Aotea

Current Owners: Aotea Ltd

Area (ha): 1397

Aotea, the Maori for ‘a sunny spot' was the very appropriate name given to this run by Archdeacon Grace. The total area today is 1397ha freeholded in the early 1970s. 1700ha was returned to the Crown ownership about 1975. The former total area of Aotea was 2833ha. 728ha approx was freehold, the rest leasehold.

The holding today is owned by Aotea Ltd (Marcus van Asch). Keith H and Jacqueline van Asch, purchased the property from Robin Chaffey in 1973 and farmed it until their son Marcus, and his partner Raychel, took over in July 2008. Keith and Jackie raised their three children (Marcus, Nicki and Emma) on the farm and continue to live there and take an active role in the property. Previously it was owned by the Chaffey family (formerly of Mt Passion, Canterbury) 1957 - 1970. Aotea is 50km from Blenheim.

1999 saw the first planting of Pinot Noir grapes. Further plantings of Sauvignon Blanc followed until in 2005 a total of 8ha had been established.

Aotea country lies between Altimarloch and Ring Hill and rises up onto the Birch Range to about 572M. The area was formerly part of The Reserve, an area of about 6880ha set aside by the government in the early days as a resting place for sheep, shearing etc.

The flock (Merino during Chaffey's ownership) has been gradually changed to Halfbred (since 1974). Cattle (Angus/ Hereford) are bred - breeding cows in 1988 number about 100. Under the van Asch ownership farming is more intensive and by 1988 border dyke irrigation (commenced by the Chaffeys) had been extended to cover 20ha and farm forestry covered about 15ha. Scrub raking was commenced about 1973 - all remaining stands of manuka being cleared - fertilizer and oversowing followed. On the flats lucerne and meadow hay, green feed and turnips grown for supplementary feed. In 2004 another 50ha of pasture irrigation was installed. The hill development is continuing with spraying, over-sowing and topdressing. In 2009 Aotea winters 5000 stock units consisting of 4000 Halfbred sheep and 100 cows.

The first owner (1883) was Mr A C McRAe (of Waipapa) who purchased 728ha freehold and leased 1012ha from the Crown. During the 1880s the block then known as Ring Creek was also taken over so that by the early 1900s there were about 6070ha. About 1913, however, the Ring Creek lease went to Lewis Green and since then Aotea has been roughly its present size. In 1926 the holding went to A M McRae (son of A C McRae); in 1928 to A E Thompson; in 1930 to C Hunt; and in 1951 to Mr Chris Cameron (who had previously farmed in Southland). He sold to the Chaffeys in 1957.

The homestead that was occupied by Mrs Margaret van Asch (mother of Keith van Asch) for some years was commenced by the McRaes in about 1889. Mrs van Asch moved into Blenheim and the homestead was rented out until 2007. It was then replaced by a modern three bedroom brick house built by the van Aschs and Dennis Neal. Marcus and Raychel live in the new home with their two sons, Andrew and Joshua.

The original woolshed of The Reserve was burnt down - McRaes built a new one about 1889. This was extended by the van Aschs in 1980. The remains of a cob wall that can still be seen today belonged to what was once the cookshop - later, part of this was used as a school.

A second homestead, called Brown Lodge was built by the Chaffeys about 1970 - the van Aschs completed extensions to this in 1988.

Until 1882 the Awatere Valley Road only went as far as Aotea.

Gillian McLeod