Spray Point Sheep Station
Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Judging by how long it took me to figure out what day of the week to write at the top of this post, I'm losing track of time up here in the mountains. We have been up here only about four days now, but it feels like we're part of the family and have been up here away from civilisation for much longer than we actually have. After parting ways with our friends in Blenheim on Tuesday, we grabbed a few groceries that Jenny had requested we bring up, and then set out on the hour-long drive south into the hills, up the Waihopai (wai-HOH-pee) River. After turning off the highway, we drove for 45 kms up a narrow, but paved (most of the way), road through vistas that words can hardly do justice to. The mountains up here look like something you might see in western Montana or maybe the hilly parts of Wyoming, huge steep slopes covered in the ubiquitous gorse, Scotch broom, and sheep, with the tops of the cottonwoods turning yellow and the valleys along the waterways filled with Radiata Pines (spread from the timber plantations found all over New Zealand).
When we arrived at the house and farmstay, we found Jenny and Roland away, with the postman hanging out with Sarah (3, going on 4) and Ben (5). Roland was away for about 10 days and returned home the next night (he does outdoor survey work in support of environmental and habitat restoration efforts), and Jenny had gone out for a trail ride with a guest and was delayed getting home by a broken stirrup leather. A neighbor down the road provides childcare a couple days a week, and the postman brings the kids home on his way up to the station. Also, he often brings up groceries and such as needed- a great rural time-saving system! Anyway, he left Ben and Sarah in our care and we immediately were adopted as favored playmates, given a tour of the house, introduced to the kitten and the chickens, and were quickly drafted into building a Noah's ark out of foam blocks. Jenny arrived home to us sprawled on the living room floor among blocks and plastic animals, and we got started on dinner for the family along with the American couple who were paying guests. Dinner was a delicious one of barbecued schnitzel steak, potatoes, veggies, and a peach Pavlova for dessert. The "Pav" is a Kiwi invention, originally conceived of in honor and named for the ballerina of the same name. It is like a crispy meringue on the outside and the taste and texture of a lightly roasted marshmallow on the inside, and topped with cream and fruit. This is the one we had last night, topped with blackberries:
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
Life here is busy, our days are very full, and things are always kept lively by the two little munchkins and the menagerie of animals. Matt and I spend a lot of time entertaining the kids to give Jenny time to keep up with the paperwork for the farmstay business and wool trade, and we are also helping with the animals, laundry, cooking, cleaning, getting the cob cottage ready for guests, and other duties as assigned! While there are a number of things we would do differently, this is a happy place, and most definitely a beautiful one. Autumn has most definitely arrived, with chilly nights, turning leaves, and quite a bit of rain. Yesterday morning I went upstairs early (we are in the guest room in the daylight basement) to freezing cold air- a clear night had caused temperatures to drop after a day of rain, resulting in a brilliant but chilly morning, and amazing views down the valley with everything covered in moisture:
Morning view from the kitchen window.
We all piled into the Ute (Utility Vehicle, in this case a 4WD farm truck with a snorkle for fording creeks) after breakfast, and after dropping the kids at the neighbors', Jenny and Roland took us up the eastern boundary of the station, up the River Spray. Spray Point Station is absolutely massive- 2,000 hectares, which is close on to 5,000 acres- but is the smallest station in the valley. The largest is 27,000 acres. On this huge property, Jenny and Roland run 1,500 Merino sheep, which we will be mustering (rounding up) out of the hills soon. It took us a good half an hour to drive up to the end of the track at Boundary Creek hut, not considering that we stopped along the way to drive some sheep we found into holding yards, and to pick blackberries in a creek bottom. The backcountry hut serves as lodging for paying guests who want to get a real backcountry experience, and also for fencers, other contractors, and musterers to stay in, rather than drive all the way back to the main house at night. We stopped up there for lunch and a cup of tea, and Matt and I were thoroughly impressed by the design and workmanship we found in the hut- Roland has a keen eye for details and a love of antique fixtures and such, making the atmosphere really fitting for the location.
On the way back down, we picked up a load of previously cut firewood, and found in the stack these crazy slugs, with leaf-vein patterns on them (being outdoors with Roland is a bit like taking a walk with my dad- he is constantly noticing details of the natural world and has very sharp eyes for birds, animals, and other interesting things- he is a veritable well of information):
We also collected a couple of this spring's lambs that hadn't been dagged or drenched (medicated against worms and flies), so Jenny and I made the ride back down on top of the firewood in the back of the Ute with the four sheepdogs, and lamb in each of our laps!
Dinner last night was another delicious ones with more guests and another Pavlova. We partook of wild pork (delicious!) and scallops, which I had never had before but may very likely be my new favorite shellfish.
We woke up to another rainy day today, but during a break in the showers, we all put on our gumboots and went out to pick peaches, which Jenny and I have been putting up this afternoon. I think the true feeling of fall can be condensed down to wearing gumboots and a rain jacket, picking peaches from a soaking wet tree on a crisp morning.
The family have gone off on their weekly trip to town, and now that our various chores are done and we've lounged around enjoying the quiet for a little while, it's time to go start a stew for dinner. There's so much more to tell, of animals and cottages and views and escaping horses and kiddos, but in the meantime, here's some more photos of our life up here: