When the surf died down in Raglan, I decided it was time to head to the most landlocked location in the North island of New Zealand and see what it’s like to live and work on a farm.
I teamed up with the awesome people of Blue Duck Station, a farm based around the conservation of it’s endangered wildlife and preserving the history of the area. It’s masterfully run by Dan Steele and his beautiful family (and yes, they named their boy Blue and when I asked him if he had seen Zoolander, he had not!).
My adventure partner in crime at Blue Duck was Mr. Chad Heberly, who I came to call “Cowboy Chad” or “Woody,” because he is the closest anyone will ever be in real life to the character “Woody” in Pixar’s Toy Story.
Chad and I bonded when he first said “I’ll race you to the barrel!”
It wasn’t quite the kind of barrel riding I’m used to.
So I show up on this farm, surf boards in hand, and I’m sure they are thinking: “What the heck does this surfer girl think she is gonna do here!?” They didn’t waste any time accepting me into their family with the biggest welcoming hands ever AND putting me straight to work! Farm life is INTENSE and at the same time extremely gratifying! I had no idea how much time I was wasting and how much more I could fit in a day until I went to Blue Duck Station.
We were up at first light every morning, mustering what ever animal needed mustering … meaning, we had to round up all the sheep or cattle or horses in one paddock and move them (sometimes a miles away) to another paddock.
I’m not sure if I was more of a help or a distraction but I rode around on horseback with Chad and watched in awe as he used one small whistle to direct two sheep dogs to round up hundreds of sheep off the mountainside. Each dog responds to a different tone of the whistle and the commands were as specific as “left” “right” “forward” “backwards” “hold um” etc. There also was a lot of fast moving on our part because if the sheep did not go through the right gate, it was chaos trying to get them back on track.
And just when I thought that mustering livestock was hard enough, Dan announced that we need to do a “STRAY Sheep Muster” which meant climbing through bushland, searching for lost sheep that had been living in the bushland (some for as long as 4 years!). When I say mountain, I mean more like cliff side. We spent a good few hours, trudging through mud, ferns and razor grass on a nearly vertical slope.
Out of breath and near the top of the mountain, Chad tells me to be quiet as he disappears into the bush above. Suddenly out of nowhere, a small flock of stray sheep come rushing down the mountain towards me, almost trampled me! Luckily there was a thick clump of trees in front of me, which one got caught in … so we were able to capture it! It looked like it could use a bath and a good sheering.
I look at Chad with the stray sheep in his arms and it suddenly hits me: How are we going to get this sheep down the cliff!? (I know does not look much like a cliff in these photos BUT that was mainly because it was extremely difficult to photograph until we got to the bottom!) We literally had to drag the sheep down the hill (more like it dragged us!).
We would take breaks by sitting on it, gently, to make sure it didn’t run away. Stray sheep are fast, extremely heavy, and very dirty … but kinda cute!
It was such an adventure that we kind of bonded and I even named our sheep “Stray. Yes original I know! This photo below was taken right before Stray tried to run me over the cliff side! All the boys pounced on it and luckily caught us before it was too late. That moment was caught on GoPro and will be in my up coming New Zealand webisode!
We did it!!!!
The next morning it was raining and I thought for sure we’ll take some time off and drink some hot coco by the fire. Ohhh no. There was wild horse mustering to be done! So off we went in the pouring rain at top speed. It was actually one of my favorite memories and I will never forget the water droplets flying off the manes of the wild horses as they rushed past me and the muddy water that sprayed up as their hooves hit the ground with big “spats!!!” I truly felt like I was in the coolest western movie ever made! I have to give huge props to Sarah Lee for shooting this because we had no rain cover for the camera and she was hidden under a tree with a plastic bag over her head capturing us on a telephoto lens is super fast motion far away!
And to add more adventure to the adventure, we decided to keep riding the horses into the mountains (and into the night) and came across an old cabin that looked like something out of the perfect Western movie. I seriously expected Clint Eastwood to be leaning in the doorway when we arrived. The cabin was called “The Depot” and was an old transfer station and mail room. Now it sits, eerily empty, with remnants of old saddles, bottles and a stone fireplace.
We lit a fire to warm the small cabin and to escape the initial smoke, we lit another fire outside to make tea from native Maroi tea plants that we collected along the way. Chad (of course) shared some spooky Maori myths and legends with me, until he fell asleep by the fire, leaving me sitting there, watching the fire die down and jumping in fright at every slight movement and sound. Luckily our stray sheep kept me company.
It soon turned into one of the coldest nights of my life, mist and rain came dripping down, and since we had no blankets or food, we huddled under saddle bags in the cabin and had to wake up every 20 minutes to add more wood on the fire … until the wood ran out … burrr!!! It WAS worth it, because the rain suddenly cleared and the stars finally graced us with their presence! Wow!
And in the morning, we galloped up a steep vertical muddy slope to the top of the nearest hilltop and watched the sunrise over the mountains and volcano where they shot “Lord Of The Rings.” It was one of the most breathtaking moments of my life, to feel like I was standing on top of the world and sipping in gulps of fresh New Zealand air.
After the sun rose, Chad got another glint in his eye that I came to recognize as, “Oh boy he’s got another adventure in mind” and suddenly, we were off back down the hillside to a gulch with a gushing waterfall. At the base of the falls, there were two perfectly poised kayaks. Hopping in, sheep dog and all, we set off through a winding gully of crystal clear water, lined with sparkling green moss, the fabled blue ducks, and the most radiant light rays of the entire trip!
We kayaked around the for a few hours while watching out for huge man eating eels that Chad warned me lurked beneath us.
Where will my adventures take me next? Let’s just say all rivers must lead to an ocean.
Kia ora everyone!