Arnold Middleton - True to the land

4 minutes read
Posted 29 May, 2024
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Arnold, with wife Isabelle, left, on the farm at Tucker Beach

When a young 22-year-old South Otago farm boy bought the very rough 1.214ha (3000-acre) Queenstown Hill farm high above Lake Wakatipu he had no idea it might one day become a highly sought after goldmine – and one he’s preferred not to cash in.

Arnold Middleton began farming the highly photographed hill territory above the now Queenstown Hill subdivision in 1962. It stretched out from Gorge Road on the left to high above Frankton Road on the right, around Tucker Beach and into Sugar Loaf Hill overlooking the Shotover River.

He bought the property from merino farmer Jim Falconer. The following year he and Isabelle married. That was 61 years ago. Prior to that the property had been owned by the Bagries who had the Otago Hotel at Skippers. They’d had all the materials carted from the old hotel to Tucker Beach to build the farm homestead, which is still accommodating Middletons today.

“It was pretty tough, but we wanted a challenge,” Arnold recalls. “I was told by a well-known farmer after a couple of years, ‘You’ll never survive on that hill, Arnold’, but we did. We had a tidy up, put in fencing and built sheepyards with the idea of selling it on and we’re still here,” he says, just weeks out from his 83rd birthday. Son Kelvin is now at the helm running 3500 sheep.

In 62 years the Middleton farm has been the focus of many an entrepreneurial dream that didn’t come to fruition including an internationally capable airport on the top of Queenstown Hill and plans to operate the Kingston Flyer up there. “They were all pretty keen.” Arnold’s dabbled in movie locations too, part of his prime scenic paradise is a popular target for film and commercial shoots.

For some years he had trouble with roaming dogs worrying sheep, and sadly, a dog lover himself, he eventually had to take matters into his own hands, which was hard.

Farming hasn’t always gone smoothly. Arnold once cut a line of holes around the north-facing slopes of his farm in search of bore water, placing a tube of gelignite down each hole. “I sent daughter Terri down the river to let us know when the Shotover Jet was leaving the beach, so we avoided them. I waited and lit the fuse. Bugger me if the boat didn’t pass right when it went off splattering mud and debris all over the boat and passengers,” grins Arnold. “MacGyver couldn’t have done it better.” Son Murray’s friend was on board. “He’d wanted to go to the toilet when they got back to Arthur’s Point but that was too late. The police came next day and told us not to do it again.”

Then there was the stray steer, from among calves he’d bought from Elfin Bay. “I put them on the hill and then got a call from Mrs Knowles at the camera shop to say 35 calves were sitting on her lawn.” One escaped during the cattle drive home along Frankton Road, later discovered to be the culprit night-raiding the town’s veggie patches. Arnold and Maurice Dennison hid out one night, lasso in hand. “We hooked it, but it took off, us being pulled behind it down Suburb and Hallenstein Street,” he chuckles.

At one stage farming was really tough and National Mortgage Dunedin boss All Black captain Jack Manchester, rang with grim news. ‘Sorry, Arnold. We’re gonna have to sell you up.’ “It was a long trip home. I managed to purchase 1.2ha (3 acres) of leasehold that I saw potential in, off Mrs Johnston at Tucker Beach, then freeholded it. We sold two sections and that saved our bacon,”

All but 7.2ha of the farm has been leasehold and over the years Arnold has only subdivided a little bit, despite the demand. “We did a joint venture subdivision with the Hensman brothers up Middleton Road (named in his honour) and more recently we’ve sold a block to Silver Creek,” he says.

“We’ve been very lucky to have great neighbours – two families of Hansens, the Grants and the Sutherlands.”

Arnold says he’s blessed to have a wonderful family around him, some with homes on the land, ex U19 All Black and Highlander Kelvin, plus decorated West Coast cop Terri among them. “They’re a great lot and we’re so proud,” he says.

He’s had “a few scares”. “I’ve seen St Peter at the Gates a few times, but he’s not let me through and I’m quite grateful for that.”

He and Isabelle, now split their time between Tucker Beach and their Haast fishing bach. “I catch bugger all, but sitting by the river is very therapeutic. It’s a bit of medicine really.”

A Middleton family tradition Arnold teaches grandson Cody how to ride sheep in style about 2002.

A Middleton family tradition - Arnold teaches grandson Cody how to ride sheep in style about 2002.

ArnoldJ front rightJ and Isabelle with their four kids v3

Arnold, front right, and Isabelle, left, with their four kids, from left Steven, Kelvin, Murray and Terri


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