Reaching the brow of Mt Michael I looked down at the peaceful scene below. The details were indistinct as pockets of mist; hazy cloud merged valley and mountains into a palette of soft blues and greens. A design of pleasing colour to the eye.
The sun was shining and as I neared the town the last of the autumn colours added a touch of gold to the tranquil scene.
What a beautiful setting for the town of Fairlie, gateway to the Mackenzie Basin.
As I strolled down the main street I mulled over the name. Originally known as Fairlie Creek it was so named by the early Scottish settlers because it looked like a place called Fairlie in Scotland. This morning it was easy to understand the resemblance as it reminded me of old paintings I have seen of the misty peaceful Scottish countryside with highland cattle grazing.
On entering the town one of the striking features is the avenue of trees on both sides of the road.
On December 13, 1918, the Mackenzie County Council resolved to commemorate Peace from the Great War and plant an avenue of deciduous trees each side of the road approaching Fairlie and towards Mt Cook.
It is interesting to note they decided on deciduous trees. Perhaps because of the symbolism that after a season new life emerges. I like the idea of a living vibrant memorial rather than names inscribed in cold unfeeling concrete. I concede there is a place for names, but something alive arouses emotion and I should be able to feel emotion for those young men who died for my freedom so long ago.
My golden welcome by the trees was endorsed by friendly and hospitable folk. I went into the attractive Mackenzie District Council buildings. At the counter, someone was leaving but made a point of speaking to me. I wanted to know a little more about Peace Ave. She took me outside to show me where to see a plaque and then said she would find someone who could give me more details. As she had been about to leave I said "no problem"; I could read what it said on the plaque.
"I will also take you to see Rosemary," she said. "I am sure she will help."
On parting she said to make sure I went upstairs to see the council chambers. "I am Claire," she said, "the mayor of Mackenzie District."
I was overcome to think Claire Barlow had taken time out of her busy schedule to help a stranger find some trifling information about the township. Fairlie, you have many gems in your town, but I would suggest the best is your mayor. She clearly carries out one of the main points she noted in her manifesto: greater unity across the district and frequent consultations with the people. I can see she is passionate about Fairlie and the Mackenzie Basin and will bring a positive outlook to your town and its future. Thank you, Claire, for taking the time to stop and help me; it was much appreciated.
I took her advice and visited the chambers. A pleasant place to ponder and make decisions. To my great delight they have a large painting of Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook by my favourite artist, Aston Greathead.
Looking for the library I found a good example which reflects the harmony of the town. The library at the local high school also acts as a shared community library. Good thinking, Fairlie.
As usual, I made for a place of refreshment where I could sit and contemplate my overall perception of the town before I embarked on further wanderings.
The Fairlie Bakehouse sounded like a good place. It was almost midday and they were busy. The selection of muffins and pies was mouth-watering.
What about a raspberry and orange muffin? Maybe smoked chicken and mushroom pie, or bacon and salmon pie? I had to settle for a gluten-free option, but it didn't stop me looking at the other tempting delicacies. I had a choice of tables, inside or out.
They were too busy to talk but I came back later and spoke to the owners, Franz and Christine Lieber. Franz is a chef from Austria, and with his team they make all their own pies and cakes on the premises. They also grind some of their own flour for special recipes. The meat for the pies is bought locally from suppliers.
"Great ingredients make for great product," Franz says.
A walk around the town soon revealed other equally tempting-looking eating houses but I could only sample from one.
The first shop I wandered into was called Mint Boutique. Everything was tastefully arranged and looked in mint condition. However, I was a little confused when I looked at the garments and price tags. The price tags declared they were bargains! Yes, they were second-hand garments but looked like new.
Their slogan read, "Where looking great needn't cost the earth."
Although only a tiny shop it also catered for those who preferred new clothes, and had a wonderful display of New Zealand-made jewellery and accessories.
I was easy prey to another gift shop close by. With the intriguing name of Ooh la la, it was enough to entice any of the female species. It, too, was another treasure house with a wide selection of unique giftware.
Outside the shop in a small garden plot I noticed a sign, "Len's Garden." When the shop first opened, Len used to arrive, out of the blue so to speak, and tidy the plot. The tradition carried on. Len looks after the plot as if it was his own, weeding and planting so that it makes a bright splash of colour. It seemed appropriate that Ooh la la acknowledge his work of love, hence the sign.
The Paca Shack on the other side of the main street is a retail shop specialising in alpaca products. Jill and her husband, Trevor, own Gem Alpacas. From small beginnings with a few alpaca on their ranch on the outskirts of Fairlie they now have 80 alpacas and 10 llamas. Along the way they have been able to successfully breed coloured huacaya ( a type of alpaca), concentrating on browns and greys.
"We shear the alpaca once a year," said Jill. "The pregnant/lactating females have short fibre which is suitable for duvets and pillows. The cria [babies] have a lovely long fleece. We only use fleeces for yarn which are under 25 micron with good crimp, so garments keep their shape."
Jill is proud of their breeding programme. "We are now starting to work with the suri breed which has a long curly fibre. Before it is spun it looks almost like dreadlocks!"
The shop has three women who spin for them and three who knit.
Because alpaca fibre is hollow it is extremely strong and warm as well as lightweight.
Unfortunately, the local product is far more expensive than imported. However, the local has the great advantage of the buyer knowing it comes from pure alpacas. To cater for those who want alpaca at a lower price, the couple import from Bolivia. This way they can offer diversity in price range while also helping the Bolivian economy.
I went in to visit the Old Convent Garden. I was amused by the sign which read, "By appointment or chance!" I tried the chance part, but no-one was at home, so I settled for Mclean Park next door. A peaceful small park with lovely old trees shedding their autumn colours. A few seats provide a place to rest. One I admit was more ornamental than comfortable.
Next door to the Old Convent Garden is St Joseph's School.
How is this for a simple school motto?
"Living and learning with faith." A grand platform on which to build education.
For the size of their town the Fairlie Heritage Museum is a huge complex. It is a real gem and a must visit. You name something from years gone by and they have it! Telephones, cameras, shearing equipment, wire strainers, lanterns, churns, to name but a few. They have a maternity ward and a great display of model aircraft donated by James Macdonald. As for the vehicles and implements they are extensive.
I especially liked the covered wagons. However did people survive a long trip in those springs-less, wooden-wheeled wagons which would have to contend with rough and rugged roads?
One uncovered wagon had a load of hay and then on top was a selection of valises and trunks. Fancy filling one of those large trunks with clothes for a journey? I compared those large cumbersome trunks with the small pack I have on my back when I go overseas for a few months.
Sure, things have changed over the last 150 years. If you are passing through Fairlie, stop and take a look at the museum. It is a treasure trove of years gone by. It would make you thankful for the life of comfort and ease which we live in today. However, remember that life then had its compensations for our life of luxury.
Once again I can only touch on a few places I visited, but I came away so glad to have stopped by. The charm and tranquil peacefulness pervaded my being. Never again will I simply pass by. Fairlie is a place to stop and absorb some of its special qualities.
I could not close without reference to the legendary sheep stealer. The monument in the centre of the town to Mackenzie and his dog is a beautiful work of art.
A description on one of his wanted posters is a classis: Height, about 5 feet 11 inches; hair, light; eyes, small and grey; nose, large and aquiline; face, long and thin; body, spare and muscular.
At the time of effecting his escape he had on a brown wide-awake hat; cloth waistcoat; check shirt marked with a broad arrow and numbered; corduroy trousers; a pair of worsted sox; no boots or shoes!
Ah, Mackenzie, with your large aquiline nose and wide-awake hat, you are the stuff that of which legends are made.
FAIRLIE FACT SHEET
- Population (2006) 717
- Situated on the crossroads of the main tourist highway, 79, from Christchurch to Queenstown and Highway 8 from Timaru.
- 63km from Timaru and 48km from Tekapo Distance to Mt Dobson – the nearest skifield with skiing and snowboarding – is 26km.
- Completed in 1998 the nearby Opuha dam on the Opuha River provides storage for irrigation and electricity.
- It is host to the annual Mackenzie Highland Show every Easter Monday. This year was the 114th show. At the end of each show the society president steps down and a new president takes office.
- An interesting fact: Fairlie wool among the best In 1951; Fred Saville gained world-record price. The locals claim the water gives a good clip.
- © Fairfax NZ News