17Sep

So Many Flocking Sheep

If New Zealand has taught me anything, it’s taught me that I love sheep. They are useful, they’re funny, sweet, and I want to be around them pretty much always. They’re not overly smart, though. (I know this.)

They are definitely herd animals, which means that where one sheep goes, all of the sheep go. This applies even when the herd is several hundred thousand strong. One of our favorite sheep phenomena to watch was the hourly “location of interest” migration. Even though ALL of these sheep were in the same paddock for several days in a row, the sheep would regularly flock to various spots in the paddock for no reason other than “but that’s where everybody else is going!”. And they would all bahhhhhhh to each other to say “We’re going to the spot now!” when it happened.

I love it so much, and I took a video to share it with you. It took a few tries to get one where I wasn’t laughing.

15Sep

Glenfellen Round Two

I know, I know… we haven’t posted anything about WWOOFing in more than a month. I’m ashamed. The past month has been an absolute whirlwind of travel- we’re talking 6-8 hour drives on a pretty regular basis- in order to sort ourselves out to settle down. It’s wild around here.

Anyway, we spent another week with the McMillans (near Queenstown) after we departed from Stu’s. While we hadn’t envisioned return visits with any of our hosts initially, we so fell in love with a couple of families along the way that we just had to go back.

Our number one goal when returning to the McMillans was to rotary hoe the entire yard, front and back, and get grass seed sown for the coming spring.

Rotary Hoes

Fortunately, we had the help of Tess- chocolate lab and soil shifting technician- to get the job done.

Tess Chocolate Lab Digging

Andrew Using Rotary Hoe

We had a few hiccups along the way: dirty spark plugs, rocks stuck in blades, broken handles and a slight mishap involving a tank filled with diesel instead of petrol… but we got there in the end and were so excited about the result. It helped that we were also working in PERFECT weather (I had almost forgotten people could wear shorts and tshirts outside) with great company.

Andrew & Slim relax in the dirt together.

Andrew & Slim relax in the dirt together.

Pip in doggie bliss.

Pip in doggie bliss.

When we’d first arrived, Ross and Shannon told us about the newest farm pups, the offspring of Flit and Tip, who had- to date- avoided capture. Of course, Andrew made it his goal to catch one right off the bat, and within hours, we’d decided to spend some time with them every day to introduce them to the wide world of making friends with people.

It took a little while (and a little food) to earn their trust, but after a few days, we finally got the tails wagging and some good playtime with these lovely little fellas. Ross was always asking how I was getting on with my flea-swapping. :) Worth it for these wee fuzzballs.

Andrew and Heading Pups

Pups Looking Over Sheep

We also had the opportunity to see Ross & Shannon work together to get their sheep ready for shearing, and spent some time in the wool shed watching the shearers and rouseabouts hard at work afterwards.

Ross in Sheep Yards

Shearers in Wool Shed

Rousies Getting Wool Ready

Loading Wool Baler

I would absolutely love to learn how to shear a sheep so quickly… the right way. But goodness gracious, I do not envy the kind of backbreaking work they do every day. These guys (and ladies) work so hard!

After shearing, each of the sheep goes down the chute naked and ready to roll.

Sheep in Wool Shed

The other big project I took on this time around was designing and painting a logo on the outside of the singleman’s quarters that we started renovating a few months ago.

Cattle Stop Quarters Logo

Cattle Stop Quarters Logo Finished

It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly not bad for a day’s work!

I even got a little visit from Flit while I worked.

Flit Says Hi

I wish Andrew or I could even begin to express how much we enjoy time at Glenfellen. Cups of tea with Grandmom & Granddad, quad bike rides with Shannon, evenings hearing Judi’s teacher stories over a glass of wine, and absolute side-splitting laughter over Ross’s sass make the place feel just like home.

Blackjack

Only a couple weeks before we return to Glenfellen once again for visit number THREE!

11Sep

A Little Something Extra: Hand Drawn Maps V4

I’ve been working on these maps off and on for two months now and I gotta say, I’m pretty proud of them. I’ve never considered myself an artist, but it is heartening to see a finished product that I think is so cool. When the scan shop guy looks at you and says, “These are awesome”, it’s exciting and motivating to keep going. I hope people can get as much enjoyment out of viewing them as I did creating them.

I present: A Song of Ice and Fire map series, consisting of five separate maps.

The Lands Beyond the Wall

The Lands Beyond the Wall

The North

The North

A Song of Ice and Fire - The South


The South

A Song of Ice and Fire - The Free Cities


The Free Cities

A Song of Ice and Fire - The Lands of the Summer Sea

The Lands of the Summer Sea


Now that we are nearing the end of our WWOOFing journey and continuing to figure out what our next steps will be, I’m hoping to create a map of New Zealand that depicts our travels throughout the Southern Island. I’m always looking for maps to draw, so if anyone has any requests, don’t hesitate to message or e-mail and I’ll see what I can do. If not, then I hope you still enjoy these maps!

25Aug

Many Mini Moos

Our stay at Stu’s kicked off with milking a couple cows daily, planting flaxes, and finishing odd jobs around the farm- cleaning pens, building fences, replacing gates, the lot.

We prepared for calving season with a few full-on days of vetting all the mamas. 200+ cows came through the crush to get vitamin B12 injections, salinium drenches, magnesium bullets (mega pills), shaved tails, and even some new ear tags. It was a doozy.

Andrew Doing B12 Injections

Andrew gets ready to inject the last of the cows with B12.

Nariko is ready to tag Moonlight Kath.

Nariko is ready to tag Moonlight Kath.

Stu working hard to get her to swallow the magnesium bullet.

Stu working hard to get her to swallow the magnesium bullet.

Fortunately, with the help of our awesome Japanese co-WWOOFers Hiji, Nariko, and Ayumi, we were able to get everything done without too many hiccups.

Fern Valley Jersey Helpers

Well… mostly, anyway. Hiji got in the way of one very determined cow on her way out of the race and was laid out in a small mountain of poo. As soon as we were able to stop laughing, we all- naturally- took pictures.

Coveralls and Poo

Now that calving is in full swing, our days are even more fast-paced, filthy, wild, and super duper exciting. When all the cows are due to calve at roughly the same time, you start out the season with one or two babies… which rapidly turn into four or five… then fifteen or so… and all of a sudden you are completely overwhelmed with the sheer number of tiny little creatures everywhere.

Calves in the Yard

You’d think that newborns would tend to stay with their mothers for the first few hours of life, but cows have no such ideas. We’ve trudged through who knows how much bush, swampy drains, and seemingly deserted paddocks in search of escaped infants who were born mere hours earlier.

This especially wild little lady had wandered off on her own and (like plenty of others) had to be picked up in the car and driven back to mama.

This especially wild little lady had wandered off on her own and (like plenty of others) had to be picked up in the car and driven back to mama.

The pay off for all of this hard work, though, is enormous- both in terms of milk and sheer adorableness.

Heifer Calf Playtime – YouTube Video Coming Soon

Every morning, we milk roughly 100 mama cows, bringing them into the yard and milking shed in mobs. Getting the cows to file into the shed requires a lot of pushing, jumping, loud noises, and persuasion (in the form of gallons upon gallons of molasses). After that, we all pile into the pit to wash udders, put on cups, and spray teats.

Before

Before

After

After

Chicken after enjoying a big mouthful of molasses.

Chicken after enjoying a big mouthful of molasses.

If we’re lucky, we get a run of mild-mannered cows who stand still and wait to go to the bathroom. Otherwise, there’s a lot of getting stomped on, pooped on, peed on, and occasionally kicked. You learn to move fast in the milking shed.

Hiji just seconds after being peed on. You learn quickly to just grin and bear it.

Hiji just seconds after being peed on. You learn quickly to just grin and bear it.

Once there’s enough milk for the calves, we take roughly 100 liters of milk over to the calf sheds for breakfast time. Now that they’ve all learned how to drink on their own from the milk bar, we spend most of the time pouring milk in their feeder as fast as we can, trying to keep up.

Pouring Milk

Milk Bar Madness – YouTube Video Coming Soon

You also have to watch out for the rogue calf who has gotten confused and has started sucking on your jacket/pants/boots/fingers/hair/elbows thinking that one more whack with her head will make the milk come.

It IS mildly frustrating, but 100% hilarious every time.

Every few days, we get a group of newbies to teach, but they’re quick (and hungry!) learners. Usually, we just take the calves to the milk bar, stick a couple milky fingers in their mouth, lead them to the teat, and close their mouth around it a couple times before they catch on.

Munchkin/Sambo the lamb (Stu calls her Sambo, but she is a girl so whatever.) gets her breakfast as soon as the calves slow down and after a lot of MEHHHHHing on her part. Now that she’s bigger, she stays in the calf shed but escapes every morning to follow me around as I feed the mini moos. She is HUGE now compared to the tiny, shivering, muddy being we rescued a few weeks ago. She’s also entered the exciting realm of jumping on and around all of the calves because she can, which is massively entertaining.

Munchkin Lamb Aging

We are leaving Stu’s place soon, and will be sad to leave all of these little fuzzy buggers, and our lovely new friends.

Fortunately, we got the opportunity to take one last drive up to Hokitika with Hiji and Nariko yesterday before we had to leave. Just in time to see the stunning blue gorge before sunset!

Hokitika Gorge

There’s nothing else quite like that beautiful New-Zealand-river blue.

There’s nothing else quite like that beautiful New-Zealand-river blue.

6Aug

The Mayor of Waitaha Valley

After a brief vacation in Hanmer Springs following our stay with Chris, we made our way West to Greymouth and then proceeded South down past Ross, NZ to the Waitiha Valley. Our destination – Stu Davidson’s renowned Jersey Dairy Farm. The self-proclaimed Mayor of Waitiha Valley, Stu has been farming his entire life in the valley.

The Waitaha Valley

The Waitaha Valley

Stu has around 220 Jersey Cows with an additional 40 yearling heifers, as well as 4 or 5 bulls that are used as sires for any cows that don’t take the artificial insemination. He also has a few sheep, two dogs, a bunch of chickens, some domesticated ducks, and a cat named Dougal. During the spring, summer, and autumn seasons, milking occurs daily for all cows, and he sends all milk to the Westland Milk Products in Hokitika.

The Jerseys

The Jersey Cows

The Jersey Butts

The Jersey Butts – my favorite new band name

Our daily routine in the beginning of our stay here in the Waitaha Valley consisted of milking the house cow in the morning, feeding out to all of the cows out in their paddocks, planting a TON of flaxes (seriously, we planted more than 100 flax plants), ribbonwoods, carex, and lemonwoods, and fixing fences, along with the daily tasks of getting wood for the woodburner, feeding the chickens, and collecting eggs.

Stu has landscaped nearly 8 duck ponds around this property. These are like small oases in a land of green paddocks.

Duck Pond

The First Duck Pond

It was around these ponds that we were planting flaxes, ribbonwoods, lemonwoods, and carex. Recently Stu was given a startling collection of different flaxes. Near on 45 different species of flax were to be planted in order around the newest duck pond. The names of these were all Maori and quite fun to pronounce. Some examples – Tupurupuru, Whitianga, Pango, Whakarere, Te Mata just to name a few.

And before you start pronouncing the Wh like a W sound, in the Maori language, “WH” is pronounced with an F sound. So phonetically it sounds like Fakarere. Consider yourself educated.

Flaxes on a Frosty Morning

Flaxes on a Frosty Morning

Recently one of Stu’s ewes gave birth twin lambs. Sadly, one of them didn’t survive and the mother, for some reason, ignored the other. So we had to grab up the little lady from the paddock, take her back inside to warm her up, and help her with feeding.

Cute Little Munchkin

Cute Little Munchkin

At first, this just consisted of catching the mother and holding her still while little munchkin drank, but soon it became clear that her mother would not live long. I’ll spare the details, but it did not look pleasant. Munchkin is now a happily growing lamblet that will soon be turned into some tasty morsels. Just kidding, Kait loves this thing and I like to tease her about eating her one day. In all honesty, she is pretty cool.

 

 

All in all, this is a picturesque live on the NZ west coast – beautiful scenery, beautiful cows, and good company. Soon, however, this peaceful life will be abruptly interrupted by a bunch of furry little miniature cows.

5Aug

A Little Something Extra: Hand Drawn Maps V3

I just finished the first map of A Song of Ice and Fire. This map covers the very north of Westeros and is entitled: The Land Beyond the Wall. It was a lot of fun and was the first time I’ve tried seriously drawing something other than land features. I’m very proud of how the crows turned out!

 

A Song of Ice and Fire: The Land Beyond the Wall

 

I’ve also just finished A Song of Ice and Fire: The South, but I don’t have pictures yet. Hopefully we can get some high quality scans so I can post those. I’m nearly done with The North, but I can’t decide on what sort of Direwolf I want to draw!

More to come soon!

16Jul

One Spectacularly Serendipitous Day

I mentioned in our most recent blog post that we had one more visit to Reefton before we left Chris’s place to go dairying in Ross. We had no idea when we drove into town the other day exactly how serendipitous our visit would be.

A bit of backstory before we begin:

Last time we were in Reefton, Chris mentioned that he’d like to call in to his friend, Andrew’s place. Andrew Campbell is a Scottish expatriate who came to New Zealand in the 70’s, found a lovely lady, and decided to stay. He is also a mountain climber, fly fisherman, and a wonderful new friend.

Andrew Campbell

We showed up for the first time on Andrew’s doorstep with no notice and were welcomed inside for tea and biscuits (cookies). Such is the Kiwi (and perhaps also Scottish) way. The conversation eventually moved to our interests and (my) Andrew’s love of maps. Within minutes, Andrew Campbell left the room and soon returned with a map of Yorkshire from 1610 drawn by John Speed to give to Andrew since he knew it would be well loved and much appreciated with us.

York Shire, England - 1610

The years and mice have not been overly kind to the map, but it is an incredibly precious gift nonetheless. 

With many thanks and a few hugs, the three of us departed Andrew’s place with promises of returning the following Tuesday.

Yesterday, that is.

Chris had planned to come into town with us, but he just wasn’t up for the trip when it was time to go, so he encouraged us to go alone. He had previously mentioned an artist in town whose paintings he thought I’d enjoy, so we wanted to stop by her gallery before we called in at Andrew’s place.

Not only did we really enjoy all of the beautiful work in the gallery, but we also happened to run into Alison Hale while we were there. She had been spending the afternoon painting in the gallery until her friend, Tony, stopped in to say hello.

Of course, we all got to talking and discovered that both Alison and Tony- of course- are baritone and tuba players, respectively. Tony had recently competed and placed in a Southland Brass Competition with a piece that both Andrew and I had played back in high school symphonies. Upon learning of our own musical backgrounds, Tony offered to take us down the street into the old Reefton Band Hall, erected in 1903.

We heartily accepted the offer, and, while we waited outside the hall for Tony to find the right key, who but Andrew Campbell should ride up on his bike. Of course, he heartily agreed to join us on the nickel tour.

Reefton Band Room

Upon entering, we discovered decades on decades of old instruments, band uniforms, sheet music, and so so much more. Loads of it was original to the first Reefton Band that played in the late 1800’s, and we recognized more than a couple pieces of music as songs that we’d played in high school and college.

Reefton Band

Reefton Band Music

Tony sat down to play a ragtime tune on the old piano, much to our amusement, but soon said goodbye and left us to have tea and biscuits with Andrew down the street. After another lovely afternoon at his place, he’d invited us to come back to visit him this summer to go fly fishing and left with big hugs and promises to keep in touch.

Leaving Andrew Campbell’s place left us with a warm sense of “home”. As much as we absolutely love our WWOOFing adventure here in New Zealand, it is so lovely to run into a person or a place who (or that) leaves us with a feeling of being completely at home.

12Jul

In the Land of the Mountain Men

If Andrew and I had ever wondered before whether we’d enjoy real mountain living, our stay with our latest WWOOFing host, Chris, has erased all doubt. In the middle of beautiful nowhere at the top of the Southern Alps, New Zealand, Chris is living totally off the grid with a couple solar panels, a spring-filled water tank, and a lovely wood burning fire to heats the house. A couple decades ago, when he bought his land, his goal was to build a house on it and let the trees grow, and he’s done just that.

Chris White

Meet Chris

IMG_2584

Chris’s home, his pride and joy.

The view from Chris’s front yard.

The view from Chris’s front yard.

Chris has spent much of his life as a horticulturalist, and offered heaps of information to us so we may also “let the trees grow” on our own land one day. Because he is in the later stages of multiple sclerosis limiting his mobility, Chris has WWOOFers to help wherever needed around the house- gathering firewood, cooking, cleaning- and for the company, as remote areas like his don’t often get any variety of visitors.

Upon our arrival, though, we met his neighbor, who lives and works a nearby piece of land several weeks at a time every couple of months.  Over the course of the two weeks we spent with Chris, we got to know his neighbor almost equally as well, but have been sworn to internet anonymity in his regard. He eventually agreed to the pseudonym “Swan Ronson” having been provided only a brief (but startling) descriptive comparison of his Parks & Recreation TV twin.

Anyway, Swan came over to Chris’s every morning for tea, and we often sat together on the front porch eating delicious homemade bread and birdwatching.

Lovely little Fantail.

Lovely little Fantail.

Weka coming out from his nest to beg for chicken scraps.

Weka coming out from his nest to beg for chicken scraps.

Most afternoons were spent reading, playing music, drawing, chopping firewood, or cooking while Swan went back to his place to prune his chestnut, hazelnut, and walnut trees.  One afternoon, we had the privilege to visit Swan’s place, which- oh by the way- happens to be a storage container that he (without a single power tool) has lined with beautiful hand hewn wood and turned into a gorgeous one-man dwelling. He took us out back and showed us how to set possum traps (to keep the critters from eating native wildlife), and casually identified a Tui overhead by the sound of its wings.

Absolutely incredible.

For several days, our stream-powered water supply had frozen over so we were without showers and rationing cooking water. All said, though, we were so proud to learn how to live abundantly without so many of the amenities we’re used to like a refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, water heater… and loads more. Chris taught us how to make his delicious bread and gave us so many ideas for building our home and growing our own garden one day. We were thrilled to venture down the road to pick some spectacular watercress for our evening meals as well!

IMG_2576

 

I’ve been doing all kinds of little sketches for the past couple months, but I haven’t devoted the effort to my sketchbook that I used to. I was itching to work on a real piece of art, and Chris was kind enough to concede to let me do a portrait of him. It’s certainly not perfect, but it felt so good to finish something that required real effort for once.

IMG_2580

About an hour away, the nearest town is known for its gold mining industry. During one visit to Reefton, we visited with Chris’s friends at the Bearded Mining Company, and were given some great advice on panning for gold ourselves at Chris’s place.

IMG_2612

We did finally make it out to the river to pan for gold, and while the high water level did keep us from finding any of that, we did find a few lovely little garnets that I was quite excited about. They’re my birthstones!

Just a few days left at Chris’s place and one more visit to Reefton before we move on. Read more soon!

5Jul

Backcountry Backpacking

After our short visit to Queenstown, we drove to an organic garlic farm in the nearby Ida Valley. We’d planned to stay for a couple of weeks, but a particularly persistent cold that had reappeared for the third time in a month encouraged a change of plans rather quickly. Before our departure from Alexandra, we did enjoy some spectacular horseback riding, beautiful sunrises, and a visit to the Poolburn Reservoir. Lord of the Rings fans may recognize Poolburn as the set location for the Village of Rohan. For us, it was the perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon with beautiful (albeit cold) weather, a couple of beers, a gorgeous view, and no Uruk-hai to contend with.

IMG_2438

IMG_2445

rohan

Like I said. No Uruk-hai were there with us. Not my image.

IMG_2447

We spent the following couple days resting up at the Mantra Marina back in Queenstown and planning a week-long backpacking trip in the hopes that lots of sleep and fresh air might fix me up. We also happened upon Fergbaker- sister restaurant to nationally famous Fergberger- and sunk our teeth into the tastiest, most perfect Boston cream doughnuts that have likely ever existed. We “happened” upon the establishment twice again before we had to leave Queenstown and I still wish we’d had more.

IMG_2448

Andrew planned our backpacking route through the Lake Sumner Conservation Park on his old NOLS maps.  Meanwhile, I bought and organized enough food to keep us well fed and happy in the wilderness for a week.

IMG_2454

IMG_2452

Instead of driving up the East coast to our destination, we planned to go the longer, scenic route through Haast Pass along the never-before-seen West coast. Freezing and a couple major slips along the road slowed our travel, but the spectacular views were well worth the wait.

IMG_2479

This sign fueled multiple fits of laughter regarding the literary skills of cattle, bullheadedness, etcetera

Our backpacking trip began with gorgeous blue skies, a beautiful blue Hope River, and the happy sounds of Tui in the bush.

IMG_2481

IMG_2484

IMG_2488

By 4:00 on our first afternoon, we’d lost daylight, my feet were soaked, my whole body ached, temperatures had dropped to near freezing, it started to rain, and there was absolutely positively no way I was getting out of my sleeping bag until I could feel my toes again. And yet, the next morning, we ate breakfast, packed up camp, and happily decided to hike as far as we could while the sun shone for the following six days.

IMG_2500

The river raged several meters higher than usual and much of our hike was quite wet, but beautiful nonetheless.

IMG_2505

IMG_2512

IMG_2516

IMG_2517

IMG_2539

Several of the following nights and days brought snow and thick frosts, but we were blessed with sweet sunshine every day while we hiked.

IMG_2535

IMG_2541

IMG_2554

Three days into our trek, and the first (and only) soul we saw was a lone cow, who promply pooed and ran for the hills.

Of course, we enjoyed our time in the beautiful Southern Alps immensely, but were thrilled at the prospect of eating cheeseburgers, showers, and heat in the next town soon before we met our next host, Chris.

18Jun

Nevis Bungy Jump, Then & Now

The first time Andrew came to New Zealand in 2010, he came to Queenstown and signed up to do the Nevis Highwire Bungy, an 134 meter (440 foot) bungy jump over a beautiful river cutting through trademark NZ mountains.

Several years of telling me he’d take me to go bungy jumping later, we ended up right back at the same spot. Check out the videos below to see what it’s like!

© Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved