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People Making Changes Issue 29 -
Methven people create an all-season resort

Dorothy - 30/10/97

Methven - country town, winter sports centre, now summer resort thanks to enterprising people
There is evidence that before the pakeha settlers came, moa-hunting parties passed through this area, but there was no Maori settlement.

Methven
Aerial view of Methven, photo taken on a balloon ride by Evan Glass.
(Click on the image to get larger version)

In 1869 Robert Patton bought some land and called the area Methven after his home town in Perthshire, Scotland. The site for the township was at the junction of six main roads. In 1878 sections in the town were auctioned. In 1880 Patton opened a hotel and sold some land for a blacksmith's shop. John Grigg of Longbeach had a hut in the area as a stopping place for drovers driving cattle from Longbeach to the West Coast.

In 1878 work began on the inland branch railway linking Methven with Rakaia. It was opened in 1880 and operated until 1976.

Methven was the closest town to Mt Hutt sheep station which had been established in 1853.

Bridge building helps the travellers to reach Methven
The new town became more important as a centre for travellers when in 1882 the Iron Bridge was built across the Rakaia River at the entrance to the gorge. It is built to a Bollam Truss design and is one of only two surviving in use. The other is in Savage, Maryland, U.S.A.

A wooden bridge was built over the South Branch of the Rakaia River, to be replaced by a concrete structure in 1945.

Engineering projects benefit the area and bring more people.
During the Great Depression of the thirties unemployed men were given jobs building the Rangitata Diversion Channel. This channel was capable of irrigating nearly 4000 hectares. This scheme was extended to Highbank Power Station on the Rakaia River, thus providing additional irrigation and water for the power station.

Skifield development at Mt Hutt
In 1969 the Methven Lions Club favoured the development of the wide south basin on Mt Hutt as a ski area. Peter Yeoman, a Christchurch business man and civil engineer, took up their idea and in 1972 the Mt Hutt Ski Field Development Company Ltd. was launched.

Mount Hutt
Aerial view of Mount Hutt, photo taken on a balloon ride by Evan Glass.
(Click on the image to get larger version)

The road to the skifield was built, about 5.600 ft above sea level, and is known as "Hood Highway" after Doug Hood, the Ashburton road contractor. Willie Huber spent the winter of 1972 in a chalet in the middle of the basin in the winter ot 1972, collecting critical data. In 1973 the skiers came.

Methven now a winter resort
This led to change. Accommodation lodges sprang up in the town. Shops and restaurants served the skiing visitors during the season.

As people working on the ski field settled down with families they lived in the town rather than on the mountain. They bought up the few available older houses and in the last few years a number of new houses have been built.

What of Methven in 'the off-season'?
Enterprising people decided to develop attractions that would make Methven a tourist mecca all the year - to eliminate the off-season.

Interview with Sue Harris
I spoke to Sue Harris, one of the prime movers in the new developments. She went to live in Methven when her policeman husband was posted there. When her children started school she began to look for a job in the tourism area. She looked at the number of houses used by skiers for a short time during the winter and left to stand empty the rest of the year. She set up her own business, Methven Mount Hutt Holiday Homes, letting out these houses to tourists on behalf of the owners.

Successful new craft shop
When the Ladies Interprovincial Golf Tournament was to be held in Methven in April this year Sue and others were concerned about some empty shops in the mall. Sue gathered together the craftspeople in the area and arranged for a craft shop to be set up in the largest shop for the week of the tournament.

The shop was so successful that it has continued on a permanent basis. Twenty six local craftspeople pay ten dollars a week towards rent and electricity and do voluntary work in the shop three half days a month. In return they receive the money paid for their goods which are sold in the shop. Another forty craftspeople, mostly local, offer their goods for sale on a commission basis.

Email facilities for tourists
Sue acts as coordinator though she is not a craftsperson herself. She has her office and her computer at the shop and offers to tourists a facility to receive and send emails while they are in Methven.

A strategic plan
New initiatives under the district's strategic plan have included the development of new signage from Winchester to Woodend directing people to the Inland Scenic Route which will pass close to Methven.

Rodeo and Line Dancing Festival
On Sunday at Labour weekend a rodeo has been held at Methven for some years. Recently a line dancing festival was added to this programme. A social function welcomes the visitors on the Friday evening. Dancing lessons are held during Saturday with a dance at night, and dancing to a band in the streets on the Sunday night.

The Methven Summer School
Each January for the last ten years the summer school has been held offering reasonably priced courses in different skills ranging from art and crafts, painting, garden design, fiction writing and personal development to learning to play bridge and golf. It is held in the second week of January and the organisers would appreciate receiving enrolments by the first week in December. In 1997 160 people enrolled for courses, including an enrolment from as far away as Canada. For a brochure email Sue Harris at mmhhh@voyager.co.nz.

Methven Summer School - Art and Craft
Methven Summer School - Art and Craft

Other activities for the summer
If you want to attend the summer school but are wondering about how the rest of the family could be entertained while you are there, look at the list of alternative activities, many of which involve little or no expense:

  • fishing
  • tennis
  • swimming at the pool
  • golf
  • squash
  • visit to the Methven Historical Museum
  • walks in Mt Hutt Forest Park or on Mt Somers from the Woolshed Creek area
  • the Mountain Gym Company where activities include a rock climbing wall
  • adventure tourism at Staveley - abseilling, tramping, walking, kayaking
  • windsurfing at Lake Camp and Lake Clearwater
  • white water rafting on the Rangitata and Rakaia Rivers
  • farm visits
  • horse riding
  • ballooning
  • visit to the Mount Somers Lily Farm
  • visit to the Rangitata Diversion and the walkway day tours to other areas

Methven Summer School - Golf
Methven Summer School - Golf

There is so much opportunity for outdoor activity that the Methven High School this year offered an outdoor experience course. It was very successful and the course offering sixteen places for 1998 is already fully booked.

Where will you stay?
Methven offers a range of places from back packers to full accommodation. Most places offer considerably reduced rates outside the ski season.

You could contact Sue and stay at Mt Hutt Holiday Homes if you want to prepare your own meals.

You could email Evan and Heather Glass at Abisko Lodge which has its own restaurant and bar. Evan & Heather can also offer information on other types of accommodation available. Email address: abisko@clear.net.nz

To find out more about Evan and Heather you could read my earlier article in NZine. Since they took the dramatic leap into lodge management in the middle of the ski season they have had two successful ski seasons and their summer bookings for individuals, groups and conferences are increasing. Any quiet times in the summer are spent improving the facilities.

Do include Methven on your holiday itinerary and experience the rich variety of activities developed by people who are determined that their town will have a visitors' season ALL YEAR ROUND.




 
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