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A venue with shear charm

A venue with shear charm

An aging historical woolshed in North Canterbury has a new lease of life as a rustic event venue for weddings and community functions.

The woolshed was originally busy servicing the Tipapa Estates' thousands of sheep across a property that was over 18,000 acres spreading out across Greta Valley and towards Motunau Beach.

The Tipapa Estate, which also includes a historic homestead and extensive gardens, now comprises of 130 acres of its original land.

Like many large estates of the era, most of the property was sold off in the previous century or excised as ballot farms to soldiers returning from both wars.

The T-shaped woolshed was built in 1880 from native timbers by then owners the Acton Adams family and was designed to accommodate 12 blade shearers on six stands.

In the early 20th century, mechanical shearing machines were installed, powered by a steam tractor reversed up to the shed, with a belt drive to spin the machinery.

This meant shearing was much more efficient and halved the number of shearers required.

Later, an electric motor was installed to replace the steam-driven system.

In the 1960s, the Robertsons purchased Tipapa, and in the 1970s began converting half of the woolshed to accommodate deer.

Pioneering deer farmers, the Robertson's captured wild deer by helicopter to build up a herd since domestic deer were unavailable in New Zealand at the time.

In 2003, the estate changed hands again when it was purchased by John Carr.

In 2008, John transformed the woolshed into a function centre.

With its rustic charm and rich history, the repurposed woolshed proved popular, with 200 weddings held in the homestead gardens and shed over the next nine years.

In 2020, Tipapa was purchased by the current owners, Stewart and Jane Whiteside.

The sale took place at a challenging time for an event venue, as the country went into lockdown almost immediately after.

"We purchased the property on a Thursday, and then the country went into lockdown the following Wednesday," Jane says.

"It was terrible timing."

Despite the challenges of covid restrictions, the Whiteside's have breathed life back into the business, hosting weddings, community functions and joining the Hurunui Garden festival.

"Having a wedding here appeals to people who want to do the event themselves or just like the rustic feel," Jane says.

The woolshed is also a popular choice for farmers tying the knot.

"Farmers often want to get away from farming and do something elegant, but they love the idea of this place.

"They can have the elegant moment on the front lawn of the homestead with canapés and drinks, and then they can come to the woolshed and let their hair down."

The Whitesides have continued the strong relationship between the estate and Greta Valley Primary School, located a short distance from the homestead and on estate land originally donated by the Acton Adams family.

With the community hall irreparably damaged in the 2016 Waiau earthquake, Tipapa opened the woolshed doors to provide a venue for school events.

"The school is holding its production here, and we also host the Scargill Spring Show," Jane said.

This year's play will be the second school production held at Tipapa, which also hosted the school's 125th-anniversary celebrations in 2018.

The history of the woolshed has been lovingly preserved during the restoration process, with the interior walls a canvas for stencils and graffiti from shearers of a bygone era.

"The story is that the previous owner got them to pull the graffitied boards down from around the shed, replaced them, and had them put in here," Jane said

"They put a bit of rattle here and there for continuity, but these are authentic stencils.

"The earliest date we have found is 1903, but we know it was operating well before then."

Ladders hang from the woolsheds timber ceilings, fashioned from lime wood by Stewart and adding to the rustic feel of the venue.

"Stewart made these out of tree limbs that were down in the hayshed from a huge lime tree that used to grow outside the kitchen during the Robertson's time.

"If people want, I decorate them, or people can do their own decorations."

Maintenance on the woolshed remains ongoing.

"Parts of the woolshed are relatively fragile, and our main aim for the back is to ensure the roof is watertight and replace missing timbers."

The woolshed can host events for up to 150 people, which feed back into the local hospitality businesses still struggling with the after-effects of covid restrictions.

"We have a bed and breakfast here in the homestead, and guests can stay at the other local Airbnb's and bed and breakfasts in the area.

"They can eat at the Greta Valley Tavern or have breakfast at Fossil Point café.

"It brings in business to the area."

by Claire Inkson