A tour to Mt Gladstone Station, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, NZ

Christa and David Brown trace David's ancestor Otterson
David Brown's ancestral research brought him and his wife Christa to the remote Awatere Valley where the Otterson family where intrinsically connected.
Harry and Hayley Pitts with Christa Brown
Harry and Hayley Pitts present Christa with a book Hayley wrote for her boys called 'Mac'.
Marlborough High Country
The majestic valleys and peaks of Mt Gladstone Station
Hayley Pitts
Hayley Pitts of Mount Gladstone Station takes a break from farm life to have a cuppa and a chat with our guest David and Christa.
Christa and David Brown with Hayley Pitts
Christa and David Brown with Hayley Pitts, owner of Mt Gladstone Station with her husband Jeremy.

David and Christa Brown of Nelson rang us to ask for a bespoke tour, a special assignment. David Brown is the great grandson of Francis and Jane Otterman. David has been studying his family history and has traced these ancestors to a very special high country farm. Gladstone Station, Awatere Valley, in the heart of Marlborough. You will not find a place more beautiful or hosts more welcoming than the current owners the Pitts family.

Will Parsons as guide shared with David and Christa a little of his own family background on the way to the station. Will and his family farmed at Mt Victoria in the Flaxbourne area for generations.

The first stop was at the home of Alan and Bev Pitts. They enjoyed sharing their stories of the early Otterson pioneers over tea and scones. Francis and Jane settled to farm merino sheep here in around 1852 and the farm was taken over by their son Henry in 1876. Tragically Francis was drowned crossing the Wairau River, near Manuka Island. His horse stumbled and his foot caught in the stirrup. So many drowned in river crossings in those days.

Mount Gladstone runs around 8000 merinos over 8,903 hectares producing high quality fine fibre which is highly sort after worldwide. Much of it is now sold to a company called Devold in Norway.

Mt Gladstone has a stately altitude of 2,570 metres.

Next stop was the home of Jeremy and Hayley Pitts. David and Christa went for a drive around in search of  Mt Otterson Peak, they also crossed the Otterson River. David selected a large rock out of the river to take home as a memory.

David and Christa were a fun and informative couple and we loved helping them achieve their goal of returning to Mt Otterson to pay their tribute.

If you want to have us create a customised tour click here to read more about us





Marlborough NZ, the way the World should be

Merino sheep farm tours
Ashworth Farm owner Tim Wadworth and farm manager Tim working in the yards with the fine wool merion sheep
Rarangi Beach, Cloudy Bay, Marlborugh, New Zealand
This is one of the stunning look out views you will enjoy on a tour with Will.
Winery lunch in Marlborough New Zealand
You can enjoy the best Marlborough has to offer with wine and food at one of the many cellar doors.

Marlborough is an undiscovered gem in the crown of New Zealand’s splendour. Everyone has heard of Marlborough’s award winning Sauvignon Blanc, leading the World in temperate climate wine growing, but few know of its other unique attractions just waiting to be explored when you cruise into Picton.

Imagine you are looking out over the expansive, pristine beach of Rarangi at Cloudy Bay. Here is where the first Polynesians landed their waka in New Zealand at around 1320AD. Will your guide will tell you the stories of the early European whalers who settled to the North at Port Underwood, New Zealand’s whaling capital until the last harpoon was released by Joe Perano in 1964. Joe now uses his expertise in spotting the whales for conservation.

If you want to find out about New Zealand’s traditional sheep farming and merino wool, Will can take you to meet his friends Tim and Sally Wadworth. They will welcome you to their home and beautiful hill country farm, Ashworth. Their farm manager Andrew will show you how dog and man work as one to herd sheep and show you the physical feat of sheep shearing.

If nature and conservation is your interest, Will has a very special place to share with you. By special permission of the landowner you will be guided to the sacred Wairau Lagoon and Te Parinui o Whiti (White Bluffs). This is a place which is perfect for the landscape photographer or bird watcher. Will who has been guiding tour groups in the area since 2004 and has a keen interest in birds and wildlife photography will enrichen your experience. You can also learn about farming and local European history.

All the above experiences can include wine tasting and learning about the area’s viticultural industry.

Most important of all the tours are completely private, no waiting in queues and missing out on having your questions answered. Will is a real local and professional guide. You are going to have a wonderful personal experience to share when you get home. Will is very flexible and happy to cater for special interests where ever possible.

Join 'Tours by Locals' to book one of Will's tours 

Banded Dotterel bird count at Marlborough’s East Coast.

Banded dotterel
Banded dotterel at the mouth of the Ure River, Marlborough.

Driftwood Eco Tours supports the Marlborough East Coast Protection Group, Will is a committee member and has more recently been passing on his considerable experience with the trapping of mustelids.

The MECPG was set up by the East Coast rural community in response to the up raise of the coastline as a result of the November 14 Earthquake. At midnight the coastline rose by 1-2 metres, wreaking devastation on the marine life on the delicate tidal zone. It was only after the community had resumed to a more normal way of life again that it was realised that the uplift and caused another unforeseen issue for the wildlife of the East Coast. The beach once only accessible by Quadbikes at low tide was now accessible by any vehicle all day. This coupled with the gradual increase in population has increased the disturbance of the ecology of the coast. A visible example of this is the banded dotterel which nests at the high tide mark and is vulnerable to dogs, humans, vehicles and introduced pests like stoats.

On Saturday the 3rd of August, we set out to join a group of volunteers to count how many of these delightful little birds had arrived from the north to pair up for nesting in the spring from Marfell’s beach to the Cape Campbell Lighthouse.

As so many people had come to help out we elected to count Ward Beach to the Chancet Rock and further south. We almost at once sighted a beautiful pair of Black Fronted Dotterel, unusual for the area. However all we found on the beach walk were tyre tracks. It was heart-warming to see a dad and his son exploring rock pools.

The coastline is at times dramatic with wave sculptured rock forms evidence that this beach was once pounded by the waves of the Pacific. The rock pools are murky, it is not surprizing that after over 2 years this tidal zone is still struggling to restore to the dynamic coastal ecosystem it once was.

A delightful discovery south of Ward at Wharenui was a rock pool with a small fish, whelk and a large crab in it. So nature is slowly healing herself. Down but not out.

We can still continue our cherished Kiwi ‘way of life’ however we need to think about how we do things if we want our grandchildren to have this privilege. For many overseas is no longer recognized as normal.

The other team at Cape Campbell had better news and counted pairs of Banded dotterel plus one ferret was caught in a trap. It is possible that seasonality means that the dotterel are late arriving.

You can keep up with the Trust’s activities or join, volunteer or sign up on their Facebook page

You can read about what our conservation projects and what is important to us on our website page. We would love your feedback. Will and Rose

An expedition to one of New Zealand’s most remote sheep and cattle stations.

Muzzle Station.
The plough is a favourite spot for a been there photo.
Clarence Reserve
Crossing a creek at the Muzzle Station.
Musterer's hut
Historic musterer's hut at the Mead Stream. John puts his boots on for a walk.
The Muzzle's new farm quarters where we stay for two nights.
The Muzzle's new farm quarters where we stay for two nights.
Tack shed
The tack shed and the Muzzle Station.

Sitting in the cool quiet of the cob musters quarters at the Muzzle homestead is the perfect place to read the book ‘Life on the Muzzle’.  The Authoress of the book Fiona Redfern, known by her family as O, and her husband Guy live and raise their family here, in the heart of the tall and craggy ranges of the Southern Alps of the South Island Their sheep and cattle farm station is one of the most remote in the New Zealand. Isolated and majestic between the rugged seaward and outer Kaikoura ranges, with river crossings by 4WD vehicle and helicopter flights and every day and necessary event.


Last night around the big kitchen table I was reminded of my rural childhood when shearing gangs came to visit our home at French Pass in the Marlborough Sounds. Hard working guys and gals line up for tucker and a beer and in no time the yarns start rolling and we all forget the petty troubles of the outside world. We are family. Nola tells how her dress got caught in the workings of a seed driller and the unsympathetic response from her hubby, Guy holds up a toe damaged by a similar incident, we are all in stitches. O calm and serene brings out the apple crumble and real cream, little Arthur her 8 year old son watches from the door wishing he were grown up.


Yesterday I discovered a whole new definition of steep, in our trusty Toyota Fortuna we climbed to top of the saddle into the Clarence Reserve. We happily munched on our bacon and egg pie and swigged on soup as we try to take in views to every compass point, spanning from the green flats of the Kaikoura Coast, the sweeping pastures of the Clarence Reserve rimmed by towering mountain ranges and in the distance the magnificence of the Molesworth Station.


Touching down into the Clarence Reserve we approached our first river crossing, the Fortuna is fit for purpose, complete with snorkel and our guide Lance Godfrey has forded this river more often than we have had hot dinners. But it was thrilling to see water inching up the door of our vehicle and was a relief to get to the other side. Phew only 17 more crossing to go.


Lance, right hand man of the Redferns and Fiona’s parents Colin and Tina, has first hand knowledge of the life here. He   showed us a good swimming hole at the river with nearby trees to escape the heat of midday, and took us to must see places of interest with evocative names like the elephant trap and the 'diamond' mine. We are so lucky to have Lance as our guide with his wide experience, humour and easy going nature.


It is impossible to describe the remote beauty of the Muzzle, with its great winding river valley and silent watching mountains towering above. I have been told there is nowhere better to experience this splendid isolation that on our last night at the Ravine hut. The Ravine hut is used by the Redferns and their mustering team for the calf weaning and other horse back musters. But that is tomorrow's adventure.


I can hear the throb of helicopter blades, Guy is returning from work, both Guy and O have pilot licences and own a plane which they use for trips to town, even the new ram gets a ride! I go outside. Arthur is running around in oversized boots with the dogs, his little sister trailing behind. O has Muzzle Station beef sizzling on the bar-b-que. This is Life on the Muzzle.


Learn more about the tour here.

The long tailed bats of d’Urville Island

Long tailed bat
Bats where fitted with temorary with transmitters to learn more about their behaviour - photo by Laura Keown
D'Urville Island
As morning comes the bats return to their hollow trees

Here is something to strike up at your next dinner party, baby bats attach themselves to their flying mothers by sucking onto their nipples. Well I always wondered, surely they were not just home alone with nasty old Mr Stoat around.

D’Urville Island or more correctly Rangitoto Ke Ti Tonga is a haven for the nationally critical (next stop extinction) long tailed bat. Recent monitoring of bat populations led by volunteers such as Dr Brian Lloyd and Debs Martin have revealed that bat once prevalent in New Zealand’s skies at night have now retreated to dwindling bush enclaves. However it was heartening for the advocates for our native bats to find that d’Urville Island still harboured promising populations.

Some of the factors that makes this island unique is the absence of introduced opossums and ship rats that arrived with early and subsequent Europeans. The local native rat, Kiore is present but is less aggressive.

However growing numbers of introduced wasps are not a good indicator for the bats. Research shows that bats rely heavily on the naturally occurring honey dew which is emitted by the honey dew lava living in the bark of beech trees. Unfortunately so do the wasps. This fierce competition for food source is bound to have an impact on already declining bat numbers according to Dr Brian Lloyd.

The bat’s predator the stoat is also present on the island, a community led project the D’Urville Island Pest Eradication Trust has been established to start tackling this thorny problem. It takes time to get all of the community and various stake holders onto the same page and develop a sustainable management plan for such a remote and unpopulated island.

Driftwood Eco Tours supports the DISET by donating $300 for every small group tour it operates there. Tour members have the opportunity to meet Pip Aplin from the trust who uses maps and diagrams to illustrate the problem and describe proposed solutions.

If  you would like to make a donation or volunteer to help the bats contact us and we will put you in touch with the right people.

If you are interested in coming on a tour to D'Urville Island click here

Tour to d’Urville Island

French Pass
French Pass, Marlborough Sounds.
Will and Rose Parsons
Will and Rose your guides for the Heritage tours.
Port Hardy, D'Urville Island
Will telling stories of the early immigrant ships that arrived at Port Hardy in the 1800s.
The 4x4 vehicle we travel in when visiting the island.
The 4x4 vehicle we travel in when visiting the island.


Will and I are excited to announce our new tours date for next season for our incredibly popular five day tour to d'Urville Island. We love taking you to places unexplored, while offering you comfortable warm hospitality at the end of the day.

This tour is extra special because it is were I grew up, so on the Heritage tours I will tell you yarns of my pioneering ancestors the Wells and Leovs.

If you are fit and want more action on tour you can book our adventure tour which with the highlight of visiting Angela who has created an eco lifesyle in the middle of dense forest.

Fishing is also popular on the trip, we only take what we can eat that night. We stay at the d'Urville Island Wilderness Resort at Catherine Cove throughout our stay.

Hope you will join us! If d'Urville Island has been on your bucket list join us as we can take you to visit the locals and make your visit easy to this usually quite inaccessible island.

Read more about our tours by clicking here

French Pass lighthouse
The Lighthouse at the French Pass.
D'Urville Island Wilderness Resort.
D'Urville Island Wilderness Resort.

Sharing my home D’Urville Island and French Pass.

Rose Parsons
Reflecting on my brother Len's memorial.
The cottage at Patuki where my grandfather and uncles once lived.
The cottage at Patuki where my grandfather and uncles once lived.
Blue cod fishing at it's old fashioned best.
Blue cod fishing at it's old fashioned best.

Rose Parsons (nee Leov-Wells ) writes of her love of Rangitoto Ki Te Tonga – D’Urville Island and her surprise to find herself centre stage, sharing her families stories as she tour guides small groups at her ancestral home. D’Urville Island is a remote outlying island in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.

If someone had told me I would be guiding tours on my home turf, ‘down the Sounds’ as we local call it, chatting with mates from primary school and telling the tales of my ancestors to all and sundry, I would have said you’ve slipped your mooring!

To me it was just ‘the island’ a misty far off land which a saw from my parent’s bedroom window, a mysterious place I thought was Africa, until I was put right. But it is more like Greece today as our trusty launch Te Amuti ferries us around the very seascape of my girlhood. Bill Webber, a fourth generation Kaumatua (respected elder in Maori), lifelong friend of my parents, neighbour and successful ex farmer is the skipper, he manoeuvres us with experience thorough what we call the Paddock Rocks.  Most likely of volcanic origin and remnant of a past crater, the Paddock Rocks have always conjured up for me the Greek Isles, especially on a good day. As we round the reef we see the green gentle slopes of Ohana (Maori for Hosanna). This is my ancestral land, my great grandfathers brothers leased the land from the Maori owners for sheep and cattle farming.

Here is the reminder of a childhood ghost story. The nearby island of Hautai which is passable only at low tide is Tapu (sacred). It is the burial island of the early Ngati Koata (local Iwi, local Tribe). Some young European men staying at a hut near the island got spooked one night as they thought they heard ghostly voices coming from across the water, in the morning they found a beer bottle in the grass. Wind blowing across it was their ghost spectra. As children we would never dream off setting foot on Hautai out of humble respect, mixed with a healthy dose of fear.

Alpine Flora Tour 2018 Rebecca Bowater

Aciphylla dobsonii

This 4 day tour commenced from Driftwood Eco-tours base in Blenheim on the 7th January. The guides were Will Parson and myself as the alpine flora guide.

We left with our 8 clients and travelled up the Wairau Valley through the Rainbow stopping whenever there were plants of interest to see, namely Helichrysum parvifolium flowering on the rocky cliffs and various Epilobiums flowering on the scree slopes. We had wonderful picnic morning and afternoon teas and lunches each day in the field.

We found the small mauve Veronica [Hebe] pimeleoides subsp.pimeleoides flowering then had a good look for alpine flowers on Island Pass seeing Wahlenbergia cartilaginea and Lobelia roughii just to name a few.

The views from the pass were spectacular. Down to Lake Tennyson where Gentianella corymbifera and Aciphylla aurea were looking beautiful as well as seeing Boulder Copper butterflies on the flowers of Raoulia glabra. After a wonderful day we arrived in Hanmer where we stayed the night.

The next day we left for Flock Hill Lodge near Castle Hill Canterbury stopping off on Porters Pass where I pointed out the pink leafless broom Carmichaelia crassicaulis subsp crassicaulis. Onto Flock Hill Lodge where we stayed in cottages and had dinner at the restaurant. The next morning was wet, so I gave an informative photographic alpine talk in the conference room at this facility.

After lunch we drove to Arthurs Pass and visited the DOC centre and walked around the Dodson nature walkway. By late afternoon the weather had cleared we drove up to Mt Cheeseman skifield and walked along the road between scree slopes just below the top ski lodge, there were views to die for. I pointed out the sweet smelling Lobelia macrodon and Senecio glaucophyllus subsp.discoideus in full flower and other alpines.

The next day we headed back to Blenheim via Hanmer and Molesworth Station. Once again the scenery was stunning and Brachyglottis monroi was in full flower around the Acheron Gorge, we picked gooseberries near the roadside and stopped to look at Molesworth Cottage, and seeing Pachystegia insignis flowering on the cliffs was a great way to finish the tour.

I recommend these alpine tours especially if you are unable to climb to the tops of the mountains. We are driven to the alpine zone and have several hours looking at our wonderful little alpine treasures all native of New-Zealand. The meals and accommodation are fantastic. There is so much to see and enjoy, a small group tour with like-minded people is what I recommend.

Rebecca Bowater FPSNZ  AFIAP

See the new season's alpine flora tours here

Ring Will or Rose Parsons, Driftwood Eco Tours 03 5777 651


Alpine Flora of Molesworth, Amuri & Cheeseman

Gentianella Corymbifera subs. corymbifera
Gentianella Corymbifera subs. corymbifera

Acaena saccaticupula
Bidibid or Acaena saccaticupula

Phyllachne colensoi
Phyllachne colensoi

Guide Will Parsons
Guide Will Parsons

Geranium brevicaule
Geranium brevicaule

Alpine Flora guide Rebecca Bowater
Alpine Flora guide Rebecca Bowater

Over the past two weeks I have had the privilege and joy of guiding sixteen alpine flora enthusiasts to the high country of the top of the South Island in pursuit of alpine flora. On the first tour we all benefitted from working alongside Rebecca Bowater with her fund of alpine flora knowledge


Here are a few of the delightful specimens we found in some of the world’s most stunning scenery.


Since we have been home my wife Rose and I have been sitting at our kitchen table trying to identify the Latin names for the plants we photographed.


I will post more photos as we work our way through our long list of plants.


If you are interested in joining our tour for next season by all means drop us line. We are planning multiday and one day tours in Marlborough and multiday tours in northern Canterbury.


Nature tour to the Wairau Lagoon

Pied stilt
This is an area where pied stilt nest.

Will and Rose Parsons
This is one of our favourite environments.

The White Buffs at the Wairau Lagoons
Taking a stroll beside the White Bluffs.

View over the Awatere Valley
View from Jamie's knob over the Awatere Valley.

I love the Wairau Lagoons. I brought a property over-looking the 2,400 hectare tidal lagoon in the lower Wairau Valley, Marlborough in 1995. Something about it drew me.


Little did I know I would one day be guiding local and international visitors by kayak and four wheel drive vehicle. After consultation the land owners for the Vernon Station granted us permission to access their beautiful property to see the lagoon from a very special perspective. We have the privilege of passing through locked gates to explore an ecological and geological wonderland.


I always marvel and the view from Jamie's knob named after the late Jamie Balfour. The view offers views of the historically significant Awatere Valley, the Wairau Valley famous for its wine production and on a fine day the North Island.


The White Bluffs, Te Parinui o Whiti are were we stop for morning tea of home baked apple cake and bacon and egg pie. This is where the bullock trail was before roads were made. I love to paint a picture for visitors of the men and animals who used this beach as the only 'highway'.


Views over the Wairau Lagoon can be rewarding for photographers and bird watchers. White fronted tern, Australasian harrier, Black fronted tern, Black swan, Caspian Royal spoonbill & White faced heron are a few of over ninety species of bird that maybe seen in this area. You can see more of the birds which you might see here


The Wairau Lagoon was the first known site of human occupation, home to the Polynesian tribe often called the Moa Hunters. Moa is a large ostrich sized extinct bird. It was hunted for food by the Moa Hunter as there were no sizeable land mammals in New Zealand prior to human arrival. The only mammals were the bat and seal.


You can read more about the natural history of the Wairau here


If you would like to visit the Wairau Lagoon with me when you are visiting Marlborough or even if you are a local who would like the opportunity to get to know the area better you can read about the tour we offer here