Foreign buyers eye 'magnificent' 40,000 hectare South Island station

A river runs through it: Mt White Station has everything for the outdoorsperson.
COLLIERS

A river runs through it: Mt White Station has everything for the outdoorsperson.

Foreign buyers are circling a pristine South Island high country station that is about to change hands for the first time in nearly 100 years. 

Recreational groups are closely watching the sale of Mt White station near Arthurs Pass amid fears public access could be jeopardised at the 40,000 hectare area.

Mt White is the latest in a procession of South Island high country stations changing hands over recent years, often to wealthy offshore owners. 

An AB 663 locomotive pulls a load of TranzScenic carriages at Mt White Bridge, near Arthur's Pass.
DAVID HALLETT

An AB 663 locomotive pulls a load of TranzScenic carriages at Mt White Bridge, near Arthur's Pass.

Federated Mountain Clubs vice-president Jan Finlayson warned the station was an important recreational area with a huge boundary and pristine country, and the famed Coast to Coast endurance event passing through the property.

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An overseas buyer would need approval from the Overseas Investment Office, which must be satisfied the sale will benefit New Zealand. Successful applications should show increased investment enhanced environmental values and the creation of jobs.

Green MP Eugenie Sage said weak laws around overseas ownership of land meant there was a real risk that Mt White Station ...
SUPPLIED

Green MP Eugenie Sage said weak laws around overseas ownership of land meant there was a real risk that Mt White Station could be sold to offshore interests.

But although people believed the Overseas Investment Office process provided an opportunity to formalise public access, Finlayson said, the Office had been directed by Government to impose the "least onerous" restrictions on the buyer.

Green Party environment spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said Mt White Station could easily end up being owned by a foreigner. 

"Our weak laws around overseas ownership of land, including farmland, mean there is a real risk that this magnificent high country station could be sold to offshore interests. They are more easily able to afford the purchase price than New Zealand farming or tourism interests."

The Mt White Station has been owned by the same family for nearly 100 years.
JOHN BOUGEN

The Mt White Station has been owned by the same family for nearly 100 years.

Sage did not want to repeat the "debacle" over American TV presenter Matt Lauer's purchase of Hunter Valley station near Wanaka, criticised for the lack of negotiated access arrangements.

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Mt White was the second-largest pastoral lease still owned by the Crown, she said, and nationally significant for its large size, landscape, conservation and recreational values and its location next to Arthur's Pass National Park. "Large parts of the property are unsuitable for farming. They deserve to be added to the conservation estate."

The station comes with an unresolved question over 997ha of land called the Riversdale Flats which was included in the pastoral lease by mistake in 1901. It had been reserved for national park.

At the entrance is the Mt White Bridge which thousands of Coast to Coast athletes must pass during the multisport race.
SUPPLIED

At the entrance is the Mt White Bridge which thousands of Coast to Coast athletes must pass during the multisport race.

A review released under the Official Information Act notes the Commissioner of Crown Lands could face liability arising from the "anomaly".

The new owner could decide not to take part in the review, which allows for land to be occupied as freehold or put in the conservation estate.

The latest marketing effort for the 40,000ha Mt White Station (678ha freehold), one of the largest pastoral lease farms in New Zealand, closed on Friday.

The station came on the market for a short time late in 2015 but did not sell and was withdrawn.

Colliers International head of rural property Shane O'Brien said interest in the station from offshore interests had been strong.

He would be submitting a number of offers to the owners but would not be drawn on whether a likely buyer had emerged or how many offers were on the table.

It shadows the nearby 27,242ha Mt Pember station, sold in 2013 to an North American investment group for $30 million. The Turnbull family, which has owned Mt White station for 90 years, will be expecting a sizeable increase on that.

The station encompasses land in the catchments of the Hawdon, Esk and Poulter river valleys and includes tussocky river flats and river terraces.

The 3418ha Big Ben station at Rakaia Gorge sold last year to a United States ranching family for $12.5m. The Erdman family also owns Coleridge Downs, Dry Acheron and Annavale stations.

Originally settled in 1873, the Turnbull's family links to Mt White station go back to 1924 when David Clarkson Turnbull bought the leases of Mt White, Lochinvar, and Riversdale and combined them under Mt White Station.

The farm has been in the Turnbull family since although none are working there currently.

It is regarded as a remote, profitable and productive station. The Turnbulls have employed only six managers in the time they have owned it. The current manager is Richard Smith.

Some high country shepherds and their dogs working on Mt White have become legends. The station had a wild cattle problem until about 1940. Wild bulls were a risk for musterers so they avoided areas where the cattle were prevalent. 

CAN YOU MAKE A BUCK OUT OF A HIGH COUNTRY STATION?

Accounts lodged in the Companies Office for the huge Mt Pember station which cost its owners $30m suggest not.

For the year ending December 31, 2016, the farm had a gross trading income of $1.3 million but spent $2.2m more than its income. 

It got $2.4 million from selling sheep, cattle and deer and spent about $500,000 buying livestock.

The farm expenses however show why station owners need deep pockets especially in the short term.

The station spent $167,699 on animal health, over $1m on management expenditure and fees and another $500,000 on feed. The management fees were paid to Grasslands NZ, another North American company registered in New Zealand.

Just administration alone cost $370,000 and repairs and maintenance cost $303,000. Vehicle expenses were up to $194,000 and an item called farm working expenses swallowed up nearly $900,000.

 - Sunday Star Times

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