New Zealand has a population of about 4 million people and over 20 million sheep and lambs. That’s a lot of lamb chops, and En Zed (N.Z.) lamb is shipped around the world to grateful shoppers and restaurateurs. I had been telling Suzanne that on previous visits here, I had had to stop the car dozens of times to allow flocks of sheep to cross the road. Here we were two weeks into our visit, and we had seen lots of sheep, but none crossing the roads. Then, as we were driving through scenic pastureland, we passed several ATV’s with kennels and a huge flock of white wooly things assembled behind a fence. Then I saw a couple of guys and gals unrolling what looked like a long, narrow brown cloth. I jammed on the brakes, made a U-turn and drove back to the scene. Suzanne thought I was nuts, but I said, “Quick, get the cameras out. This is going to be a hoot.” We introduced ourselves to shepherds (pronounced “sheep-herds” here) John and Jackie and got a ten minute basic course in Sheep 101.
We learned that these lambs were only about 100 days old, and had just been weaned from their “mums”. They were being moved from a paddock shared with their mums to a new one just for the newbies. They had been grazing off and on, but this move would allow them to learn immediately to eat grass instead of going looking for mothers’ milk. These sheep dogs looked anxiously at their charges, wishing they were out at work, and we asked Jackie and John if they were going to herd the sheep across the road. “No, the road is too dangerous for the dogs, even when drivers stop. This will just take a few minutes, and there are enough of us sheep-herds to do the job without the dogs. Their job is in the fields and paddocks.”
Sure enough, when the cloth “fence” was stretched across the road and the sheep-herds in place, the gate was opened and a mad rush across the road began. Hundreds of lambs were running and jumping in a mob scene, but it was almost like a choreographed event.
One lone lamb held back in the first paddock, so one of the sheep-herds ran over and chased him back to the fold. Not five minutes had elapsed before all the lambs were where they should be. Once the second gate was closed, four sheepdogs were released to chase the flock uphill to their new paddock.
After our sheep event, we visited the Clay Cliffs in Omarama, which are geologic formations similar to the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
These formations are made up of aggregate, in this case a mixture of mud, clay and rocks. Iy was good to visit on a clear, sunny day, because during rain, bits of rock can be dislodged from the cliffs above you, and a helmet might be in order.
We continued our trip to Queenstown, a world-renowned center for adventure sports. We were staying in the city, which as it turned out was a bit of a tactical error on my part. The last time I was here, back in 1983, Q-town was a sleepy place, busy in winter with skiers, but not so much in summer. Well, that has changed! Now it is an internationally-known summer destination for youngsters to visit for bungy-jumping, white water rafting, mountain biking and tramping. Q-town was busy as a bee hive, with lots of partying until the wee hours. Unfortunately, we missed one of the most exciting events on the schedule, the Running of the Wools… Pamplona has nothing on the excitement of the annual sheep romp through town, and there are probably far fewer gorings than in Spain.
We were stopped short in our walk about the city by this poster; there was a giant Dachsund that was the spitting image of our Rudy! It warmed our hearts, but also made us even more homesick for our puppies. Fortunately, we know that Marc and Maureen are taking excellent care of them while we are gone.
Then you shuffle to the edge, throw high fives or final kisses to your friends, smile for the cameras, and leap into the void… the last words I heard were from the girl with the pink wig were, “Oh, my God; oh, my God; oh, my God, No!” And yes, that’s her boyfriend in the pink outfit with a black leather mask… I wanted to ask about his outfit, but he was moving too fast…
This is what another jumper looked like just before the couple above jumped; he wasn’t as graceful as some. I’m wondering whether he was thinking, “What have I done?”
That night, I decided to take My Lovely Bride to Gantley’s, an upscale fine dining restaurant just outside Q-town (the local Wendy’s was fully booked). When we arrived at 6:30, there were no other diners there. (That should have been a cue.) We ordered lamb cutlets, at $42 NZD a plate, and when our dinner was served, we found three small pieces of lamb about 1.5 cubic inches each, weighing no more than 2 ounces total. We were stunned, but not wanting to raise a stink, ate our meal and left a scathing comment card which I am sure went directly into the rubbish bin. We then went to Starbucks in town and ordered desserts, a rich chocolate brownie for me and a maple scone for My Hungry Bride, with a decaf latte. I set the desserts down, and went back to the counter for our latte. When I returned, there was only a tiny piece of brownie on my plate, just the size of the lamb “cutlets” we were served at Gantler’s. Suzanne was in stitches, but I was not a bit amused… (MLB insisted that I mention that she had not eaten my brownie, only hidden it under a napkin.)
On the positive side of amusement, we can vouch for the positive quality of several New Zealand wines. One in particular, Aitken’s Folly Chardonnay, we had enjoyed at dinner at The Hermitage at Mt. Cook, and we vowed to go out of our way to visit the vineyard in Wanaka. As we left Q-town the next day, we called ahead to make sure they were open, and got directions. We turned down the road as instructed, and after a couple of U-turns, found a narrow track leading to the tasting room. This sign was on the ground outside the door. (Ian, you might want to put something on the main road as well…)
Ian Percy and his wife, Fiona Aitken, are transplanted Scots oil field geologists who decided to move to N.Z. and become winemakers. Their boutique vineyard produces excellent Chardonnays and Pinot Noir wines, and we left with several bottles to get us through the rest of our visit. Regrettably, their wines are not yet available in the U.S.
Our next stop would be Te Anau, Gateway to Fiordland… and Milford Sound, another one of my favorite places on Planet Earth. Come back in a day or two for more on that adventure! You can view short clips of the sheep and the bungy jumpers on Suzanne’s Facebook page.