When you live in the Danseys Pass, you have to be prepared for anything and take whatever happens on the chin, Jo and Barry Todd say.
After flooding closed Danseys Pass Rd for almost a month at the peak of the lavender season, Mr and Mrs Todd were pleased to finally be able to welcome visitors back to their lavender farm and shop this week. The Waitaki District Council officially reopened the road on Monday.
The couple started Danseys Pass Lavender on their 4ha property in 2009 and have experienced it all living in remote North Otago. They have been snowed in, and flooding has damaged bridges on either side of their property in previous years.
They started the business as a way to keep busy as they reached retirement age. Mr Todd was a landscaper and gardener by trade, while his wife was also a passionate gardener – and they knew lavender thrived at altitude.
“We just sort of said, ‘Well, Provence is about as high as this – we could probably grow lavender’,” Mrs Todd said.
“And that was about as much research as we did.”
They started with about 1000 lavender plants and had no idea what to expect.
“We just opened the door, put up a sign along the road and painted the gates purple – and the people started coming,” she said.
“We have just, really, been blown away.”
They now have about 2500 plants, which produced enough oil to make the various lavender-related products they sold in their shop.
The business fitted their lifestyle well – they were able to get on with things at home, until buzzers alerted them to people driving through the gate.
“Then they go on their way and we go back to doing whatever we’re doing,” she said.
“I’ve occasionally left the kitchen with the oven on and burned biscuits, or one time I was making jam and that was a disaster.”
The harvest, which took place at the end of February, was “blimmen hard work”, but otherwise it was not hugely demanding, just fairly continuous.
“We harvest in one day and we take all of the lavender flowers over to Waimate to be distilled,” Mr Todd said.
“After that, we keep the oil for about nine months to a year, because it matures.”
Learning to make soap was Mrs Todd’s biggest challenge, but soap had become one of their biggest sellers. Their hand cream and honey products were also very popular.
There was something “dreamy” about lavender – and its scent reminded most people of something, Mrs Todd said.
People would often step into the shop and say “Oh, this reminds me of Aunty Mabel”, or reminisce about the lavender bags their parents or grandparents used to put in drawers at home, she said.
“It’s quite romantic as well. People like the romance of it.”
Living in such a remote area, it would be easy to feel shut away from the world, but Danseys Pass Lavender had brought the world to them.
“There wouldn’t be many places in the world that we haven’t had somebody [visit] from,” Mr Todd said.
Danseys Pass Rd was “kind of an iconic road”, and a lot of people stumbled across them by accident.
Before Christmas, visitor numbers had been down because of Covid-19 border restrictions, but they had picked up again over the holiday period before the road closed.
“It was looking like it was going to be a reasonably good season,” she said.
“Plenty of people, lots of New Zealanders travelling around, then boom, the road got closed.”
They had no idea it was going to take almost a month for the road to reopen, but praised the council for moving as quickly as possible.
Waitaki District Council roading manager Mike Harrison said flooding caused slips and deep scouring in several places along Danseys Pass Rd. A culvert was washed out on the Central Otago side of the pass.
“We had a lot of water running . down the hill, down the roads, so that created very deep scours, some of those were up to 500mm, 600mm deep,” he said.
While Danseys Pass Rd had taken the longest to reopen after the flooding, other roads around the district remained under caution with speed restrictions in place and Mr Harrison urged motorists to obey the signs.
“It might not look overly obvious, but there is a reason why the signs are there.”
He expected cleaning up would take at least two weeks.