On the next episode, screening 10th September 2017 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:

Life on the River


When the Nolan family sets out on their annual autumn muster on the Arawhata River, south of Haast, they do so pretty much the same way they did it a hundred years ago.

“My grandfather Dinny took the lease up about 1910, then Dad farmed it on his own since 1960” recalls 62 year old John Nolan. 

“We’ve changed a few things over the years. But not a lot; and we’ll still be doing it the same in a hundred years.  There’s just no other way of doing it.”

The Arawhata River flows from Mount Aspiring for 60 km out into the Tasman Sea.  The mustering team ride thirty kilometres up river and stay in basic huts. Everything they need for the week-long muster is carried in on horseback, or in John’s jet boat.

The autumn muster involves rounding up the 340 Hereford cows and their calves and bringing them into the yards, halfway down the river for weaning.  

They then drive the calves down river again to the road, and truck them back to the Nolan’s home farm in Haast, where they’re fattened over the winter. 

The job involves many river crossings, and in a valley which measures annual rainfall in metres – that can be dangerous.  But John Nolan has an experienced crew on the muster.

“We get the same crew back each time: Alistair Wallace from Glenorchy, he’s done 12 years with us; Shane Cooper from Alexandra’s done 25 years, and Jim Metherell’s done about 13 or 14 trips. It’s great because everyone knows what they’re doing.”

The musters are always a family affair too. John’s wife Kathy is an important member of the team, organising the logistics of getting gear, food, fuel and other supplies to the huts. 

The couple’s children Matt (23) and Lisa (21) have been part of the mix since before they could walk.

“Mum and Dad used to swaddle me in blankets and put me in a chilly bin to keep me safe!” laughs Lisa. 

Her older brother Matt recalls joining his first full autumn muster as something of a stow-away. 

“I was 12 years old and only meant to be riding up to the first hut before catching the boat out. But the old man let me stay on which was cool. I didn’t have any spare clothes and had to borrow off the others!”

But that was a long time ago now; Lisa’s now a shepherd at Mt Aspiring Station near Wanaka, and Matt near Whanganui. 

With the younger Nolans now a critical part of the muster, John is looking forward to stepping back a little bit.

“I’m just the packie now, bringing in the gear on the boat.  But I like to think I have another ten or 12 years left in me - riding in here.”

“And then, who knows?” John laughs, “but it won’t be my worry you know?!” 


For more about the Haast region, visit:http://www.westcoast.co.nz/west-coast-regions/haast-world-heritage/





Dan Henry


Camera & Aerial Photography

Jeff Aldridge


Field Sound

Nigel Gordon-Crosby


Additional Sound

John Patrick


Editor & Colourist

Mike Townsend


Post Production Manager

Bailey Palmer


Boat Driver

Lindsay Kain - Haast River Safaris


Sound Mixer

Ian Leslie



Stephen Gallagher


Production Manager

Robyn Best



Vivienne Jeffs


Network Executive

Jude Callen


Director & Associate Producer

Dan Henry



Julian O’Brien