Historic Grasmere Lodge, nestled in the mountains of New Zealand's South Island, is a country retreat of unrivalled charm and distinction.
This traditional New Zealand high country station ranch, set amid towering 7000 ft peaks, is a haven for those in need of relaxation and a wonderland for those seeking a more adventurous interlude. For the discerning guest or traveller, Grasmere Lodge offers the highest level of hospitality in a wild and invigorating landscape.
The original wing of Grasmere Lodge was built of limestone in 1858. The present owner, Oliver Newbegin, has extended the Lodge to create a memorable retreat.
The Hotel named the Guest Rooms after former owners of this historic farm. The homestead is one of the oldest-inhabited in the high country and, like most of them, has enlarged and altered. The original two Room cob-and-slab hut built in 1858 is still contained within the larger house, faced with limestone from the rocks at nearby Castle Hill. The Upper Waimakariri Basin was first explored in 1857, by Joseph Pearson from England's Lake District. The lake visible from the front door here reminded him of Lake Grasmere there, hence the name. Nearby Lake Sarah is named after his wife. Pearson took up land in the area himself, after burning off the tussockland so that sheep could graze on the new grass.
His employer Joseph Hawdon settled on what became Grasmere Station, when he moved to New Zealand that year from Australia, where he had been a notable explorer and pioneer. Originally he hailed from Durham, also in the north of England. Pearson named another nearby lake, Marymere, after Joseph's wife. The Hawdons built that first hut, and would have had no easy life. Later the station ownership passed to Joseph's son Arthur, and he built the stone part of the house when he married in 1872. His wife was Elizabeth Barker, best known for being the first white baby born after the settlers arrived in Canterbury in 1850. Unfortunately, a declining economy cost the family the station in 1876, and it passed, like many others, into the hands of Dalgety and Company, a stock and station firm. They sold it to John Sim in 1898, and Sealy Rutherford bought it from him in 1903. He added Cora Lynn Station next door in 1907, but struck trouble in 1917 when the University of Canterbury leases came up for auction. In 1873 the Crown had granted Canterbury College an endowment of 26,000 hectares, comprising the Grasmere and original Craigieburn and Avoca high country runs. The pastoral leases are now granted for a term of 33 years, with perpetual rights of renewal.
Back then, such properties were in high demand, and Rutherford couldn't afford the final bid of £800 a year, so Grasmere's leasehold land went to Joseph Studholme and Walter McAlpine, who already had neighbouring Mount White and Craigieburn Stations. Rutherford was left with the Grasmere freehold around the homestead, and Cora Lynn. He sold this a few years later to Walter Taylor and Harry Faulker, and in 1927 they bought back the Grasmere lease from Studholme and McAlpine. They ran the station in conjunction with another farm down-country, which provided winter grazing for the sheep. Taylor was a wool-scourer from Timaru, and in 1930 the falling price of wool forced the partnership to sell out to David McLeod and Leslie Orbell. McLeod was a Cambridge graduate, but he came to New Zealand in 1925 and spent four years learning what it takes to be a high country shepherd. After a brief trip Home trying to borrow family money to buy a farm here, he found a partner in Orbell, who was from a well-established farming family in South Canterbury. Later he bought out Orbell, and spent the next 40 years at Grasmere, which at one stage covered 60,000 acres 24,000 hectares.
In 1970, David McLeod handed on the farm to his son Ian, who ran it till 1978, when he sold it to Dugal Harcourt. Oliver bought the Grasmere freehold of 1500 acres 607 hectares in 1988. As well as farming, David McLeod wrote many books about life on the station, most of which are in library if you want to find out more. He writes with great passion for the land, and the books of yarns can be read a little at a time if you're not here long enough to finish one. Totally committed to the high country, David was heavily involved in founding the South Island High Country Committee, to represent high country concerns to the government, and later chaired the committee. He was also chairman of the Tussock Grasslands and Mountain Lands Institute until 1973.
David came to visit us each year at Grasmere, and he understood the need for farms to diversify these days. We were proud to have his blessing, and he was glad to see us provide a way for more people to come to know this wonderful region. He died in Christchurch in May 2000, two weeks before his 98th birthday. Today the farm specialises in breeding ultra-fine-wool Merino sheep 14-17 micron. About 1000 ewes and 50 rams provide lambs which are sold at about six months old to down-country farmers. The farm property also has 100 breeding cows, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus (the black ones). The calves are sold before winter, to be fattened by Canterbury Plains farmers for beef. A herd of deer provides venison (Cervena) for the restaurant market and the stags' antler velvet is exported for medicine and tonics in the Far East.