Settlement of this area began during the 1850s, when hopeful emigrants from England and Scotland spread across the Canterbury Plains seeking land for their merino flocks. By 1857 the land south and east of Lake Ohau was leased to Ronald McMurdo and brothers George and Edmund Hodgkinson, and named Benmore Station. Adjacent land at the head of the lake was leased two years later, and Lake Ohau Station was born.
In 1863, after the death of Ronald McMurdo, Edmund Hodgkinson sold Benmore Station to Robert Campbell and took sole charge of Lake Ohau Station. Successive lessees included brothers Alfred and George Sutton (after whom Mt Sutton is named), and Herbert Maitland (also commemorated in local landmarks) who abandoned the station in 1888 due to dreadful snows.
Ambitious runholder Robert Campbell & Sons absorbed Lake Ohau Station into Benmore Station in 1891; by 1898 Benmore was a colossal 310,880 acres (125,808 hectares). But strengthening public feeling against huge land holdings in the hands of a few landowners resulted in legislation to break up the great estates. Benmore’s turn came in 1916, when Lake Ohau Station was one of eight small grazing runs balloted to aspiring tenants.
John Young won the lease of the revived Lake Ohau Station, though he held it only until 1919 when Jack Simpson took it over. James Angus and John Patrick Macdonald held the lease from 1929 until 1948, when Stafford Hartland Weatherall took over. In 1954, Weatherall married Mary Sutherland, born on Benmore Station. They built a new homestead in 1962. Visitors to this isolated spot were always welcome, staying for days, even weeks, taking part in farm activities like haymaking and mustering sheep and cattle. In the early 1970s they built shearers’ quarters, available as low-cost accommodation popular with trampers, duck shooters, skiers, and fishing enthusiasts pursuing the lake’s renowned salmon and trout.
Three generations of the Weatherall’s lived at the station for almost sixty years. The accommodation was closed on their departure in 2007, and demolished in 2012 when the new shearers’ quarters were built ushering in a new era of hospitality at Lake Ohau Station.
The farm is now managed on behalf of a family trust.
This history is extracted from Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots by Eileen McMillan.