Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back in the Low Country

Tuesday, The Ides of March, 2011
Nelson, New Zealand

After twelve fun and incredibly educational days at Spray Point Station, we have found our way back to sea level (almost) and are now gainfully employed and settling into our new digs in Nelson, the beautiful and vibrant town at the head of the Marlborough Sounds and one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.

Friday morning brought on an episode of Extreme Mustering, New Zealand Style. We drove to the top of the ridge overlooking the Cannister River, the same ridge we mustered west (towards the house) from on Thursday. This time, Roland had the goal of collecting a dozen or so sheep that we had seen the day before, over the fence on the eastern side and down towards the river (away from the house) into the area that had been fenced off for the Carbon Farm. There’s a reason they didn’t want to run sheep on it anymore, and due to this particular mob somehow ending up on the wrong side of the fence, we found out just why Roland doesn’t ever want to muster there again. After I herded four relatively docile sheep into an accessible paddock along the ridge, we then spread out across a massive and unbelievably steep hillside, slowly zig-zagging down all the way to the river, flushing 12 sheep out of the bush in the process. It all sounds well and good in writing, but it took us a good three hours to get down the hill, a descent of several thousand feet that involved navigating around a couple of sheer rock faces, through thick and tangled native bush, scaring up wild goats and pigs, and occasionally, for me, sitting down and sliding down the hill on my bum, in places where it was too steep to attempt walking! It was definitely extreme, but also exciting in an insane kind of way. Naturally, the sheep made it to the bottom about an hour before we did, and kindly waited next to the gate into the holding paddock while we finished our descent. Keep in mind, the distance between Roland (south end), and me (north end) was far enough that we weren’t even always within shouting distance. Matt covered the area between us, and we were all so far apart that for most of the time we appeared to each other as moving specks on the mountainside!
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

 If you enlarge this photo and look really closely, you'll see a tiny red dot in the upper centre of the picture. That's me. I then proceeded down past the bottom right corner of the photo, and that same distance again after that.

When we finally all joined up all the way down at the river bottom, the truck remained parked at the top of the ridge, a several-hour climb behind us, so we took the easier way home, walking a good two miles down the relatively flat track out of the valley and then up Waihopai Valley Road (Roland went up the hill track later on the motorbike to retrieve the Ute). My feet and thighs have never been so sore as when we finally reached the house! We were very glad that mustering is only done in the morning, but what an experience!

On Saturday we got a reprieve, as Roland was taking some guests deer hunting early in the morning, so we spent the day playing with the kids, doing some work around the house, packing, and catching up with ourselves a little bit. We decided we needed to leave for Nelson around 2 or 3 PM on Sunday, so helped Roland with the muster again that morning. We drove back up the ridge to clear another of the huge paddocks on the side toward the house, and were treated to some eerie and ethereal lighting effects as we drove up the hill and straight into the low-hanging fog/cloud that covered us for the first 45 minutes or so that we were mustering. It was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural phenomena that I have actually been in

The morning’s muster was relatively tame compared to the previous one, and we successfully collected 60 or so sheep, and as there were several very dirty ones, plus the ones we collected in the Cannister Valley, we drove them up the road to the house and into the sheep yards. 

 Several of the lambs from the Cannister side had never seen humans or fences before, and were a bit wild. A number of the sheep were very daggy and had never beend drenched and were suffering from fly-strike, so after drenching the whole lot, we pulled out the dirty ones and herded them into the woolshed for some dagging (shearing off the poo-ey bits that attract the flies).

Matt and Ben clearing a sheepjam.

Catching and securing a daggy sheep. 

 Toting a daggy sheep.

Roland gave Matt a turn on the drenching. 

 Herding the sheep into the race. 

 Inside the woolshed. 

 Note the burlap moccasins or "moccys" on Roland's feet. They allow the shearer much more flexibility to prop up the sheep, and don't slip on the wool and grease that always covers the shearing shed floor.

After watching Roland take care of a couple, I left him and Matt too it and went to shower and pack the van. When I checked back in an hour or so later, I showed up just in time to watch Matt dag the very last sheep! Much harder than it looks- not only do you have to shear off all the gross bits, which happen to be around the sheep’s most vulnerable parts, but you have to hold the sheep still while you do it, while leaving your hands mostly free. And having handled lambs and then caught several sheep over the last several days, let me tell you that restraining a fully grown sheep that doesn’t want to be restrained takes a lot of muscle and finesse! Matt, with a few stops and starts, got the job done, and it was fun to watch, but I didn’t get a photo. (This is just dagging, and it takes this much work…the hot-shot shearers can shear upwards of 300 sheep per day, it takes only a few seconds for them to shear the entire fleece off a sheep!)

After lunch and showers and lots of hugs, we said goodbye to our hosts, the kiddos, and Spray Point Station, with many thanks for the wonderful experience and so much new knowledge! It was a bright and sunny day, and the two-hour drive to Nelson was absolutely lovely, though pretty, lush little towns and skirting along the edges of the sounds. We had been searching on TradeMe (the NZ equivalent of Craigslist/eBay) for rooms for rent in Nelson, and through a massive stroke of good luck, got a reply and managed to arrange to see a room on Sunday night as soon as we arrived in town. Everything worked out wonderfully, and moved in that very night! We are subletting from the fun and vivid Nikola, in a house high on a hill overlooking Tasman Bay and across to Abel Tasman National Park, with loads of bright and wacky colors and decorations on the walls, and a lovely affectionate cat named Blossom. We pay $165 per week in rent as a couple, and have arranged to do a couple hours’ maintenance and garden work per week in exchange for utility costs. The views from the house are incredible, and our little room off the garage has loads of light, just the right amount of storage, and a sweet antique wooden writing desk that I fell in love with at first sight! 

 Looking from the dining room towards Nelson. The city centre is right behind the low hill on the left side of the photo. 

We started work at Kathmandu yesterday morning, and so far it’s going well, it is retail but in a fun environment, with very good people. We are earning $15 per hour and the store is right in the city centre, across the street from the library and the I-Site, and easy to find. We live in the suburb of Enner Glynn, so it is a 10 minute drive into town. We walked today, but it is a full hour walk each way, although a nice route. We are searching for cheap bikes as there is a paved bike path from the bottom of our road all the way into the town centre, about 5 km. 

We are settling in well, enjoying our new situation, and adjusting to working full time.

Last night's dinner, to celebrate employment and housing: Salmon with spring onions, rice, and a fresh salad from the garden.

1 comment:

FlowerLady said...

What a wonderful, amazing adventure you are on. You will have so many fantastic memories and pictures to take back home with you.

Thanks again for sharing this with us. I have been enjoying it immensely.