Porter Press Extra: Rainbow Station

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer

Best known by bikies everywhere as the home of the scenic Rainbow Station toll road, Rainbow Station in the Wairau Valley south of Nelson is also home to some expert land management

The brand-new Hyundai HX220L crawler excavator on-site

Part of this takes the form of river protection against flooding: a job where the tough, reliable smarts of Hyundai’s excavator range is the best tool in the shed.

While the farm blocks that make up Rainbow Station in the Wairau Valley near St. Arnaud account for 10,500 hectares of hill country, it’s the 40 hectares that have disappeared that spurs farm manager Aaron Eaton and his team to create better, more productive pastureland.

Flooding events over the past 12 months have torn a literal hole in the property. Benign looking today, the Wairau River in full flood during the 2022 winter destroyed plenty of pastureland, taking an airstrip and $150,000 worth of fencing with it.

The weather event was undoubtedly a low moment, but it was also justification for Aaron and the property’s owner that the way Rainbow Station is developing the land they have is the best way forward.

"It’s cheaper to utilise the land you’ve got more efficiently than go out and purchase more," Aaron says. "After all, your rates don’t decrease because the amount of usable land you’re working with does.

So, we strive to make the best use of what we’ve got. It comes down to just doing everything better." Part of that overarching goal is futureproofing the station against further flood-derived land loss through better river protection.

Skirting the Tasman and Marlborough District boundary, the Wairau River dominates the valley floor and much of the lower-lying pastureland Aaron and the seven-strong Rainbow Station crew graze sheep and cattle on.

The farm — in particular the Raglan Block that we visited — is also home to 1500 beehives and the popular Nelson Honey brand of manuka honey. Further east runs the Rainbow Station toll road, which adventurers on both two and four wheels routinely ride and drive along through the summer months.

A combination of willow planting and rock groyne construction along the riverbank will help mitigate such large-scale land loss in future weather events. It’s rather handy that the Raglan Block has its own vast, probably endless, supply of rock on hand.

In order to mine it out, Aaron and his team utilise the grunt of a Hyundai HX220L crawler excavator. The 20-tonne machine is brand-new, having only arrived on-site at Rainbow Station a week before Deals On Wheels stopped by for a look.

It replaces a previous generation Hyundai excavator of the same size, which reliably got through the hard yards for Aaron. "We’ve never had any issues with the Hyundai machines.

The last one racked up 10,000 hours and it would still have been good for more, but I’d rather move a machine of that age on, get a good trade price for it, and then get a brand-new machine in to keep the productivity up," he says.

"If a machine is under warranty, then that’s always going to give us peace of mind, too. Porter Equipment services our excavators under warranty, so that makes it easy for us and we know the machine is going to remain reliable.

"Philip Cropp, the property owner, likes to remain loyal to a brand, so you’ll see we have one brand of tractor that we use across the station, one brand of smaller groundskeeping equipment, even one brand of ute, and for our diggers, we really like the package that Hyundai delivers."

The property also runs an 11-tonne Hyundai R110-7 as a backline machine, mainly for farm track building. Alongside a bulldozer — another part of the farm fleet — there isn’t a corner of the property that can’t be accessed, even when the terrain gets significantly steeper.

Due to its proximity to the Wairau River, tributaries and creeks crisscross the farm everywhere. Driving the hills with Aaron to get to where the Hyundai HX220L was working when we visited, we ford countless streams: some gouged out and angry looking following an Easter Weekend storm system that dumped 125mm of rain on the district.


Operator Mike Newman with Aaron Eaton

Despite the gnarly drive-in, at 80 years of age, digger driver and neighbour Mike Newman wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Aaron reckons if Mike could figure out a way of getting a hot dinner delivered to him each evening, he’d be working away in the paddocks well into the night.

Armed with a root rake attachment, Mike – the operator – is busy digging out the rock that will serve as river protection down on the flat

Armed with a root rake attachment, Mike is busy digging out the rock that will serve as river protection down on the flat. The Hyundai HX220L — still with plastic wrap protection on the seat in the cab and barely 30 hours on the clock — makes short work of mining the rock out.

Mike says he dug out a "really big one" not long before we arrived. Most of the rocks are about the size of a wheelbarrow’s load bed, and here in particular lies a veritable sea of them.

The digger with the root rake is proving to be the best tool for the job for Aaron and his team

"The red rock that’s typical of this area is everywhere," confirms Aaron. "The digger with the root rake is definitely the best tool for this job. We’ve used the bulldozer in the past, but it just pushes everything up ahead, as you can imagine.

The digger enables the operator to dig into a particular spot and sift out the rock from the soil as he goes

The excavator means Mike can dig into a particular spot and sift out the rock from the soil as he goes. It’s just a tidier process and makes carting the rock out a lot quicker and easier when it’s time."

The digger features three-stage variable power modes and improved hydraulic pump flow rate system

It’s methodical work, but the new Hyundai, with its three-stage variable power modes and improved hydraulic pump flow rate system, will shift anything Mike comes across.


"The heater has really improved, too. Mike likes that!" Aaron laughs. Although with the Rainbow Ski Area also nearby, good heating and ventilation is a serious consideration.

It’s up here in the hills where the four combined Rainbow Station farms are really changing in appearance. Of the 800 hectares of fenced paddocks in the Raglan Block, 300 hectares is in manuka and native pasture, while more than 150 hectares have been redeveloped over the last four-and-a-half years to provide better grazing.

Across all four farms, Rainbow Station runs 30,000 stock units, made up of 7000 ewes plus replacements and 850 calving cows plus replacements. Aaron says his team is on track to finish around 14,000 works lambs this year and 600 head of fattening cattle.

Red and white clover, perennial ryegrass, plantain, and lucerne make up the crop in paddocks already sewn. Tidy piles of rock, already dug out with the excavator, dot the landscape.

Aaron says an articulated dump truck — hired through Porter Hire — will cart the rock from the hill country down to the river for placement. "That’s the thing with Porters, they can help with everything," he says.

"They’re just magic to deal with. Everything is easy with them. The same truck that brought in the new 20-tonner took the old one away. With their network, everything just kind of works. That’s good for us."

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