Farm Eco Tourism

May 2022

Wilderness tours through an alpine property, the highest privately-owned land in the country.

Conservation, education, tourism, farming, and earthquake recovery go hand-in-hand for Nicky McArthur at Puhi Peaks Station in Kaikoura. For Nicky, Puhi Peaks is also a place to share with people. Her Mission Statement is: “to inspire each of us to honour their relationship with the earth and its people”. Nicky offers wilderness tours through the 1618m alpine property, which rises from 300m to 2438m. Puhi Peaks includes the highest privately-owned land in the country. Its contour includes extra-ordinary geological variation. Will Parsons from Driftwood Eco-Tours is a local who understands the tourism and conservation value of Puhi Peaks.


Fair to say, Puhi Peaks is spectacular, steep and in parts near-inaccessible. In conservation circles, parts of the property are world-famous and for Nicky it’s a place to tell a ‘conservation’ story that resonates far beyond Puhi, whether it’s through walking tours or her art. A standout feature of Puhi Peaks is Te Ao Whekere, (‘not actually on my property - by a whisker’) a peak standing 2590m high. For good reason, given its stature, Te Ao Whekere translates to ‘World of the Gods’.


Half of Puhi Peaks - more than 2000a - is under QEII Covenant on the Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve, and the whole property is home to precious flora and fauna. The property has many other birds/plants/lizards, like Hutton’s shearwaters, the only seabird in the world to nest in the mountains – subalpine, at 12-1800m. The birds breed in two wild colonies on Puhi Peaks at 1800m on near vertical rocky slopes in the headwaters of Shearwater Stream, leading into the Wharekiri.


The shearwater colonies are the last of eight known shearwater colonies in the past 60 years. By 1990 the total number of these colonies was down to two. Pigs wiped out most colonies and the survivors remain only because of the inaccessibility of their terrain. DoC staff fly in by helicopter to study them, a long and involved process including Nicky, Hutton’s Trust, and others.


Nicky is a dedicated advocate for clear communication of science in a practical way, through projects like Hutton’s shearwater, to inspire others to do more for the natural environment in and around farms. 


Nicky is also attempting to rebuild after the earthquakes but it's hard work. Four insurance claims are still pending, for example. 'It's a really difficult journey on your own as a woman over 60. It has taken its toll,' she says. The November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake wrecked one of the jewels, Shearwater Lodge, still sitting at 1000m on the upper edge of the bush. The purpose-built eco lodge was a haven for weary walkers, one of the premier guided walks in NZ - different because it was not on DOC land and offered fine food and drink prepared by Nicky, who is a cordon bleu-trained cook as well.


Nicky’s also a founding member and trustee of the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust, tasked with community education and liaison, hence the Seabird Weekend. She is also a driving force behind the establishment of the Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve and the QE11 covenant now protecting it.


Nicky was born in Britain but lived in NZ in her pre-school years, with her Kiwi father. She farmed in Central Otago and North Canterbury before moving to Kaikoura.  She is also an artist and a triathlete who has represented New Zealand – and bursting with enthusiasm for environmental protection and conservation causes. Those causes include campaigning to a designated Dark Sky area around Kaikoura, Kaikoura Dark Sky - Wider Kaikoura District.


She has invited Hurunui and Molesworth to join Puhi Peaks and invited the Department of Conservation to consider this for their 33% of New Zealand’s land mass. Dark sky is important because '50% of our life is night - 50% of conservation is night-time; NZ has mostly night-time pollinators'. This is a huge conversation for New Zealand to have she says. Crucially, for the birds, reliable darkness would help the Hutton’s shearwaters to navigate out at sea.


Disoriented birds have been known to land, all the time in Kaikoura township, particularly attracted by blue light pollution at night. 'ALAN - Artificial Light at Night - the villain of the piece, says Nicky, are LED lights over 2,700 Kelvin, as the birds confuse tarmac on damp/misty nights as being the ocean.


Nicky considers herself only a caretaker of the land and its occupiers – “it’s only lent to us”, she says. Puhi Peaks as 14 different 'work streams' going on Asset management, water, fences, buildings, conservation, trapping, birds. There are also walking tours in the off-season, a goat culling programme and deer hunting to allow native bush to regenerate. It all helps to maintain ecological balance, Nicky says. 


Nicky says Puhi Peaks is also strongly committed to carbon farming, as a source of income and a way to keep the property’s carbon footprint as light as possible. For everyday agriculture income streams, honey is in the mix. “Farming is important, the property has not had any improvements for 30 years plus - so therefore can stand as a model for Regenerative Farming and it sits in a flight path of the Hutton’s”.


Nicky believes New Zealand will never be able to run the DOC estate (33% of the country) on a taxpaying population of 5-6 million people. “There must be alternatives. As a landowner, passionate about the land with a quarter of the property protected in perpetuity through a QE2 covenant, I would like to be involved in discussions offering a different model for farming and conservation. Perhaps a model involving smaller stock numbers”


Will Parsons is a director and tour guide for Driftwood Eco-Tours and has built a long-standing relationship with Nicky. His company supports the ambitions of Puhi Peaks. Nicky’s ethos runs alongside Driftwood Eco-Tours, with their stated aims to support conservation and community projects in the places they take visitors to, in a safe, sustainable, and responsible way. Nicky says, “Tourism is in the mix of protecting the land, the biodiversity - and trying to survive! Everything we do contributes to the bottom line and/or biodiversity. Ideally both - simultaneously!”

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