Sunday, January 7, 2007

Sheep stations and farmhouses in NZ

I have arrived in New Zealand by the grace of God! My flights were on Air New Zealand, operated by United, from LA to Christchurch. Problem was, apparently United forgot to inform Air NZ that I was flying with them, so when I showed up in LA, I did not actually have flights booked any further, just a computer print out of my supposed itinerary! Despite this, Air NZ managed to squeeze me into flights and I actually arrived one hour earlier than I had originally been scheduled! My luggage was not as lucky, and for a stressful 24 hours no one knew where it was. Finally it was located and delivered to our door within one hour of giving them a delivery address.

On arriving in NZ, my mother picked me up at the airport and we drove to a private sheep station located at the end of a road and across a glacier fed river that is only passable when the water is low. The station is on a high point just above the confluence of two rivers and has fabulous views in both directions of mountain valleys that look something like the Brooks Range of Alaska. The first day there, we hiked up a river valley. We saw wild pigs, red deer, originally from Scotland , and shamu goats, originally from the Southern Alps.

NZ had no mammals originally, except for bats, until the island was colonized and several species were brought over, so the current mammal population has no natural predators and must be hunted to keep them under control. On the sheep stations, the pigs are hunted by hunters using dogs and knives. Two or three dogs sniff out a pig and corner it, then bark to alert the others. Then two dogs, trained to hold the pig, usually by the ears, move in. The hunters then move in and kill the pig instantly by stabbing it in the heart.

The people here are very helpful. My mother was completely lost on the way out to the sheep station, and we had to stop at least half a dozen times for directions. Once, she knocked on a farmhouse door, and a women in the shower gave her directions through an open window. Then, on our way out, we had car trouble. An elderly widow named Mary opened up her garage and tools to my stepfather, David, to work on the van and then took my mother and I on a tour around the gardens, orchard, and through the 100+ year old farmhouse. She has lived in this farmhouse for 52 years, and raised 4 children here. The children's bedrooms were still equipped with two twin beds in each room, one room for the two boys and one for the two girls. Her son and his wife now live on the homesteads with her to help manage it.

Everywhere you drive, there are sheep. We saw one on it's back and David immediately screeched to a halt and jumped the fence to right the sheep. Apparently, the wool is so heavy that the sheep can not right themselves and will die if they are left on their back.

The food here is excellent, with lots of olive oil, chutneys, cheese, and pastries. Tonight for dinner we ate a many-course meal on fine china with good wine and great conversation with David's sister and Brother-In-Law. Tomorrow we move on to a French village on the beach, and then along the coast to the wine country of Nelson.

Having trouble uploading the photos, but I will post them later. Stay tuned.

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