A large and highly respected Central Otago high country property has come on the market after over 100 years in the same family.
Current owner John Sanders’ grandfather acquired the Crown pastoral lease for 11,400 hectare Matangi Station in September 1923. Mainly focused on growing fine wool from a flock that traces back to the original Central Otago merinos of 160 years ago, the property has recently also diversified, becoming the location of some of the region’s most spectacular and challenging mountain bike trails.
“This is a magnificent property, with so much history and a world renowned woolclip, based on some of the country’s best merino genetics. Bounding Alexandra, stretching through to Little Valley and back towards Roxburgh, it presents a new owner with multiple opportunities.
“My personal relationship with the property and the Sanders family spans some 40 years, starting out marketing the Matangi wool clip. Offering this property to the market, giving another custodian the chance to start a new era in the history of such majestic country is an exciting privilege,” he says.
Matangi Station produces spinners’ style fine wool for the Italian market, winning Reda Group’s Marque of Excellence 2018-19 for top supplier in New Zealand. A stalwart supplier to the New Zealand Merino Company, Matangi Station has also won the prestigious Otago Merino Association’s Child Cancer Foundation fleece competition on several occasions.
John Sanders’ grandfather Jack was previously an Alexandra grocer. However, among the rabbits that historically plagued Central Otago, Jack saw a better option: motivated by the returns his brother was making as a rabbiter, he sold the store, went rabbiting himself, and in 1923 earnt enough to pay for the Matangi Station lease.
Located near Alexandra, behind the town’s famed ‘clock’ hill, Matangi was originally part of the vast Galloway Station, one of Central Otago’s pioneer runs, which was first established by Scottish brothers Watson and Alexander Shennan in 1858, and divided up in 1916. Jack Sanders established the Matangi stud in 1940 when he bought half the stock from the dispersal of the Puketoi stud, first registered by pioneer Watson Shennan.
Some of the stud’s original sheep came from the King of Prussia’s Saxony stud in 1862.
Merinos thrive in the particularly dry Matangi conditions, which is reflected in the quality of the station’s clip. Matangi wool ends up in fabric used by big names in the fashion world such as Hugo Boss, Ermenegildo Zegna, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Gucci.
Just as rabbits played a part in the Sanders family acquisition of Matangi Station, they also subsequently affected productivity, at least until the end of the twentieth century. Like many Central Otago properties, rabbits were an ever-present pest: in the Sanders’ first year on Matangi Station they killed 112,000, and the numbers didn’t change much until rabbit calicivirus made its unauthorised, though welcome, appearance in 1997.
While merinos play a major role in the property’s legacy, the Sanders have taken an interesting turn in recent years, developing the Matangi Station Mountain Bike Park.
“We already had tracks, plus routes established by a mountain bike group, which were attracting growing recreational use, some of it without permission, which was posing a risk to the wellbeing of our stock, and causing damage.
We wanted the locals to be able to enjoy the Station, and for the district to benefit economically without interfering with farming operations.
John’s son Brett and his wife Helen took responsibility for the Mountain Bike Park, constructing new tracks, and improving existing ones, building a car park, toilets and drinking water facilities, and installing additional stiles.
With plenty of community spirit to support them, the Sanders turned their mountain bike vision into reality hosting the first event of New Zealand’s inaugural Crankworx Summer Series, which started at Matangi Station in March, and will be followed by an official opening in December.
“Our family’s mission has been to provide the most exciting, raw and rocky natural off-road mountain bike riding in New Zealand. We want to challenge ourselves, and the riders who come to the part, both on and off the trails. It’s been a leap into the unknown and the learning curve has been as steep as some of our drop-offs,” says John.