Ian Todd - Backcountry boy
The Wakatipu backcountry has been Ian Todd’s playground since his Scottish family emigrated to New Zealand in 1967, where his parents bought Junction Hotel, later named Arthur’s Point Pub.
Raised until 13 in Stranraer, southwest of Glasgow, Ian’s father was in the World War II RAF Bomber Command, assigned to the NZ 75th Squadron, flying Lancasters. After managing a few pubs Jock Todd announced to wife Eileen in 1966 that he was heading to NZ to find his squadron mates. One was Wellington ski industry businessman Sir Roy McKenzie and after a stint for the NZ Forest Service in the King Country Jock sent money home for Eileen and their four sons to join him. They sailed on the SS Southern Cross, Ian being the eldest. “In three months, my parents had bought Junction Hotel, later Arthur’s Point Hotel, with Roy and had it from 1968 for 10 years.” Younger sister Ngaire arrived nine months after Jock and Eileen reunited and the family, including five kids, were packed into a three-bedroom flat built on the back of the eight-room hotel, once a popular goldminers’ stop.
At 16 Ian was pouring beers for regulars like Geordie Coburn and the Greenslade brothers. “The drinking age was 20. I’d be listening to some hard case yarns,” says Ian. Sergeant Warwick Maloney would arrive to give a tonging up, or to join them for a beer. “Mum was the boss really and did all the work. Dad was the show pony, out entertaining the guests,” grins Ian.
“Once we had some geologists and surveyors checking gold prospects who stayed for a month, flown in and out by well-known West Coast helicopter pilot Goodwin McNutt, who’d land across the road in the car park.”
Ian and mate Laurie Scheib roamed the hills catching nanny goats for Deer Park Heights founder Frank Mee who paid them $10 a goat. “We’d load a few in the back of the car at weekends. We were earning more than our parents.”
Naturally, Ian shone during 10 days camping at Branches Station on the second ever Queenstown Districts High School Branches Camp in 1968 – a big highlight.
Head prefect in sixth form, Ian made his move on fellow prefect Suzie Hamilton, daughter of legendary local farmer ‘Hammy’ Hamilton. “Suzie was locked in for three years nursing training in Dunedin from 1970 so I did a season guiding on the Routeburn Track.” He then began almost six years as goat shooter for the NZ Forest Service in the early 1970s, living in backcountry huts.
In the first three years their crew of eight, armed with rifles and packs, culled 35,000 goats from the high country with Te Anau helicopter pilot Bill Black later netting between 80 and 100 at a time, the meat exported to Fiji. Ian worked one month, then five days off.
“I’d grab a shower and shave, jump in the Land Rover, pick Suzie up in Dunedin and we’d grab a motel and go for long walks on Otago Peninsula holding hands,” he grins. Back home they’d stay in the Borrell’s Branches Station huts, lazing in the outdoor tin bath under the stars, supping Kahlua and milk, cows looking on.
Goldmining was another hobby, learned from ‘Hammy’, Ian once finding an ounce nugget. “We’d camp up the Rees, Dart or Matukituki Valley, and later on Jerry’s Aspinall’s Mount Aspiring Station, possum and deer shooting, often based at Cascade Hut.”
“I’d set 20 traps and lay poison which Suzie checked every morning. I’d skin them that night.”
Ian had to “retire” from goat shooting once he married in 1976. In 1977, with help from ‘Hammy’, they bought 500 acres (200ha) of Bendemeer Farm overlooking Lake Hayes for $250,000 - $500 an acre. “We only managed to keep it three and a half years. We’d borrowed from a stock firm at 6% interest and three years later that was 19%. They said I had to sell. I was running 2000 sheep and the deer farming industry was just getting started.”
They retained a block for farming deer and Ian did contract shearing and crutching with Bill Grant. “In 1987 Roger Douglas (Labour Finance Minister) killed the farming industry. Deer dropped from $2000 each to $200.”
They’d built a home on their property featuring Ian’s stonework in 1982 and soon he had a stonemasonry business going, hiring staff. That lasted for 20 years.
Since then, they’ve developed a few sections, turning 18ha (44.4 acres) into six lifestyle blocks and retaining a few.
Living off the land and loving the backcountry is still very much part of Todd life with daughter Casey and son Willy also inheriting that keen love of the outdoors.