Tourism legend’s last run

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Lindsay Westaway (right) has walked with kings but never lost the common touch. 

The Walter Peak farmer and rural demonstrator sheared his last sheep on Monday after 37 years in the job. 

Westaway and wife Dianne took on the Walter Peak tourist farm in 1974 and over the years have welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors. 

The couple, who raised four children at the isolated farmstead on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu, retired in October. 

But Westaway, 66, has continued to give his legendary rural demonstrations – which he has performed for everyone from lowly backpackers to the King of Malaysia. 

“That’s the fascination of this job – you never know who is going to get off the boat,” Westaway says. 

“Someone might be an old neighbour or a king. 

“The Duke of Westminster came as a bit of a shock because we were chatting away like we were old mates. 

“I didn’t realise who he was until he handed me his card and told me to come and see him if I was ever in England. He was a top guy.” 

Westaway cruised over on the TSS Earnslaw for his final day, greeted by his seven-year-old shorthaired border collie Bess – Bess will continue to work on the farm. 

After taking a group on a tour, he sends Bess off with a single whistle to muster the sheep and then expertly shears a 110kg sheep – all while entertaining the audience with his authoritative tone and dry wit. 

“The tours and demonstrations are one of my favourite parts of the job – the people interaction. 

“They come from all around the world and you meet some great folk. 

“A good commercial shearer, paid per sheep, would do 350 a day – you try for one-and-a-half minutes in your heyday. For the demonstration we try to take it slower, three to five minutes, so people can feel how you go about it.” 

The Earnslaw has provided a lifeline to the farm over the years. In the early days, it would bring over up to 12,000 visitors a year at $3 a pop. Now the 161-hectre tourist farm, backed by the 26,000-hectre high country farm, welcomes about 130,000 a year. 

With a 230km journey on unsealed roads the only other access, isolation was always a factor. 

“For 30-odd years we were responsible for everything – making sure there was electricity, water, all that. 

“You’re isolated so you have to do it yourselves. I had to hook the generator up to a Land Rover engine once, that saved us. You have to be professional; the tourists expect a good run, you can’t run around with torches. 

“One of the houses burned down in 1977 – we’re still waiting on the fire brigade for that one.” 

The Westaways were employed by Real Journeys from 1991 and the firm has presented them with business class round-the-world tickets as a parting gift. 

After dedicating their lives to tourism, they now intend to become tourists themselves. They will also set up a home in Kirwee, Canterbury, near Dianne’s 90-year-old mum, but will retain a home in Queenstown. 

“The last run has been surreal and it’s going to be different from now on. I think I’m going to find it strange initially, sometimes hard to fill the day. 

“I’ll miss the people contact, our beautiful backdrop, the dogs and the shearing. I used to stand in groups of tourists as they waited to board the Earnslaw in Queenstown and just listen to work out their expectations. 

“Now it’s our turn to travel.”