Fast Flows the Mountain Water
Here, at the highest point of the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark, snow makes molars of the mountains, and the district shakes hands with our South Canterbury neighbours. High Country Salmon is bang smack on the tourist superhighway. Whichever way people come in, from Christchurch or Queenstown, they pass here and the place is teeming, not just with 140,000 salmon (which sounds like heaps, but actually this is the smallest commercial farm around and one of the only sustainable ones. All salmon is processed on site and 70% is sold right at the café and shop. The rest is bought by local restaurants or sold online) – the café is busy with lunchtime sashimi lovers while families standing outside on the deck feed the salmon who whisk the pellets away, disappearing with a flick in a glint of silver. Opportunist gulls, scaups and grebes flap and bob. “We built a nesting platform for the grebes,” says Operations Manager Tracey Gunn, “now we’ve seen 2 generations of chicks.”
The birds too know salmon is so good for you, brain food. As do the people in campervans parked opposite - you can fish here and catch 2 salmon over a certain size as well as members of a natural population of brown trout (a couple of methuselah trout have thus far evaded capture and can be seen basking in the sun, too smart for the fry pan).
High Country Salmon was started 19 years ago by Richard Logan, who pioneered fresh water salmon farming in New Zealand, and the company is still family owned. The salmon take 2.5 years to grow to harvest size, and staff work 364 days a year. “Even on Christmas Day someone’s got to feed the salmon,” says Tracey, who has seen business explode in the 3.5 years she has been here. The babies are fed 8 times a day, twice a day for the big fish. Usual harvest size is 4.5 kilos but they can get bigger; a delighted customer recently took home a 9kg whopper.
The source of the Waitaki, water from the Tasman glacier, cloudy blue with minerals, flows strong through here, making it much cleaner than ocean farming, plus, the salmon swim more, are a bit fitter and leaner, less oily with a more delicate flavour. Many people tout the health benefits of the minerals in the glacier water as another point of difference. “Mount Cook water is our geo-influence,” and with Clay Cliffs the nearest geosite, Tracey would love to see visitors to the Geopark pick up their salmon here, to take for a picnic, there, downstream in deep time.
That’s if you can leave the café: salmon bagels, salmon eggs benedict….as well as blackboard specials which currently include teriyaki salmon wings, salmon nachos and a dish of grilled marinated salmon on a root vegetable rosti, the cabinet is stocked with sashimi, sushi, bento boxes, sandwiches and homemade pate. Someone might need to roll you home.
By Lisa Scott