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Hyundai Country Calendar

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Episode 1: Wild Coast


Wild Coast

The National Bank Country Calendar starts its 2008 series with a muster on the remote northern tip of the South Island's West Coast.

Golden Bay farmer Dave Harwood has handed over the day-to-day running of his family farm to his sons and found a new challenge - a windswept stretch of coast just south of Farwell Spit.

Every October Dave  sets out from the home farm near Takaka, on an epic journey to muster around 6,000 lambs that he has fattening on the block - and this year he was joined by the Country Calendar crew.

Just getting to the property means two tricky river crossings.  Once you're there, all stock movement has to be planned with an eye on another three rivers that cut through the farm.

Part of the route runs along the beaches, so they have to move the sheep at low tide.

Then there's the wind, which often gusts over 40 knots as it roars in from the Tasman Sea, frequently dumping heavy rain. 

The muster runs to a tight deadline.  The mobs have to be coaxed off their blocks then sorted and dagged in readiness for a five-hour truck journey to the ferry in Picton. 

The stock have to be at the Taylor Preston meat plant in Wellington by early November, so they can meet the pre-Christmas UK lamb trade.

Dave Harwood says getting stock across the rivers can be a nightmare.  "It's the hardest work I know," he says.  "Sometimes you'd do anything - I mean anything - just to get them across."

And the drivers from Solly's Transport in Takaka will also tell you that it's not wise to venture to the West Coast rivers after heavy rain.  There are plenty of stories about diving in freezing cold water to haul stranded trucks out.

Helping Dave on the muster is a hard-case trio of whitebaiters.  Snow Grooby, Ian Krammer and Laurie Hovenden have been fishing the area for close to fifty years. 

There's a great deal of good humoured banter about how they were persuaded to abandon their nets join the muster crew.  One story has it that the wives of the three retired men pay Dave to keep their husbands out of the house.  Laurie claims the real reason they are on the muster is because Dave is a hopeless cook.

But behind the teasing and leg-pulling is an admission that the muster would struggle without all of them working together.

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