When we started writing this post it was almost the middle of March and we were saying how fast the days are going by. Now we are taken aback to find that it is the middle of April and it has been 7 weeks since our last post! We are well into our 8th month in NZ and have just 3 months to go. Well, that is if we can survive the cold weather. The temperatures have plummeted in the last 2 or 3 weeks and we have had a few nights with temperatures well below zero degrees. That’s a test for us equipped as we are in shorts. But, more on plans later.
[The first dusting of snow on the hills beside the B&B]
Here is a summary of what we have been up to since our last post:
We had planned a week off work at the B&B in order to hike, but due to the drought (NZ’s most serious drought in recent memory) many of the streams had run dry and sourcing water was an issue. So we took a rain check and went touring instead. We headed South – finally reaching the famous Milford Sound and then traveling the length of the South coast. It was a week of driving, covering almost 2,000ks in the week. We wanted to see a large area and pick some spots that we will return to for a longer duration. The scenery was stunning, from the dramatic Fiordland, to the windblown cliffs of the South coast to the rolling hills and golden pastures inland. We camped every night, sleeping soundly after our day of touring, and it was a relief to know we haven’t gotten too spoiled by our luxurious pool-house accommodation.
We started off with some shock therapy though – driving 400ks from the B&B to Milford Sound, followed by a broken night’s sleep in the car. After a tough drive on very winding roads during which we stopped every few ks for photos, we finally reached Milford Sound at 8pm. En route we passed the scores of departing tour busses and day trippers that throng Milford Sound during the day, and when we arrived the place was deserted. We parked and headed out for the last hour of light, enjoying the spectacular clear view of the fiord. There is no campground at Milford Sound (only accommodation is a single luxury lodge) which presented an issue when Daniel announced he would like to photograph the fiord during the night. After some whining i accepted my fate and reclined my passenger seat for the night. He joined me initially, but instead of sleeping we spent a nervous couple of hours wary of being discovered and asked to leave (and slapped with a 200NZD fine). Daniel ventured out at midnight to take some moonlit shots. With the tide out, he walked to the water’s edge and set up his tripod, remaining there for a few hours. He gradually became aware of the increasing sound of water around him and decided to head back, using the weak light from his head torch to guide him. Soon he hit water and waded in, cursing his weak torch and hoping it wouldn’t be deep. As it got deeper, he raised his camera over his head and experienced a little moment of loneliness, all alone in the dark, in the rising water, not knowing what was ahead. All i knew about it was when he returned to the car, dripping wet and smelling of the sea. He got some lovely shots though!
[a soft bed in the long grass]
After our week off we returned to the B&B for a week to take care of the beagles while Ann and Blyth were away. And we followed that up with 2 weeks of work at a small vineyard about 50ks South, just outside of Queenstown. Amazingly, Ann and Blyth insisted we take their daughter’s car even though we were heading off to work for some other people. So kind! The car is a Toyota Cynos, known in the family as ‘the racing Cynos’, and while it is the most banged up car i have ever seen outside a scrap yard, it goes a bomb! We’re the only travellers in the country with such a small ‘sporty’ car, and there is absolutely no chance we will be found spending the night in this!
We had gotten so used to working at Ann & Blyth’s and become so comfortable with them that we were somewhat nervous about starting work at the vineyard. Our hosts there were Alf and Louise, a retired farming couple in their late 70s. The vineyard had started as a hobby for Alf in his retirement, but seemed in recent years to have become more of a distraction from his main passion …
First about the vineyard – they have about 1000 vines of Pinot Noir, whose grapes they supply to a neighbouring commercial winery. In a good year they get 85 cases of wine, but they expected only half that output this year due to the bad weather. On our first day there Alf took us to the vines and gave us 1 minute of instruction on how to prune the vines. Our brief was to cut the green grapes that looked unlikely to ripen before harvest time next month, and trim some of the foliage to allow the sun to reach the grapes. Not too much though as otherwise the grapes would get sunburned. He then handed each of us a pair of secateurs and walked off. It turned out that Daniel’s view of what ‘looked unlikely to ripen’ differed markedly to mine, and my view of the leaf cover needed was totally alien to his. We discussed in-depth the optimum pruning for each vine (with each one of us knowing less than the other), and finally concluded that pruning vines is a fine art and actually, wine production is a complex business! On we continued regardless, clipping and snipping as best we thought, until we reached a row of vines that had been given a tight haircut by a previous helper. They were totally bare, with all leaves missing, and only a few clusters of ripe/burnt grapes remaining. So that was clearly how NOT to do it and we felt satisfied with our efforts in comparison, and took a few minutes to admire our work!
When we were called in for a morning coffee break, we realised where Alf’s real interest lay and why he didn’t really care how we pruned the vines. The man was a coffee fanatic. He bought Kenyan, Ethiopian and Columbian beans, roasted them himself twice weekly, and brewed a precise combination of those beans. He had roasted beans more than 500 times until he had perfected his technique (Louis, take note … your next project perhaps once your vocal chords need a break?). His bean recipe was developed from many hundreds of trials until he found the mix he liked best, and of course, he had a top of the line espresso machine, and some barista training. Did we mention the man is 78? Amazing passion, and not surprisingly, delicious coffee! He gave Daniel a crash course in roasting beans and brewing coffee, but Daniel reckons that we need a base where he can work through a few sacks of coffee beans to get it right (maybe together with you Louis?)
After a couple of days in the vineyard we moved to the orchard and vegetable and flower garden, weeding, digging and pruning. Unlike the grapes, the vegetable harvest was bountiful and every day we gathered what was needed from the garden. The following grew in their garden: apples, blueberries, cherries, mulberries, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries. Asparagus, artichoke, broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, beetroot, fennel, gherkins, leeks, lettuce, onions, potatoes, pumpkin, rocket, saffron, silverbeet, spinach, tomatoes, zucchini. Plus walnuts, almonds and herbs of every sort. It was wonderful to have such fresh food every day direct from the garden.
The vineyard was positioned right on the edge of Lake Hayes, with picturesque views of the lake and the mountains from everywhere on the property. The work was not difficult or physical, and to be working while surrounded by such beauty was not work at all. We worked in the morning, and finished by lunch, and what with the long morning coffee break, we only worked about 3 hours a day. The coffee break, lunch and dinner were sit down affairs, complete with a fully set table and different to the quick meals we had become used to. Alf and Louise, being of an older generation, and somewhat ‘proper’ (their forefathers include a couple of NZ prime ministers, and world famous scientists), we were on our best behaviour throughout. They were good company though, full of stories about their time on the farm which is one of the earliest established farms in this part of NZ and now in the 6th generation of their family. Every afternoon after work we headed off walking or driving around the area, enjoying the lake and mountain views, but returning in time for Daniel to prepare dinner. Louise had recently had her 2nd shoulder replaced and her arm was in a sling, and although she is used to crutches and slings (as well as replacing both shoulders, and both hips, she has had 5 vertebrae fused in her neck, and has donated a kidney to one of her sons) it was nice to be able to take care of dinner and a few household chores for her. They were like a pair of food critics and Daniel (who previously had only cooked for 2) nervously awaited the judgment every night as the first bites were taken. Indeed he got all sorts of comments and we never knew what to expect from one dinner to the next! Tough as it was to leave Alf and Louise and their lakeside paradise after almost 2 weeks, it was even tougher to leave the best coffee we have had while in NZ. But we were looking forward to get back to Ann and Blyth and the beagles too!
Back at the B&B we quickly returned to our routine. Our day starts at 8am when Ann and I go for a cycle, with me coaxing Basil (the fat beagle) along. (When we arrived he was 20kgs, with a target weight of 15kgs. He is now down to 17kgs so more than half way there! Although he is a bit fat still, he is a strong little fella, and it is a joy to watch him speeding along on those stocky little legs of his). The day continues with some morning/early afternoon work, easy chats with Ann & Blyth, evening walks with the dogs, chatting to the neighbours and making ourselves right at home. Although we landed on our feet when we arrived at the B&B, the reason we keep returning is that we have grown so fond of Ann & Blyth, and the beagles, and we enjoy being able to help them. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t appreciate how lucky we are to have met them.
It is 2.5 months since we first arrived there and we are quasi-family at this stage. Despite our efforts over the past few months there is still lots of work to do. Recently we have been painting, digging in the garden, clearing more sections of the woodland and splitting firewood (thankfully by machine rather than with axes). We had our first taste of the approaching Winter this month when the temperature fell to -6C and the surrounding hills were dusted with snow. We were glad to have the first of the firewood ready! We also took the opportunity to bake and in the past 10 days we baked the following: ginger cake, apple shortcake, crunchy topped lemon loaf, apple and pear crumble (fruit from the garden), fudge cake, ginger gems, scones, and a chocolate brownie. Ann and Blyth participated reluctantly :-), with Ann supposed to be on a protein diet for a week. She now accepts that she should only start her diet when we are on our next trip.
We have just started traveling again, and are in Central Otago. Of all the places we have seen in New Zealand this is our favourite and we are happy to be able to spend a week or so driving around its back roads, and enjoying the big open countryside. We are extremely lucky to again have the use of the racing Cynos, and it is great to know we have our base to return to whenever we like.
The sub zero temperatures have us questioning our decision to stay here until the end of July. We have been camping the past couple of nights and awoke yesterday to find the tent covered in ice. Also it is too cold to work in the early morning, and when working, we only start at around 10 am. What will it be like in 2 months time? We are still dressed in shorts, and will try to persevere in them until the end of April (we’ll need to figure out a warmer alternative by then). Incidentally these are the same shorts we have worn all day, every day since the beginning of December (and most days since September). That is 4.5 months of continuous wear (and washing!), including rough wear while hiking and working. We each have 2 pairs that we alternate and there isn’t a mark or a tear to be found on any of them. (The brand is ‘Patagonia’ if you need some hard wearing shorts!) But back to the weather. We don’t have the right clothing for hiking and traveling in a harsh Winter and we don’t fancy working outdoors in severe weather. So, flights to Europe and Asia were checked last week, we’ve been carefully watching the Yen’s decline and who knows whether we’ll be on that end July flight to Melbourne!