Friday, December 30, 2011

Chelston Farm, Port Levy...

I am writing this at Chelston Farm, Port Levy on Banks Peninsula. Boxing Day, 2011. From the Shearers’ Quarters, where I am staying, I can see finches and bellbirds feeding on the flowers of an unfamiliar shrub. Below them, the sheep and adolescent lambs are already gathering in the shade. The cows and pigs are out of sight and even the hens are temporarily quiet – the lull between breakfast and the first lay maybe. Beyond the close paddocks, the valley curves five kilometres or so down to the sea. The hill covering is a mixture of tussock/grassland, pine plantations and regenerating native bush. Manuka and kanuka are in flower, a powder of dusty white. Every so often a kereru soars overhead.

Back in the mid-late nineteenth century, Chelston was the site of a sawmill, one of many that gobbled up the native bush on the Peninsula. The milled logs would have been carted to the summit and then down to the rail line at Little River for transport to Christchurch, or maybe down to the wharf at Port Levy – whichever way an arduous task for man and beast. Today Chelston is a small farm with homestay accommodation in The Stables (dating back to sawmill days) and the Shearers’ Quarters (1942).

Port Levy (Puari) was a significant Maori settlement pre and post European arrival. Today the village is small but there is a sizeable marae and plenty of evidence that this remains a Maori enclave. With the exception of the church, school (now a community meeting place) and a few colonial homesteads at the head of the harbour, the village to the south and scattered farm settlements to the north, Port Levy is empty of human habitation. While just ‘over the hill’ (up Purau Valley) from Lyttelton Harbour, it feels much more remote.

Being here over Christmas is a way of avoiding the commercial and social whirl of the festival, which I find increasingly distressing. It is an opportunity to explore another little part of the Peninsula, not so far from my own home in Governors Bay and sharing some of the same historical characteristics. What Elaine (who is renting The Stables) and I didn’t anticipate was that our arrival at Chelston would be heralded by magnitude 5.8 and 6.1 earthquake aftershocks – the most significant since June. The wooden Shearers’ Quarters rattled, rolled and bounced in response to a shallow undersea rupture in Pegasus Bay. Our immediate thoughts were for family, friends and our homes in Cashmere and Governors Bay. And so our holiday began with a swift journey back to Lyttelton Harbour to check my house (in particular the still marginally-secured water cylinder) and enable Elaine to contact neighbours regarding hers. A little more breakage and spillage, but nothing (comparatively) of significance. The news not so good from the eastern suburbs of Christchurch where yet more liquefaction has occurred. By late afternoon we were back at Chelston, grateful for the radio coverage that has enabled us to keep informed of quake news.

The Stables
The Shearers' Quarters
So far the days here have involved reading, sleeping, eating, walking (a little), talking to the animals and, yesterday, swimming. My rocky recovery from shingles means that I am, of necessity, slow and sore – so not inclined to the strenuous. Today Fleur, Ian, Georgie, Rob and Ali are coming over about lunchtime – a good opportunity to make inroads into the ham!


  1. I'm thankful the damage is not worse---but can only imagine how this shakes your sense of security---it shakes mine on your behalf! And then shingles on top of it all! I remember feeling covered with rope burns. Couldn't bare to be touched by anything, even clothes. May the picturesque Chelston Farm be like salve to your nerve endings.

  2. (redoing my comments:)

    The Stables look gorgeous. What a stunning place to stay.
    You could always come and stay in our shearing shed. The mice wouldnt mind sharing! :)

  3. Well Niki, a bit of a conversion job, chuck the mice out and you could have an extra source of income!!

    'Rope burns' is a good description Deb. For me it is as though the skin under the outer layer is ripping and tearing. Quite scary.