Greetings from a cold and frosty NZ. We have been very busy since our last post with the days and weeks flying by with work, touring and hiking.
We have continued working on and off at the B&B with Ann & Blyth, splitting and stacking firewood (they now have a 2-year supply ready), as well as painting and preparing the garden for Winter. We say ‘preparing’ for Winter, but really Winter is here already as the night temperatures are regularly minus 5 degrees, and most mornings we wake to a heavy frost, or occasional snow. While there we have been very busy, and the days whizz by even faster than usual. By the time we have done a half day’s work, walked the dogs for an hour or so, plus spent time cooking and baking, most of the day is gone. By evening, we are just fit for just sitting by the fire, watching TV or chatting with Ann & Blyth. We were getting quite lazy and overly comfortable there, and finally kicked ourselves out the door to do something new.
For a change we went to work for a week at a farm, with the son of the elderly couple who owned the vineyard where we worked in March. It is a combined sheep and cattle farm, and one of the earliest established farms in New Zealand, with the name of Shag Valley. At one stage they ran 80,000 sheep there, but now they have 7,500 sheep and a few hundred head of cattle. The property is amazing, set in beautiful hill country in our favourite province of Otago and encompassing all the hills visible in every direction. Johnny and Tanya who run the farm are in their 40s and we really enjoyed their company and the warm family home they have created. They have 3 children with the elder 2 away at boarding school and just their youngest George, age 11, at home. Tanya is a baking queen, and she and i swopped recipes and took turns baking our favourite treats. Suffice to say we ate well for the week, and i think we were all secretly relieved when our week long stay was over and normal diets resumed! As a working farm there were plenty of dogs around, 11 in total, including 2 who are kept as pets and are exempt from work. During the day the dogs were regularly loose around the yard, so stepping outside for any reason was to have 11 wet noses pressed against your legs, and multiple muddy paws on your shoes. Unless of course you had the heart to shout at those hard-working, devoted, affection starved creatures, which i didn’t 🙂
With darkness falling at 5pm, evenings were spent playing cards, and resurrecting games i hadn’t played in 25 years. While there we did some gardening, and a few odd jobs around the property, but work really felt like an aside to our whole experience there. Johnny and Tanya were so intent on us enjoying our time there that we had to drag out of them what jobs we could take care of for them. We will be returning soon for a further week to help bring the sheep down from the hills ready for shearing and we are on a strict baking-free diet this week in readiness.
With limited weeks remaining in NZ, we have spent a lot of time lately touring around and enjoying the Winter scenery. (We are again lucky enough to have the use of one of Ann & Blyth’s cars.) As well as revisiting our favourite Central Otago spots, we have headed North again to areas we have explored only briefly. Every road we take opens up beautiful scenery, with the dusting of snow enhancing the views. A 20k journey can easily take 2 or 3 hours as we stop to photograph the views, or to enjoy a particularly nice spot, so we don’t cover much ground in a day. Everywhere is quiet – we see few cars on the road, and meet very few other travelers at the backpackers or campsites where we stay. No doubt the cold weather has put most off. At the moment we are in a tiny A-frame cabin at a campsite, housing just a bed, and it is tough to leave bed in the morning and make the frosty dash to the shower block! Daniel continues wearing shorts, but due to some persistent knee pain (it seems his knees disagree with his wearing only shorts all Winter), he has spiced up the look with a pair of long johns inside his shorts. How far he has come from the trendy fellow i knew in HK!
The knee pain originated on a 5 day hike we did in mid May when we finally walked the famous Routeburn track (adding the Greenstone track to complete the circuit). We had delayed walking the route between October and early May when it is regulated and expensive, as well as crowded. This track is justifiably famous as it gives quick and easy access to the high peaks of the Southern Alps. We had snow and ice while on the walk, but with the track so well maintained, that wasn’t a worry. Nonetheless it is an Alpine hike and so we were surprised to meet a 75 year old German woman who was walking the track alone. She was as hardy and sure-footed as a goat, and the icy track and sometimes steep gradient didn’t concern her in the slightest. We walked with her for a while and learned that she has lived in the NZ bush for the past 40 years, panning for gold and working as a possum hunter. A very interesting lady! Despite it being the shoulder season for hiking, the route was uncomfortably busy, used as we are to empty huts and solitude, and we were glad to leave the main trail and return via a quiet valley. On this part of the walk we met a group of blind and partially sighted hikers, who were being patiently guided by seeing guides. It poured rain that day and the track was muddy and slippery, and the group move at a snail’s pace as every footstep was carefully described by guides. What an incredible group! We thoroughly enjoyed being once again in the mountains, but any plans we had of further hikes have been cancelled due to Daniel’s knee injury. Not to worry though as our heads are full of memories of our various NZ hikes, and we have plenty of plans to occupy us for our final 6 weeks in the country.
The first half of that time will be spent touring, with 1 week of work thrown in (back at the farm with Johnny and Tanya). And the remaining 3 weeks will be spent house and pet sitting. Housesitting is something we have been keen to get into for a while, and we especially wanted to have a placement lined up for Winter so we would have a home to hunker down in, without needing to work. After a few false starts, we were lucky to find a position for the 3 weeks before our departure, in the town of Timaru, just South of Christchurch, where our flight departs from. The couple we will be sitting for have 3 dogs that need daily walks and feeding, plus a few cats, and a pet sheep! Couldn’t be better! Hopefully they will have a wood stove so we will be warm, and wifi so we can get on with planning our Australia trip, and beyond. And as we won’t need to work, hopefully we will actually make progress on the planning, plus other projects (Clara to improve her French and Daniel to improve his Italian and sort out his hard drive of 15,000+ pictures). The language projects are indicative of our likely next destination after Australia – at the moment we are swinging towards Europe rather than further travel in Asia. It will mean going from a Southern hemisphere Winter straight to a Northern hemisphere Winter, but the thought of family and friends, food and culture is tempting us!