13 Apr 2018

Wheel of Fortune

From Country Life, 9:21 pm on 13 April 2018

Malcolm Smith and Robyn Curtis-Smith have transformed an abandoned West Coast gold mining valley into fertile farmland for their cattle. They've also built a house and a huge waterwheel that generates electricity for the farm.

While the power's still coming on around the country after this week's storms, one West Coast farming couple never have to worry about their lines coming down.

Malcolm Smith and Robyn Curtis-Smith farm near Ahaura on the West Coast.

Using do-it-yourself innovation, they've built a huge waterwheel in a creek that generates electricity for the farm and house.

Malcolm says he's extremely proud of it.

"We built it out of beech and it's five metres in diameter. It's got 54 buckets and its theoretical horsepower is three-horse."

The couple's property is steeped in mining history and the paddocks in front of their house were once the site of a self-sufficient mining township.

"There were about 600 people there in 1860. They were here for the alluvial gold and all the services the miners required were provided. There were a few hotels, a bakery and there was a school up here, as well," Robyn says.

Malcolm and Robyn have discovered several vertical shafts and tunnels in the bush surrounding their farm, some of which go under their paddocks.

They take Country Life's Cosmo Kentish-Barnes into a narrow, 150-metre long, hand-dug tunnel which is now home to freshwater crayfish, weta and glow worms.

Cosmo finds the ground it's dug out of quite soft in patches, but Robyn assures him it's safe.

"We have had a few people ask us about the stability of it but it has survived the Inangahua and the Murchison earthquakes so I'm assuming it's probably pretty stable."

The couple provide eco accommodation on the farm and they're building a basic camping ground they plan to have up and running next summer for travellers looking for an off-the-beaten-track adventure.