Dot Smith in the extensive gardens at the Riverstone
complex, north of Oamaru. Photo by Fiona Andersen.
Dot Smith does not consider herself to be anything out
In fact, the Queen of Riverstone is genuinely perplexed that
she could be seen as anything but.
''I am who I am ... and that's a typical Kiwi. A good Kiwi
girl. I just think it's like everyday for everyone. Doesn't
everybody just live like that at my age?''
To be fair, not everybody has a complex of giftware shops and
an award-winning restaurant in their backyard surrounded by
expansive gardens, nor a castle being built in a nearby
paddock (pictured above).
Or pink hair for that matter.
But for the irrepressible Mrs Smith (66), farmer, gardener,
jam-maker, businesswoman, mother and grandmother, it has
simply been her life.
Sitting on the veranda of Riverstone Kitchen, the restaurant
run by her son Bevan and daughter-in-law Monique, north of
Oamaru, and dressed in paint-splattered overalls and
gumboots, her pink gardening gloves a good match for that
trademark hair, she laughs that it is a ''crazy place''.
Even at 9am on a Tuesday, on a day the restaurant was closed,
it was a hive of activity.
The future castle. Image supplied.
There was the chef who was off to water the tomatoes -
everyone seemed to multi-task around the place - people calling
in to visit the shops, or the restaurant, the resident
gardeners at work, and Mrs Smith herself good-naturedly
fielding queries from staff.
Asked how she coped with having such a busy operation
literally functioning in her backyard, with the house only a
stone's throw away, she said she did not see it.
''I just switch off from it, I think, because we work so
much. It's not like a normal person that sits at home and
does things at home. I'm in my home probably once a day, if
''Nothing bothers me about it, except some people are quite
disrespectful. People help themselves to things in the
garden, they'll pick my pears and pick my apples and they do
all sorts of things.''
She cited the recent example of a guilty visitor who admitted
to pinching an apple off one of her trees.
Without thinking, she told him she hoped it was sour.
A strong work ethic was instilled in Mrs Smith by her parents
when she was growing up on a small dairy farm north of
That had been passed on by Mrs Smith and her equally
hard-working dairy farmer husband Neil to their two sons
Mike, also a dairy farmer, and Bevan.
Mr and Mrs Smith moved south to Riverstone more than 30 years
ago, buying what she described as the worst farm in the
But it was the only farm in the district that was for sale
and they did not have a choice.
She came from her ''gorgeous garden'' to a house where there
was not a tree, a path or even a clothesline, and in close
proximity to both the railway line and the state highway.
There was nothing to protect them from the wind, they always
had colds and they had ''nothing to hide behind''.
But they swung into gear, developing both the farm and the
garden and have subsequently added to their landholding.
They now own six dairy farms running more than 4000 cows.
Mrs Smith's days start a little later now - ''mainly because
I'm so tired from the night before'' - and she usually rises
between about 6.30am and 7am.
Mr Smith was responsible for ''all the trouble-shooting'' on
the farms and his phone started ringing about 7am.
The couple usually had dinner together about 7.30pm, but, if
he missed that, then it could be as late as 9.30pm or 10pm.
''That's as much as I see of him, so it's a perfect
marriage,'' she quipped.
Again, Mrs Smith did not see the couple's zealous work ethic
as being anything unusual.
''I don't think anything about working.
''People say to us, 'how do you work so hard, and how do you
work so long, why don't you have days off?'
''I don't even think about it. Every day is an opportunity to
do more things. You just think `how many things can I do
''You just fit as much in as possible, I don't say 'I'll do
that tomorrow, tomorrow you get more things done'.
''We can do anything we can think of. We have no restrictions
on us ... Even with no money, I can do anything.''
In her new book Dot - Queen of Riverstone Castle,
which she has written with Nathalie Brown, Mrs Smith said she
believed she and her four sisters grew up loving beautiful
things because they had nothing as children.
''Although we didn't want for love, material things were
non-existent. We wore hand-me-down clothes, made the best of
everything, and grew up to the old adage 'waste not and want
''We couldn't afford a throw-away attitude and we're all
still pretty canny when it comes to getting the best out of
every dollar we spend,'' she wrote.
That lack of money continued into the earlier years of
''No money was no money, I've always just accepted it and
moved on. I've never made an issue about having no money.
''If I wanted something, I'd make it. If I didn't know how,
I'd just get cracking and make it,'' she said.
She sewed her husband's clothes, from his overalls to his
pyjamas, made the boys' clothes and even their pillowcases.
But money was not a driver when it came to the Riverstone
operation and development, Mrs Smith said.
''All we do is employ an awful lot of people. The money goes
around in a huge circle, supporting a lot of families,'' she
Mrs Smith admitted Riverstone would not be ''like this'' if
her chef son had not returned home, in what was an unexpected
move, and established a restaurant in a paddock.
Initially, the plan was to build a small cafe alongside the
gift shop complex. But the couple's background was more
restaurant than coffee and cake, and the project became more
Riverstone Kitchen, which opened in November 2006, was named
supreme winner in the Cuisine New Zealand Restaurant of the
Year awards, the first time a South Island restaurant had won
Often found working in the extensive gardens, Mrs Smith
derived fun from the comments of visitors who were oblivious
to her identity.
''I'll be weeding out in the garden, they'll go: 'these
people must be rich' ... I'd be just about wetting my
pants,'' she said, laughing.
Then there were the ones that were expounding their knowledge
about the castle which is being built on an island at
Riverstone, complete with dungeon, drawbridge and towers.
Mrs Smith's dreams did not stop with the castle, and she said
that there would be further development on the property.
• Dot - Queen of Riverstone Castle will be launched at
the Fenwick School Hall, in Oamaru on Monday, April 28.
Tickets are $15 from Paper Plus or a member of the North
Otago Lions Club, with proceeds to local charities.
The Dot file
• Age 66
• Brought up on a small dairy farm north of Auckland
• Married to Neil
• Two sons - Mike and Bevan
• Moved to North Otago more than 30 years ago
• Operates the Riverstone Country giftware business
• Work progressing on her new home - a three-storey, 1200sq m