‘Many South Islanders go to the high country for the big lift it will give a tired city soul. Tourists visit to soak up the wild beauty and possibly glimpse Gandalf.

The air is so clean and clear – if you wear specs it’s like your eyes are young again. Everything, has these sharp edges. In those alpine valleys and hills you’ll find more variations of sensible beige and grey than you or Resene could ever imagine, plus gravel river beds, icy streams, scree slopes, tussock.

And the hills have that mana that comes from just being really big, really old and really permanent. Give or take the odd helicopter buzzing like a gnat in the valleys, the high country looks the same today as it always has.

On a fine day it feels like the best place in the world. But what about living there day and night, week after week, month after month, season after season?

Our human outposts in the high country are the great sheep stations and through tales of life on those stations the rest of us can glimpse a life lived away from it all.

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We love these stories and publishers know it. Spring has brought three new books on famous stations which reveal different facets of a landscape where kea, not lawnmowers, call out on Saturday mornings…

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…In Snow on the Lindis, Madge Snow tells of her life on Morven Hills Station at Lindis, Central Otago. It was her family’s farm and she and her husband Max farmed it for more than three decades up to the 1980s, raising three children.

Her isolated life in this high country world included an older world view of roles. Feminists look away: Max ran the farm and Snow ran the home, specifically the cooking.

“The heart of a country station is the kitchen. If you feed your men and look after them, then the farm runs smoothly. I think it is very important. I spent all my time in the kitchen and I loved it. It’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did,” she says.

But this was no cakewalk. She echoes Martin that a critical high country skill is organisation and planning.

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“It’s the same with everything in life. If you are organised, you are fine.” She had to plan months ahead around feeding big mustering and shearing gangs. Her biggest fear was of running out of supplies because there was no shop to turn to.

The family was essentially self-sufficient, apart from basics such as flour and sugar, which was bought in bulk twice a year. Yet Snow could cook a different pudding every night for months.

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They worked hard. They relied on neighbours. They only went to the doctor 60km away in real emergencies. Snow says deals were done by word and a handshake, and they were honoured. In such isolation, it had to be like that for survival.

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Snow says you need to enjoy your own company in the high country. But that isolation brought one regret – the children’s education. They managed through primary school by offering board to bus-driving teachers, but boys had to leave at 11 for boarding schooI. “If I had my life over again, I would keep them at home,” she says.

But the high country was wonderful for someone like her who was born to it. She needs the big hills near and that’s why she lives in Wanaka. “I couldn’t live on the Canterbury Plains, it’s too flat. I love the hills.”‘

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Ewan Sargent in Stuff.co.nz, 26 October 2015.

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