Challenge & Reward: A Life in the Alps
May 4, 2017
Words & Photos: Camilla Rutherford
Ever wanted to get the low down about what it’s really like to live a rural lifestyle in one of New Zealand’s most isolated spots… whilst maintaining a highly successful, international career as a creative?
Meet Camilla Rutherford, award-winning photographer, mum to one-year-old Alfie and self-described “farmer’s wife”, who lives on a high country sheep farm just out of the ski town of Wanaka, New Zealand.
I was born in rural Scotland and attended a prestigious university in London, so the question most people ask me when we first meet is: “how on earth did you end up on a high country merino sheep farm in New Zealand?” Well I actually have skiing to blame for where I am today, and my hatred for large cities! Growing up rurally we spent our childhood skiing, biking and being outside most of the time. Then I got a place at Central St Martins Art College in London and this country girl packed her bags and left for the big smoke. Unfortunately the big smoke and the pretentiousness of art students didn’t agree with me. I longed for green open spaces and mountains, so searched how I could do a ski season whilst studying. The Southern Hemisphere was the solution! I booked my ticket and did a season in Wanaka, New Zealand that changed the course of my life.
It’s not a 9-5 job, it’s a life."
Years of to-ing and fro-ing between Wanaka and Europe followed. Then, by 2009 I had decided that Wanaka felt so much like home that I wanted to do my first summer in nine years. During that summer I met a farmer from the nearby farming settlement of Tarras in Central Otago. We dated for a couple of years before I moved to his high country merino station, where I am today.
The station that my family and I live on is 14,000 acres, and has been in my partner’s family for a very long time. We are one of the last original families to still run the station in the Dunstan range and our farm has been in my mother-in-law’s family for nearly 120 years. Our community is a very small one compared to nearby Hawea (pop. 300) and Wanaka (pop. 7850), but it does stretch almost to Cromwell, and up the Lindis Pass. The wider Tarras community is bigger than may first appear! Our nearest neighbour is around three kilometres away, meaning we spend a lot of time in wide-open spaces.
Modern day station life is hard, and it is essential that you stay always on the front foot when it comes to things like utilising new technology. My father in law and husband are extremely forward thinking when it comes to farming. They do everything themselves, from silage, hay, growing all the crops and fixing all their own machinery. They move with the times to keep up with growing demands of the industry.
Living on the farm suits me, and I have so much to feel grateful for. I live on the most beautiful piece of land, with large open pastures and high tussock hills. We have all the space in the world to roam, and I’ve married into a family that is so passionate and dedicated to protecting this land, the farm and all that is grown here.
With this land comes a hefty price tag though: a huge amount of work and commitment comes hand in hand with running a place like this. The basic running costs of the farm are so huge it makes it hard to keep up. The land is dry, very dry. The never ending battle with water, and keeping this place from being a desert is a tough one. Keeping on top of rabbits and other pests is a never-ending battle, too. You can’t just close the door and walk away from a farm… It’s not a 9-5 job, it’s a life.
We have a son of our own now, Alfie, and people often ask what it is like raising a child on a relatively remote station. So far it’s great. Alfie goes for long walks every morning in the back pack, visiting his dad as he works in the fields, heading up the hill to help with irrigation and hang out with the farm dogs. Even though his dad works long hours and most weekends, we see him for three meals a day, which I’m very grateful for.
I may be biased, but when it comes to the incredible places I have shot as a photographer, I have to say right here in my back yard of the Southern Alps is a winner for me. Fiordland, New Zealand has to be my favourite place to go on location away from home. The sheer size, remoteness and inaccessibility of the place, mixed with its unpredictable weather and sand flies makes it as challenging and rewarding a place as any! Nature to me is… life.
Follow Camilla's work at her website, www.camillarutherford.co.nz.