THE PERFECT MARRIAGE
The South Island has long had a tradition of rural hard work, and Middlehurst Station is one of the original high-country runs that has contributed greatly to this.
The station has been run by Willie and Susan Macdonald, along with their four children, since 1998. With a massive coverage of 16,550 hectares in the Upper Awatere Valley, Marlborough at the top of the South Island, Middlehurst has consistently delivered Merino wool, and more, for decades.
Middlehurst Station extends right to the top of the rugged Inland Kaikōura Ranges. Nestled in the clouds, this is classic high-country ranging in altitude from 550 metres to 2,500 metres, with the homestead at 800 metres. The height makes it ideal country to raise Merino, long been the breed of choice to create soft, luxurious, warm, and durable fabrics used in international brands.
Today, Middlehurst, along with Cheviot Block, runs 11,000 Merino sheep and 1,200 Angus cattle. Recent wool weight figures were impressive, with the farm producing a whopping 67,000kg of wool.
Both the Macdonalds describe themselves as ‘high-country people’.
Willie was raised in Fiordland, on Davaar Station, The Key. Susan was brought up at Halfway Bay near Queenstown. Together, they managed Cecil Peak and Mt Nicholas stations before moving to run Middlehurst.
Susan studied wool classification at Lincoln University and adores the shearing and wool classing process. Susan ‘frequently marvels’ at the endless possibilities that this raw material has to offer.
After a chance meeting with an Italian business, Susan arranged for 700kg of her best wool to be sent over to the town of Biella, which has had a wool industry since 1245 AD.
“We sold rams to a French farmer and made the decision to travel by air with them, for delivery. We then hosted a field day with a local farmer, from where we struck up a conversation with Fratelli Piacenza, and from this connection, we organised for our Merino wool to be sent over to Biella, the wool capital of Italy.”
Fratelli Piacenza Wool Mills – an historic wool mill – is known for carrying out all of its production with sensitivity and the utmost respect for the environment.
This business facilitated farmers in turning their wool into textiles; because of this, the wheels began to turn for Middlehurst. Initially scarves were produced, then, after conversations with two soon-to-be-brides, the idea to turn raw Merino wool into a textile designed specifically for the bridal industry was born. Here the raw materials were carefully processed and blended with silk to transform into the incredibly fine-spun 50/50 Merino/silk textile.
The finished product is a lightweight textile with a stunning natural lustre – incredibly soft next to the skin, and with it being a natural fibre, it allows the skin to breathe when hot and provides warmth when it’s cold.
Wool is renowned for its excellent drapability and this is one of the competitive features it holds over many man-made fibres. Wool as a fibre is renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable – and lacks any nasty petrochemicals that are found in many synthetics.
Willie and Susan’s aim is for a sustainable, productive family farming business.
Building the Merino stud has been especially rewarding for the family, who are proud of the work they have done to transform their flock – by creating a distinctive type of textile, which is ideally suited to New Zealand environments and markets.
“We want to make sure high-country traditions are maintained and passed on – and to have fun while we’re doing it. We’re up for a challenge and love the diversity of what’s possible here. We will just keep raising the bar.”