Leaving Arrowtown a tough nut to crack

Going nuts: Long-term locals John and Maggie Hillock

Talk about getting out of your comfort zone. After living in the Wakatipu for most of their lives, doctor John Hillock and his wife Maggie are leaving to grow macadamias near Nelson. They discuss their impending move with Philip Chandler

If you’ve been living happily in one area for almost 40 years, why leave?

For Arrowtowners Maggie and JohnHillock, who are moving out of town early next month, it’s about taking on a challenge.

To the surprise of many, the horticultural novices have bought a five-hectare macadamia nut farm near Nelson, along with a five-bedroom home.

A long-time doctor who’s latterly taught at the University of Otago, John, 65, jokes that he’s going from academia to macadamia.

There’s also an irony in Maggie buying a tree farm.

A year ago, outraged at Delta’s plan to remove 29 trees by powerlines along the highway entrance to Queenstown, she formed the Save The Ladies Mile Trees committee.

“We just feel we want another challenge,” Maggie, 61, says.

“We don’t want to sit and twiddle our thumbs for the next 10 years.”

Living near the coast for a while was also on their bucket list – “and the warmth is attractive”.

John adds: “We always did think that if we ever did move, Nelson was one of the places we might move to.”

The couple admit they couldn’t be happier living in Arrowtown.

Maggie: “It’s a lovely place and we’ve got great neighbours, so we must be crazy, really.”

Dunedin-born, she’d holidayed with her family in Queenstown from about the age of four.

She was flatting in England when she met English-born John in Liverpool in the 1970s.

“I had a big poster of Queenstown on the wall in my flat and I said, ‘one day you’ll have a practice there’.”

After marrying over there in ’78, they moved to Dunedin.

John, however, didn’t like the hours at Dunedin Hospital so answered a job ad placed by Queenstown Medical Centre founder Pat Farry.

Maggie: “I was nine months’ pregnant when we moved here [in September ’79], and two weeks later, I had young John.”

John: “At that stage, there were only three doctors in the whole of the Wakatipu – we looked after the hospital, as well.”

Originally a locum, he soon became a QMC partner, and also superintendent of Lakes District Hospital till that role was disestablished.

Jodie, initially lived in Queenstown, then bought a run-down possum- and rat-infested 1860s stone cottage, near Lake Hayes, which they did up.

Maggie named their address ‘Walnut Lane’.

John wound down his QMC practice in the early 2000s.

He’s since had roles with the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, the Medical Council of NZ and, following Farry’s lead, has been involved in rural GP education at the University of Otago.

In more recent years, he’s also had regular stints working at an outback hospital in the far northwest Queensland, looking after Aboriginal communities, in particular.

A keen fisherman, he’s also been active in the Wakatipu Clay Target Club – he became president three months after arriving in Queenstown.

At B grade level, he’s successfully shot for Otago and at New Zealand and Australasian championships.

All the while, Maggie’s been a keen competitive horse rider, and was a founding member of the Central Otago Hunt. “Both of us are usually the oldest competitor,” John says.

“I’ve actually had a prize for being the oldest competitor,” Maggie adds.

“I was a bit miffed until I found out it was a massage.”

She’s delighted that the local council and Delta will now fund the trimming of the Ladies Miles trees.

“I think we’ve done all we can, at the moment.”

Asked about the Wakatipu’s health system, John says “the biggest problem is we are 200 kilometres away, at least, from the people that are making the decisions”.

“I’ve always believed that the further away from hospitals that you are, the better the facilities you should have.

“We still haven’t got what we should have – they’re still talking about getting a CT scanner but it should have happened years ago.”

The couple, who moved to Arrowtown four years ago, say they’ll sell their house but might buy a smaller local bolthole.

John: “We have very mixed feelings about leaving.

“We have to really do a reality check as to why we’re leaving.

“We’re not ruling out that in 10 years’ time, when we do want to slow down, we might be back.”