Mount Potts

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Mt. Sunday viewed from the northeast.

Mount Potts is a specialist backcountry station located in the upper reaches of the Rangitata Valley, Canterbury, New Zealand. In 1964 the original Mt Potts homestead, shearer's quarters and wool-shed were converted into an accommodation and restaurant complex, known as Mt Potts Lodge today.

Today Mt Potts Station is a working cattle farm, restaurant and lodge, which doubles up as a heliski base in the winter. Unlike normal resorts, there are no fixed ski tows or chairlifts. Instead, vertical transport is provided by snowcats and helicopter. The ski area covers 660 hectares and includes, "steep faces, chutes, rocks to drop off, cornices, wide open powder bowls and gullies" [1]

Mount Potts is an hour's drive from Methven, and two hours' drive from Christchurch.

Although Mount Potts is on private land, it has an easy access point from the Mount Somers road. The area is becoming more popular with tourists, after the filming of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Of special interest to these tourists, is the small hill in the centre of the plain, called Mount Sunday, which was the home of Edoras in the films. A recently added trek route has been put in so people can walk up to Mount Sunday and even climb it in relative safety.

Lord of the Rings trilogy[edit]

A fully realized set for Edoras was built on Mount Sunday. The production crew took nine months to build the set at the top of sheer cliffs, constructing Golden Hall and surrounding buildings at the top, with the gatehouse and more buildings at its foot. At the end of filming the set was dismantled and the area returned to its natural state. Although none of the actual set remains, the views of Mt Sunday, the river plain, and Southern Alps still attracts hundreds of visitors each year.[2]


It was not until 1911 that Mt Potts became a station in its own right. Earlier, it was a part of Hakatere, the original run, which bordered the northern boundary of Mt Possession and it took in lands between the Rangitata and Potts Rivers and extended north to the Ashburton River. For a period its western boundary extended as far as the Clyde and Lawrence rivers, to join Stronechrubie.

While land adjacent to the Rangitata, above the Potts River was first explored by Tripp and Acland, the majority of Hakatere country was explored by Thomas Potts, accompanied by F.G.P Leach and Henry Phillips Jnr.

Thomas Potts, a partner in the London gunsmiths, Brandon and Potts, emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 30, arriving in 1854. Later he married the daughter of Henry Phillips Snr, who was then the owner of Rockwood in the Hororata Valley. Potts invested capital in Rockwood and ran cattle there, although he and his wife lived at nearby Valehead. By 1857 these cattle numbered 250.

Previous expeditions up the Rakaia River to locate a desirable run for grazing his cattle has failed. In April 1857 however, he was determined to succeed in his quest for grazing rights. Along with his brother in law Henry Phillips, he made his was to the Snowdon Run where Francis Leach was in partnership with John Dudley. Potts, Phillips and Leach followed Rakaia, eventually reaching the mouth of Lake Stream.

The trio turned south, following Lake Stream and made camp at the mouth of Cameron River, leading into Lake Heron. They were fascinated with the white herons they saw on the stretch of water and it was Potts, an accomplished naturalist, that gave the lake its name.

Potts and Leach were impressed with the country around what is now known as Lake Clearwater, while Leach favoured the country around Lake Heron. In Christchurch both men lodged their respective claims of around 8,000 hectares. Francis Leach lodged his claim to the land near lake Heron, in the name of his partner Dudley and himself. This went on to become Clent Hills. Thomas Potts lodged his claim to his two blocks, however he refused to pay a deposit on his claim and instead, with young Henry Phillips, mustered as many cattle as possible from Rockwood and made for the Gorge with the intention of stocking the runs, thus preventing others from taking up his claim. His diary records that the pair crossed Rakaia, just below where Rakaia Gorge Bridge stands today. Pressing on, they finally turned their cattle on their new run on the 23 April 1857. In the shelter of spear grass and tall virgin tussock they erected a tent. Here on the Gorge’s most westerly run, Phillips was to spend some time tending to Potts’ cattle.

During the following three years Potts took up further land to the west and later added the Jumped Up Downs Run, a property which had been owned first by Tripp and Acland and later by John Caton.

While he had a reputation as an expert stockman, particularly with cattle, Potts never actually lived on his run. Phillips managed the run for Potts, from within the flaps of an ageing tent, until they eventually erected a homestead on the banks of Potts River.

In 1870, major changes were made on Hakatere, as it had become known. Cattle were moved of the run and replaced with sheep and short time later, the homestead was shifted form its site on the banks of Potts River to a new location near the Ashburton River.

Thomas Potts regularly visited the Gorge but lived at Ohinetahi near Governors Bay, leaving the management of Hakatere to Ferdinand Cradock and later Thomas Johnson. In 1883, the New Zealand Merchandise Company took over Hakatere from Thomas Potts, eleven years later in 1894, the Company added Mt Possession to its portfolio, taking the run over from Miles and Company Thomas Johnstone continued as manager of both runs until 1904, when he was succeeded by William Lambie.

During 1911, the leases for Hakatere came up for renewal. Divided into two parts, the run was put to a ballot. The part that faced Ashburton where the homestead and much of the freehold was located continued to be known as Hakatere. While the remaining half, lying between Potts and Rangitata Rivers was secured by the Johnstone family and renamed Mt Potts.

In 1924, the property was purchased by Cotty Burdon for $30,000 including stock. Cotty, who was to hold Mt Potts until 1939, had won a scholarship to Oxford University, studying for only a year before enlisting at the outbreak of the Great War. Returning to New Zealand he was advised that the future lay in the high country. Cotty has been described as an eccentric but vastly entertaining man, and stories abound of both his wit and forgetfulness. At the conclusion of the school holidays, he offered to take his housekeeper’s daughter to Christchurch. Driving through the gate that she opened for him, Cotty proceeded to Christchurch and finally remembered his passenger when he reached his destination and discovered her luggage. On another occasion, he climbed to the top beat of the autumn muster before realising he had forgotten his dogs. Returning to the hut, he ate a good amount of the food, left his fellow musterers to the task and proceeded to Timaru for a break. Bruce Hay took over 7,200 sheep on his purchase in 1939 but decided not to winter his hoggets away reduced this to 6,000. Bruce and his wife Kathleen were married in 1940 and returned home by foot carrying their presents over the partially constructed Potts Bridge. Within a short time Bruce joined the N.Z. forces overseas, where he served with distinction. Throughout the war, Kath lived at Mt Potts employing managers to run the property.

In 1947 the property was sold and run with Mt Possession and Hakatere for a 10-year period. Early in this time many of the best river flats were washed away in a series of floods. Grazing estimated at around 1500 ewes was lost.

Arthur Urquhart from Erewhon bought the lease in 1957. At this point Mt Potts was regarded as an uneconomic unit required to be run with a neighbouring station.In 1964, he exchanged a freehold area at Erewhon for a speacian recreational lease of 70 acres and a skifield area at Mt Potts. Naming this Erewhon Park he developed the skifield area and converted the original Mt Potts homestead, shearer’s quarters and woolshed into an accommodation and restaurant complex. The remainder of the station continued to be run with Erewhon. Within a short amount of time large numbers of people were coming into the area to enjoy its remoteness and beauty.

A new homestead was added in 1973 and six years later, the Mt Potts and Erewhon leases were bought by Alisdair and Colin Urquhart in partnership although farmed separately. During this time, a new cottage, woolshed, cottage and many other farm buildings were added in 1991 the leasers were split into two properties again. Alisdair and Maxine, continued to run Mt Potts until the 9700 hectare property was sold to Mark Cotton from Otago in 1995, who then resold it to Mark Dewsbery in 1998.

At first, Dewsbery secured a contract to supply merino wool to Icebreaker. However, Dewsbery later removed all the sheep and a large portion of the deer farmed and restocked with cattle to produce Angus beef for niche Japanese markets. He also went through the Land Tenure Review, relinquishing most of the property to the Department of Conservation and retaining 1200 hectares of freehold land, which is the Mt Potts Station of today.

Mt Potts is a station of contrasts. The bulk of productivity comes form the flats and rolling downs that sprawl along the Rangitata River. Much of the cultivated flats are now irrigated from a gravity fed spray system from the Potts River. Mt Sunday with its interesting geological origins, stands alone on the banks of the river and provides much of the safe wintering country for the ewes. Ring steeply from the road the property travels some 15 km back through high shingle basins to a point not far from where the Lawrence, Potts and Ashburton Rivers all Rise.[3]

During the winters, Dewsbery began operating the only skifield in New Zealand at the time using snowcats to access its terrain instead of rope tows or chairlifts.[4] This evolved into Helipark NZ, a semi-guided pay as you go heliski operation in a controlled environment that was the first of its kind in the world.[5] In 2004, he started Southern Alps Heliski to offer private charter heliskiing in the Two Thumbs range.[6]

In 2011, Mt Potts was purchased by Alexandre Germanovitch, who closed Helipark NZ during an extensive refurbishment.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-12-28. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  2. ^ "Lord of the Rings". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  3. ^ "History | Mt Potts Lodge". 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  4. ^ "Queenstown Private Guide | Mark Dewsbery". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  5. ^ "Featured in QT Magazine: Winter 2014". Alpine Adventures. 2014-08-21. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  6. ^ "Helipark". 2011-08-31. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°30′09″S 170°55′28″E / 43.502624°S 170.924514°E / -43.502624; 170.924514