cocks.

Southern Discoveries Queenstown operations manager Douglas Keith said it was “an absolute privilege to be able to show people the shearing process at Mt Nicholas”.

The shearing gang rise early to shear 200 sheep each a day_media“We launched Spirit of Queenstown cruises to Mt Nicholas in December last year so this is the first time the public and even our staff have had the pleasure of seeing the station in full throttle,” he said.

“It really is an impressive sight and one that most people, locals and visitors alike, may never have seen before or get to appreciate again. For just 30 days of the year, you can see all the action and feel a part of the process.”

The spring shearing season leads into the company’s busy summer season when four departures a day will run to Mt Nicholas. Visitors can choose from either a Mt Nicholas Farm Experience or 4WD Wilderness Experience.

The Farm Experience guides visitors through the journey of merino wool in a fun, interactive environment, from mustering/rounding up sheep through to the creation of Icebreaker clothing. Visitors can learn about the history of this family-run high country station, watch sheep being moved by the sheep dog, see how the locals live and meet working animals on the farm.

The 4WD Wilderness Experience enables visitors to journey deeper into the high country via specialist 4WD vehicle. Joined by a farm guide, head away from the lake and into the Von River Valley to see historic buildings, enjoy short walks to spectacular vantage points and view merino sheep in their natural environment while you follow in the footsteps of early pioneers.

Both trips run for three hours 45 minutes, include a traditional morning or afternoon tea and a sightseeing cruise across Lake Wakatipu on Spirit of Queenstown, embracing some of the most breathtaking views you’ll see.

“We’re looking forward to a busy summer season and the shearing season is a perfect platform to start from. If you’ve ever wondered what happens on a working farm, now’s the time to find out,” said Mr Keith.

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