Couple work and play on remote Watershed Rd

By Laurel Stowell

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It wouldn't be everyone's favourite place to live.

Hans and Michelle Brink live 9km along remote Watershed Rd in the Whanganui hinterland. It takes them an hour and a quarter to drive to the nearest shops, in Whanganui, every week.

At 500m to 700m above sea level, the winters can be cold and they get distant views of the sea and inland ranges.

Mr Brink has been there for 33 years, since leaving a farm in the Ruatiti Valley to work on John Medlicott's new 1900ha project in Watershed Rd.

The steep scrubby hills were cleared with a rollercrusher and chainsaws and converted to pasture, helped by subsidies available then.

When Mr Medlicott sold to a forestry trust in 1993, Mr Brink stayed on.

"I just stayed here and insisted that I can do this forestry thing. A bit stubborn, I suppose. I got involved with planting."

Between 1994 and 1996, 1300ha were planted in pines and the forestry trust went broke.

The forest was bought by a mix of other private interests. Mr Brink bought some, and he also bought 400ha of cleared land that was grazing sheep and cattle.

There has never been a house on the land. The couple live in a converted shearers quarters.

They have 24 solar panels and a large new lithium battery to store the energy. Past power outages have lasted three weeks but they rarely have to fire up their generator now.

Their visitors are mainly hunter friends from out of town who come and stay with them. In summer there are beekeepers passing by, to tend the bees getting nectar from the bush and manuka scrub.

The two have dual incomes from farming and forestry. They run 1200 ewes, 500 hoggets and 60 belted Galloway cattle.

The sheep are being progressively converted to the Wiltshire breed, which will not need shearing.

Because winters are so cold they don't lamb until September or October, and the cattle are not mated until they are two years old.

Mr Brink invested about $20,000 in a water system. They now have water pumped up to high places and gravity fed to troughs, and their lambing percentage has increased.

"You get your money back pretty quickly. When you get droughts, it doesn't bother the stock so much if they can have water," he said.

Most of the Medlicott Forest he bought into is not pruned, and the Brinks have planted another 90ha of pines. He said pruning was expensive and often not worthwhile.

"If you can afford to prune, prune. But if you have to borrow the money to prune it's probably not viable."

The bulk of the forest is ready to harvest, and will be when the other owners decide it's the right time. Mr Brink doesn't care when, because it is already earning.

Each hectare earns 40 New Zealand carbon units a year. Each unit is worth about $15, with that price likely to rise.

"We can sit on them or sell them. We sell some as we need to, but we don't really need to. We do all right just off the farm."

The Brinks have been doing some fun, amenity plantings on odd pieces of their land - Douglas fir, Eucalyptus nitens, poplars, Himalayan cedar and cypresses. But he said pines were the only tree that stacked up on a commercial scale.

When the land was first cleared wild goats flocked in to eat the grass. He shot 4000 over three years. These days he's still shooting goats, deer and pigs.

"We have a fairly active pest control strategy up here, because they eat grass."

The Brinks are now building a house for themselves, on a ridge with distant views. It will be another anchor to keep them there.

"We have never thought about selling up or anything like that," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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