Journey to the End of the Earth

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Tuesday, May 3, 2005

That's what it seems like when you're driving here - like you're going to the end of the earth. We are both tired of the snake-like roads that wind their way over the landscape. (Uncle Jim told us that the roads were purposefully made this way so that drivers wouldn't fall asleep, but I don't think that's a terribly sound rationale!) We took the back roads to the farm and drove what seemed an endless distance, Martin ("the one-handed Mario Andretti", as Steve called him) zooming along the narrow, twisting roadways (often partially blocked where highway workers have attempted to repair "slips" or sections that have crumbled away). We couldn't get the farm soon enough in my opinion.

You know it's time to go home when you're no longer enjoying the journey (and New Zealand is a beautiful country), though I'm still trying to! Martin complains of trying to pronounce Maori place names (many of which sound much alike) and the lack of central heating. We may be used to cold but we Canadians also like our central heating! Grant thinks that's rather funny. Martin and I both agree that we wouldn't have made very good pioneers coping with prairie winters.

Ashleigh and Matt left for Auckland not long after we arrived as school resumes Monday. Kris says they are always sad to go, but have their life in the city (and their friends) as well. They presented us with some "Kiwana" to remember our visit here: a paua shell that they had framed, as well as a weaving they made from flax. It was very thoughtful. We've enjoyed spending time with them - they're really great kids. Matt (the extrovert) is a gregarious and imaginative little fellow who "could sell refrigerators to Eskimos"; Ashleigh is very helpful and polite. Both of them tried very hard to make us feel welcome.

Grant and Martin worked on bringing in some lambs to select or "draft" about 400 to ship. Before they could be sold, he had to remove the dags (manure) from their hind ends. This is called dagging or crutching. I helped Grant with the crutching one day (acting as a Rousie, sweeping up the dags - wool and manure after they were shorn). The worst were the lambs that still had tails - no wonder they dock lamb's tails! What a mess! The wool is separated out from the manure and sold, though Grant told me that he would only get about 20 - 30 cents/kilo - just enough for a case of beer! Grant's friend, John Benner from Edgecumbe, a stockman and truck driver, arrived one evening to help select the sheep and take them to be slaughtered. He's a friendly and blustering Kiwi, always happy to lend a hand, who loves nothing better than to come and help Grant on his farm. The meat will be cut, vacuum-packed and shipped overseas - to maybe even Canada!

The sheep on Grant's farm are mainly Romney. Grant shears his sheep twice a year rather than just once, like Digby did in Western Australia, and the wool is used for making carpets. Grant grew up on a dairy farm, so I asked him why he decided to raise sheep instead. His response was that we wanted a change and that sheep farming is more flexible - dairy cows need milking twice a day no matter what! One of the biggest challenges with this farm (he's been there just over a year) is that the fences are in poor condition and it's difficult to manage stock when you can't rely on the fencing, especially in this hilly country. It will take him quite a long time to get all the fencing done.

While we were here, Martin was also recruited to replace the lino in the kitchen. He's had difficulties finding the same flooring supplies (glue, etc.) that he would use at home and, in some cases, had to improvise a bit. He patched the kitchen floor before he laid the lino and it took forever to dry because of the high humidity. I was beginning to wonder if we would have to delay our departure!

We received some rain while we were at the farm. Kris says it can rain - and rain hard - for days at a time during the winter months. The sound of the rain on the corrugated iron roof and the wind could just about drive you crazy. This area of New Zealand receives about 50-60 inches on rain a year.

Last night, I received a call from Kevin Clark, a dairy farmer who lives at Waimana, near Margaret. We missed seeing a couple of people we'd intended to visit (one of them being Kevin) because they were away with their families during the two-week school holiday. Heather and I met Kevin at the Pancake Rocks on the south island when we were desperately trying to hitch a ride in the pouring rain. Kevin took pity on us and gave us a ride to Queenstown (after be begged him for awhile). He laughingly told me that they had just been down to the south island on their holiday and had stopped in at the Pancake Rocks, where he'd shared the story with his wife and three daughters. It was great to chat with him and I was sorry we didn't have time to get together.

Kris and I also walked over to the nearest neighbours place. Pam and David Walters have farmed in the area for quite a long time. Pam is a teacher who teaches five year olds at the school at Tuakau. Their yard is abundant with trees, shurbs and flowers, overgrown like an enchanted forest. Pam has told Kris she is welcome to help herself to any of the plants; Kris is excited about the possibilities and about trying her hand at gardening in a completely different climate. Currently, she has been busy trying to reign in her flowerbeds. Plants and trees grow here year round, so it can be a challenge to control them. She had the blowtorch out clearing away the two-foot grass so that she could plant some of the perennials she'd gotten from Margaret. As she's in the garden, the sparrows are swooping down around her and the little fantails are flittering about.

Martin is still wearing shorts! He has refused to wear pants our entire trip (except while in transit on planes, buses, etc. and golfing in Singapore). He's been somewhat cold here at certain times (though he won't admit it). He even wore his shorts to do the flooring work, but pulled on a pair of Grant's coveralls over top (which were only a few inches too short). It seems like many of our clothes are starting to self-destruct, so it must be time to go home!

Kris drove us into Auckland today. I have booked a hostel close to the airport as we have an early flight tomorrow. It was wonderful to see that she and Grant are doing well; she's been here for a year now (minus a few months last summer when she was travelling in Africa and came back to Canada for awhile). I am sure she misses friends and family back home, but she'll have lots of visitors (and it's a good reason to come back)! No wonder New Zealanders are so proud of their country - it's a beautiful place!
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