Last night while we were waiting to sit down to dinner at the Wedderburn Tavern, a burly man with a crooked nose came over and introduced himself. He was Stuart Duncan. He and his wife, Lorraine, own the Wedderburn Cottages, where we’re staying, as well as the 4,500-acre farm it’s situated on. Stuart’s a friendly chap, as are most Kiwi, and, after I bought him a Speight’s, gave me a rundown of his family history in the area. He told us he’s a fourth-generation Otago farmer. His great-grandfather arrived from Scotland in 1863 during the Otago gold rush. Thirty years later, after the gold had petered out, he bought land that is now known as Penvose Farms where Stuart’s parents still live. Stuart bought the farm across the gravel farm road where he and Lorraine and their three children live and where we’re staying. Between Stuart and his parents they’ve got 6,500 breeding ewes, 130 Angus cows, and 450 red deer.
The cows were a good story, Stuart said. They bought them knowing nothing about dairy farms. Stuart’s father, Graeme, thought his son was crazy. “What Duncans know is sheep,” he told him. Still, Stuart bought the dairy. Then again, when his father first heard about turning the old railway that went through the middle of his farm in to a cycle trail back in the early 1990s, he wasn’t too keen on that idea either. Stuart and Lorraine could see the value in it, however, and got behind it a hundred percent. They were one of the first families in the area to offer accommodations.
“The rail trail probably saved the community,” says Stuart. “Just before they built it about all that was left of Wedderburn after the closure of the school, the post office, and the garage was this pub which, frankly, was struggling.”
Not now. Even though it was a Monday night, the place was jammed, mostly with folks who, like us, were cycling part or all of the Central Otago Rail Trail.
Stuart finished his beer and said he had to get back to the farm. Before he left, he shook my hand and thanked me for coming and staying on their ranch. No, sir, I said. Thank you. And I meant it.