El Rancho Poronui
The early history of Poronui continues…in our last edition we published an archival letter from Mr N H Pike, owner from 1938-45. But did you know Poronui was once called El Rancho? And was the first quarter horse stud in New Zealand? And was owned by Mormon missionaries? Read on!
Between 1945 when Mr Pike owned Poronui, and 1967, Poronui was owned by a Mr McFarlane and was then taken over by the Tuhoe Trust Board under the chairmanship of Mr Sonny White, a well-known Maori shearing contractor. The station was once again taken in hand and under the supervision of the Lands and Survey Department in the 60s and a progressive development program was carried out.
In 1967 Poronui was acquired by Anzamco Ltd, a private company of Mormon missionaries from Utah, who wanted to develop the property as an American style holiday ranch which they called ‘El Rancho Poronui’.
Anzamco imported the first quarter horses into New Zealand to the Poronui Quarter Horse stud from the USA in 1969 - a stallion called Di Bar Flit (by Bar Flit out of Dipsydoodle Milligan) and a mare who would become the nucleus of the stud.
In the 1970s, the property carried 22,000 sheep, and 2,000 head of cattle including 1,500 breeding cows. In the earlier days, Poronui ran pure Cheviots, but in the 1970s only Perendale rams were used, the Cheviot blood iwas still dominant but the aim was to eventually work into pure Perendale flock. The mixed breed sheep could jump like stags however, so the fences on the property all had to be extra high.
Poronui is a high altitude property, the valley fringed with virgin native bush on both sides. The northern end of the property includes a big area of pumice flats, think with stunted manuka bush, and it is here the first start was made in developing the property for timber production.
By the 1970s rabbits had almost disappeared from the property and the problem was considered to be under control. Forty miles of new fences had been erected, an impressive dwelling for the new manager Mr Mendenhall of Salt Lake City Utah was under construction, and it was planned to build a new lodge six miles further down in the valley to access the fishing.
Once the Lodge was completed the owners planned to break-in 2,000 acres of new country annually, and start top-dressing by air and over-sowing on the hill country. Experimental work on development projects would be based on both US and NZ experience, and it was envisaged the station would eventually be divided into five or six self-contained self-operating units, although still under sole management. Luckily for all of us, this work was never completed and Poronui remains largely vast tracts of pristine native wilderness.
The woolshed and station buildings were six miles down the valley, where there was some attractive country – clean healthy tussock downs and comparatively heavy flats that were used to grow turnips, lucerne and red clover for winter feed. The country here gets progressively lower, and at the bottom end of the valley is only 1,600ft above sea level, 600 feet lower than the homestead. The landrover track to the bottom end of the property, to what is now Safari Camp, existed in the 70s.
This part of the property is completely bounded by heavy bush and was considered great country for deer. Bill Morris, proprietor of the Rangitaiki Hotel, was the local agent for Consolidated Traders, and he handled over 1,000 carcasses a year from Poronui at that time. Many here lifted by helicopter out of the dense bush. The Manchurian sika deer were first liberated in New Zealand at Poronui at Merrilees Flat, just behind the old homestead, in 1904.
The Mormon missionaries retired or died, and in 1980 Poronui was sold again. Poronui had been the first farm development project in New Zealand under American direction and was scrutinised accordingly.
In the 13 years they owned the property, Anzamco Ltd did little to progress Poronui towards being an American style ranch, but they did discover the world class fly fishing available on the property, and the reputation of Poronui as an angler’s paradise was quietly established.