March 7, 2019, Auckland, New Zealand — Half-way: Day 64. Our Shore Excursions director always recommends getting out of port, so, since I’d been to Auckland last year, I signed up for the ‘Kiwi Countryside’ jaunt, which involved a nice ride out into the... Kiwi countryside. Highways in the suburbs are lined with bike paths and agapanthus and the occasional wild amaryllis, calla lily and nasturtium. And the Pick-a-Part automobile junkyard. And the Geothermal Motel. Then the rolling hills begin... as we get out into farmland.
Many immigrants from Yugoslavia and Croatia came here to cut timber then moved into farming. Though only 15% of the original forests remain, new plantings, especially of Monterey pines, keep the timber industry alive. After WWII, returning veterans were given low interest loans on farms that came with sheep. Farming grew because of the ready market in war-ravaged Britain for meat and produce. Today agriculture is their top industry, followed by Tourism, Forestry and Fishing, in that order.
Along the way I saw lots of sheep, dairy cows, beef cattle, and horses. And one wild turkey. And, as a byproduct, a fertilizer emporium with the sign ‘Shit That’s Good.’ Our guide said, ‘New Zealand is just a big farm.’
One Traveler writer said NZ has ‘a bizarre Antarctica-meets-Polynesia climate.’ Our Auckland guide told us he doesn’t need to heat his house. I’m not sure that goes for everyone, he may be especially hardy — and he lives on the North Island, further from Antarctica.
Our first Kiwi Countryside stop was the Haomoana Farm, a beautiful — judge for yourself — 200-acre spread with 250 sheep for meat and wool, plus 150 cattle for consumption and a couple dozen fallow deer for pets. Sheep outnumber Kiwis 8:1
The visit included one of my favorite British countryside displays: I’m not a dog person, but I love to watch sheep dogs at work.
The large black-and-tan is older and louder — he’s there for his bark, which scares the sheep. The smaller one, working over there on the left, is, I was told, a New Zealand Heeding* dog. Svelte, smart and fast. He doesn’t need to bark: he stares the sheep into submission. The dogs adore their master... and vice versa.
*When I googled the breed later, I found that it is actually a New Zealand Heading Dog. New Zealanders have a strong accent. They probably say the same thing about us. One guide talked about sittlers who came from the wist. Which translates as settlers who came from the west. So you understand the confusion about the ‘Heeding’ dogs. Here’s one, close-up... they’re sweet and very social:
The black-faced sheep are for meat.
The white-faced are for wool but it’s low quality so it fetches only $1.80 a kilo — but it costs $4 per sheep to shear. Merino wool, on the other hand, fetches $24 a kilo. When you shop for a sweater, look for Merino.
The farm has about two dozen pet Fallow Deer...
The climate — lots of rain and sun — means all the livestock is pasture-fed. It also means there’s no need for barns. And there are no predators. Also no snakes. And only two poisonous spiders, though ‘you’d have to stick your finger into a rotting log to get bitten by one of them.’
View from the farm’s front yard...
More fauna news: Early settlers (aka sittlers) couldn’t find any native animals to kill, so they introduced rabbits, hares, stoats, weasels, deer and goats. And the infamous possums: No one can agree how many there are. I’ve heard or read 30 million, 70 million, 110 million. At the lowest number, that’s 6 Pogos per Person, all munching vegetation and sucking eggs. New Zealand is starting to control the possum population by baiting them with something that makes them sterile, and it seems to be working.
[Remember the movie ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’? It has nothing to do with animal husbandry, but reminds you what happened when rabbits were introduced into Australia.]
Next stop... The Maukatia Takapu (Gannet) Refuge.
The black sand beach...
Coming in for a landing...
Super Fluffy. Semi Fluffy. The finished product.
If New Zealand appeals to you, check out the mystery series ‘Top of the Lake,’ with Elizabeth Moss, available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime Video. ‘The Kettering Incident’ was filmed in Tasmania (I’ll be there next week), though I didn’t finish that one. You might be able to get them for free — the fact that I searched Amazon from here may mean they’re not free in the antipodes, but are free in the U.S., because I didn’t pay for either.
Next: Downtown Auckland. #