Nancy Drew

There’s a saying that New Zealand is just like Britain, but stuck in 1950. It’s meant to be a compliment, I guess, but you can see how Kiwis might not take it that way. Still, the saying has gotten stuck in my mind since I first heard it…and (with my apologies to the nation) I have to admit there are times when details of New Zealand life really do feel like they’re from a bygone era. My friend tells me about getting milk delivered to their doorstep in glass bottles every morning, for example, or housemates commiserate about the shared experience of having a “paper run” as young teens. Milkmen and newsies? That does sound a bit like 1950.

This background totally could be the uppermost fringes of an estuary…

A recent experience planning for the northern estuary surveys reminded me of another 1950s icon— Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. As I mentioned in the last post, part of the preparation for the estuary survey trip required a fair bit of investigation about private and public land, and different access points for the estuaries we hoped to visit. We used every tool available to sleuth out the sampling sites. Nancy Drew, I think, would have approved of our modern techniques as well the more classic approaches she used to crack cases.

So, the backstory: A Resource Council publication from a few years ago reported a large and healthy seagrass bed in a certain inlet along Golden Bay. Unfortunately, if the report was still relevant, accessing this seagrass bed meant a multi-kilometer slog across mudflat. This was probably not the brightest approach, given the amount of stuff we had to carry and the potential to be trapped by deep channels or soft mud banks. We needed another way to get to the purported seagrass. So we pulled up satellite images of the inlet on Google Earth (this, not so much out of the 1950s) and zoomed in on the dark areas that were likely seagrass beds.

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We could see a series of tiny roads that looked like they might lead right out onto a spit that would have us within spitting (hah) distance of the seagrass. These were farm roads, privately owned, so we’d need to ask permission to access them— but which farm did they belong to?  It was impossible to tell. We used Google’s street-view to virtually explore the land’s-eye view of the nearby public roads, but the only clue we could glean was a signpost, across the road from the farm in question. Sunacre Farm, it read, but had no contact information, owners’ names, anything. Still, for my coworker Jan and I, a name was enough to start on. We got to work sleuthing.

Jan took the mid-century approach, putting in a call to a friend who lives near Golden Bay. She dialed their landline (weird, huh?) and they actually picked up (even weirder). When Jan inquired about Sunacre Farm—  ah, no luck, this friend had never heard of it. But why didn’t this friend just put Jan in touch with the local post carrier, surely he would know? The phone number was obtained, and Jan placed the call. This conversation was all cheerful politeness. The post carrier’s wife picked up the phone— hi there, yes, well, he’s out right now but actually his route doesn’t go that far north. I’ll just give you the number of the neighboring region’s post carrier, and you can ask him? Jan accepted, but as she headed down the rabbit hole of personal phone calls, I decided to see if I couldn’t find a faster way to contact Sunarcre Farm.

Enter the new-millenium approach. A dedicated Google stalk ensued. Sunacre Farm doesn’t have much a web presence, but I found one Yellow-Pages-type site that listed “Contact: N/A. Webpage: N/A. Email: N/A. One director on the register: Trev Colly”. Further Googling of “Trev Colly” didn’t turn up anything new about Sunacre Farm— but showed a nearby company, Colly’s Freight, established by one Hamish Colly, now owned by his three sons. Colly’s Freight had a contact number. I passed it over to Jan’s capable hands (and charming, friendly Kiwi accent).

Jan called up the company, chirping into the phone, “Hi there, listen, this is going to sound like a very strange request, but we were wondering about a place called Sunacre Farm…”. We spoke to the receptionist for a solid minute—  or rather, Jan spoke. I hovered nearby, a bit shocked that we hadn’t been hung up on, or treated with any suspicion whatsoever (I guess this feels like bygone days as well— people are kind to each other on the phone?). After hearing us out, the receptionist replied,

“Well, you’ve actually reached Colly’s Freight, and we aren’t anywhere close to the farm. But as a matter of fact, Trev is in the office today, and he owns Sunacre. He’ll be able to answer your questions.”

Score! Nancy Drew, through persistent phoning and a friendly nature, gains the clue to solve the mystery.

Trev, one of the Colly empire sons, was happy to help. He gave us the phone number of his daughter (who lives on the farm) to call up whenever we wanted to come by. And so we did, and the rest of the story is all denouement— Nancy, reuniting with her pals, drives off for more fun in her baby blue roadster.

…Except picture that scene in a diesel Nissan Navara Ute 4WD plastered with University of Canterbury stickers. We trundled up the unsealed road to the farm, where we found the manager, Jay, waiting for us in his own pick-up truck. We pulled up next to him, took off sunglasses, leaned out of the window to explain where we wanted to go.

“Sweet as,” he replied. “Just follow me.”

The two trucks bounced along the dirt roads across the length of the farm. A dirt biker fell in behind us; the young rider was relegated, with a gesture from Jay, to open and close the cattle gates we drove through. Soon enough, we reached the end of the spit, seagrass beds just visible across the mud of the estuary at low tide.

“Thanks very much!” we called out to Jay as he and the dirt-biker disappeared back down the road in a cloud of dust. And then we slipped into waders, gathered up buckets, and slogged out to the estuary beds, eager for new (ecological) mysteries to investigate.

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Striding off into the sunset…


Until next time,


PS- Names have been changed, as in all good mysteries. Secret identities, you understand.

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