One of the perks of being a regional councillor is touring around our stunning country and meeting people doing amazing things.
This week it was back to Blue Duck Station, bordering the Whanganui River at Whakahoro, via a left at Raurimu and down a windy dirt road.
It's a stunning place. We arrived in misty drizzle, having to stop along the way for an overheated brake, which was starting to smoke. After recent weeks of dryness, it was a refreshing change to have the cool damp air around us.
And so quiet of course, being in the back of beyond. Escaping from the rat race, even when the traffic jam in Whanganui is waiting for a few moments to turn on to Dublin Street Bridge at peak travel times, is still a reminder that there is a different pace of life just waiting for us. (Blue Duck is recruiting a cafe chef, for anyone who's looking!)
Dan Steele is the man behind the invigorated station. He has diversified the original farming operation, that initially, like so many of our settler past, started with fighting nature – trying to tame the rugged hills to make a living running sheep.
Now, Blue Duck has beehives, part of the manuka revolution.
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It is a tourism operation with people from all over the world staying for a taste of Kiwi paradise. And the latest initiative is a sky-top restaurant and boutique accommodation with views to Ruapehu from above the valleys.
This partnership will involve a 10-course degustation dinner, sampling the farm's produce and wild food gathered from the forest. Building has begun, after a recent trial using a temporary set-up.
But the real gold in Dan and the team's operation is their commitment to conservation. The name blue duck is not taken lightly – they invest in traps to increase the odds for one of New Zealand's most threatened, the whio.
This quirky character, with its soft bluish grey feathers, is highly vulnerable to stoats. It lives in fast flowing rivers, using its unusual bill to filter-feed, getting small aquatic insects.
Dan also speaks highly of the benefits of careful use of 1080 to target possums, rats and stoats in the incredibly inaccessible backcountry – his own backyard.
He has seen and heard with his own eyes and ears the difference an operation makes – rata flowering, kiwi calling, even bats darting around the sky at dusk.
As he says, no one is a fan of poisons but it is a necessary tool in places like this where the practicalities of running trap lines or even bait stations is a nonsense.
The guts and gullies are impossible; this is not a case of getting fit or toughening up.
They are jagged and bush-bound, great homes for introduced assassins targeting nests.
Without the use of 1080, these areas would fall apart – and it was on its way out, until a partnership between Department of Conservation, Horizons, local iwi and of course Blue Duck Station came together some years ago.
For me, this trip's highlight was walking back after dinner, with the clouds having cleared.
The Milky Way stretched across the night sky above us with incredible brightness – no light pollution in this part of the world.
Then on the way up the hill to our accommodation, in the bush along the side, a few glow worms. It was hard to tell the difference between them and the stars brightly shining through the canopy.
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I believe in the value of getting out in nature, whether it's watching my children race their bikes up and down our back paddock hills, walking alongside the river walkway through town or, all too rarely, getting away from it all for a night of isolation in a beautiful spot like this.
I'll be back for one of those farm-to-plate dinners at the top of the world at Blue Duck Station next summer, happily saving my pennies for the treat, knowing that I'm helping protect our forest too – a new way of doing business that is truly saving the world.
• Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council, leads Thrive Whanganui, a social enterprise hub, is a Green Party member and has a science degree. A mum of two boys, this fortnightly column is her personal opinion.