The main homestead and the surrounding mountains are steeped in the history of Grasmere. The old homestead building is one of the highest and longest-inhabited in the high country, although it has been enlarged and altered over the years.
The Upper Waimakariri Basin was first explored by Europeans in 1857, by Joseph Pearson from England's Lake District. The lake visible from the front door here reminded him of Lake Grasmere there, hence the name.
Pearson's employer Joseph Hawdon took up what became Grasmere Station, when he visited New Zealand that year from Australia, where he was a notable explorer and pioneer. Originally he hailed from Durham, also in the north of England.
The original two-room cob-and-slab hut built in 1858 is still contained within the larger house, faced with limestone from the rocks at nearby Castle Hill.
The Dobson brothers probably stayed here in 1863 on their way by horseback to find what became the preferred route from Christchurch to the West Coast: Arthur's Pass, named after Arthur Dobson. On Oxford Tce in Christchurch there is a chestnut tree planted by Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson in 1931, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
The cart trail that became State Highway 73 was completed in 1865, and in 1872 Joseph's son Arthur married and built the stone part of the house for his new bride. His wife was Elizabeth Barker, best known for being the first European baby born after the settlers arrived in Canterbury in 1850.
Unfortunately, a declining economy cost the family the station in 1876. Eventually Sealy Rutherford bought it in 1903, and added the bow-windowed formal dining room and today's front verandah. Thanks to some recent alterations, you can compare the construction from 1858 with that of 1903.
Rutherford bought Cora Lynn Station next door in 1907, but struck trouble in 1917 when the University of Canterbury leases came up for auction. In 1873 the Crown had granted Canterbury College an endowment of 64,000 acres (26,000 hectares), comprising the Grasmere and original Craigieburn and Avoca high country runs. The pastoral leases are now granted for a term of 33 years, with perpetual rights of renewal.
Back then, such properties were in high demand, and Rutherford couldn't afford the final bid of £800 a year, so Grasmere's leasehold land went to Joseph Studholme and Walter McAlpine, who already had our neighbouring Mount White and Craigieburn Stations.
Rutherford was left with the Grasmere freehold around the homestead, and Cora Lynn. He sold this a few years later to Walter Taylor and Harry Faulkner, and in 1927 they bought back the Grasmere lease from Studholme and McAlpine. They ran the station in conjunction with another farm down-country, which provided winter grazing for the sheep.
In 1930 the falling price of wool forced the partnership to sell out to David McLeod and Leslie Orbell.
McLeod was a Cambridge graduate, but he came to New Zealand in 1925 and spent four years learning what it takes to be a high country shepherd. He found a business partner in Orbell, who was from a well-established farming family in South Canterbury.
Later he bought out Orbell, and spent the next 40 years at Grasmere, at one stage farming 60,000 acres (24,000 hectares).
In 1970, David McLeod handed on the farm to his son Ian, who ran it till 1978 when he sold it to Dugal Harcourt.
Ollie Newbegin bought Cora Lynn next door in 1981, and the Grasmere freehold of 1500 acres (607 hectares) in 1988.In 1994 Newbegin began renovations on the historical homestead creating Grasmere Luxury Lodge. Ollie built the lodge business up into one of New Zealand’s finest before selling the business to the lodge manager, Tom Butler. Grasmere operated as a luxury lodge under Tom’s stewardship until closure of the luxury lodge in 2015.
Grasmere Lodge reopened in 2018 as a unique mainstream lodge for guests wanting to experience a special part of New Zealand at an attractive nightly tariff.