National Geographic : 1978 Aug
About twenty miles from Ian's place, Twizel, a construction town of 6,000, un pretentious in its prefab uniformity, houses workers on New Zealand's largest hydro electric project. When completed in 1984, the canals feeding power stations from glacier-fed lakes and rivers of the Mackenzie Basin alone will hold 17 million cubic meters of water-34 times the nation's annual con sumption of beer, as locals compute it. "God" Has Plans for High Country Maori legend credits Rakaihautu, a giant of a man, with digging this chain of moun tain lakes. In Twizel we went to see his modern equivalent: Max Smith, project en gineer, known locally as "God" (page 263). We talked about New Zealand's fast growing appetite for electricity, creation of new recreational lakes for increasing num bers of tourists, compensation for people's properties that would be flooded out. And Max Smith's concept of the high country: "The runholders lease more than 90 per cent of their land from the government. Runs are big and generally underdeveloped. I believe the state should use water from this project to irrigate the land, subdivide it into economic units, and sell it to farmers willing to make it productive-whether for inten sive grazing or for crops." We later mentioned this idea to Professor Kevin O'Connor of the Tussock Grasslands and Mountain Lands Institute. "Max has part of the story," commented Kevin. "You cannot plan a farming system the way you plan a hydro system. The run holders are cautious innovators. If they were reckless, they'd go bust in that environment, being at the mercy of weather and market. High-country farming can't be regulated like water behind a dam. A farmer must be free to accept his own risks. Ask Bruce Scott of Godley Peaks Station what pays his bills."