A little stone house in the hills

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One of Canterbury’s oldest buildings – the stone cottage at Hakatere in the Ashburton Gorge – has been restored and opened, with former station cook Joyce Grieve given the honours.

The cottage was built in 1862 with stone carried from a nearby river, and was home to shepherds at Hakatere until around 1892, after which it became known as the married quarters.

It is 23km inland from Mt Somers, and on what was Hakatere Station.

The station was bought by the Nature Heritage Fund in 2008.

The stone cottage is one of a cluster of buildings at Hakatere Corner, including the cook shop – Mrs Grieve’s domain in the late 1960s – and the singlemen’s quarters. All have been restored.

Added to the mix at Hakatere is a restored killing shed – now set back from the creek where eels waited for the butcher’s knife – and a boat found in a nearby dump. It, too, has been restored, and a room at the end of the singlemen’s quarters is now an information centre with interactive display.

Mrs Grieve, after a welcome by Robert Schikker, chair of the Hakatere Heritage Committee, and Murray Thomas, of the Department of Conservation, cut the ribbon and slid a knife into a cake decorated with a picture of the cottage.

She wrote a book about her time as a high-country cook, Spuds and Dishes.

David Howden, who led the committee through its early years, said he had a long interest in the buildings, but was shocked one day to see youths throwing stones at the windows in the derelict cottage.

He decided something needed to be done, and in 2010, when DOC called a public meeting in Mt Somers to gauge support for a project, the committee, part of the Mt Somers Citizens’ Association, was formed.

Fundraisers included a shindy, a mud plug, back-country adventures and a duck pluckers’ ball.

In all, $50,000 was raised and DOC added $128,000 – making the restoration possible. The building has been strengthened, with grouting pumped into the walls.

Before it was fixed, it had cracks so big an arm would go through.

The buildings also faced the threat of drowning, as there were plans to build a dam at Blowing Point, further down the gorge.

Those plans were later abandoned.

Hakatere Station was taken up by Thomas Potts and has an evolving history of being amalgamated, split and reamalgamated.

Several old station hands were there for the opening, including former head shepherd Ian Sowden, and Mrs Grieve.

To announce lunch, Leonie Austin, who made the celebratory cake, rang the gong at the old cookhouse.