Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the Road

We have been on the road for about a week now. It was a bit hard at first to get settled in, mostly because we didn’t really have the van set up. The floor was pretty hard to sleep on, we had no curtains, and we had no way to organize our stuff so it was just spread out in the back. To make the Todo (the van) a bit more homey we got some rubber foam for our bed, which ended up feeling a bit thinner than the 40mm advertised, but with the thermarests on top it feels like a dream. We also rigged up some curtains from some old floral, purple bedsheets. Here is Kelly cooking dinner, with the awesome curtains in the back. The foam rolls up with our sleeping bags quite nicely and fits against the back hatch.


The organization finally happened yesterday when we went to the grocery store and found 4 cardboard boxes that we can put our food in. No pictures, but a vast improvement.

After the farm, we went straight to Invercargill to supply ourselves for Stewart Island. After a quick internet search, we found out it was quite cold on Stewart Island, and decided to give it a week to warm up while we detoured towards Dunedin. The first night we stopped right by the ocean to sleep. We didn’t actually sleep at all because Todo the van was battered with very stong winds and we couldn’t shake the idea we would float out to sea at high tide. We had parked  on the grass in a “freedom camping” zone, so we were pretty sure it was safe. We woke up in the morning dry and safe, but when I looked around I did find a high water mark about seven meters inshore from the van. Must’ve been a storm…

The next day we toured through the Catlins, a beautiful rainforest on the south east coats of the south island. The van took a small tumble on a very remote dirt road. We were driving very slowly (40k/h, I swear mum), luckily, and it only ended up being two massive fishtaiils, a bit of sideways driving, and a bit of a bump upon entering the ditch. Unbelievably, the wheels stayed on and we backed up until we were mostly on the road. From there, between my pushing and Kelly’s rapidly improving skills on the manual, we were able to get it on the road and drive away. It is rear wheel drive, and very light in the back, so it is quite hard to manage on dirt roads. We are trying to avoid them, but most of the cool spots are on dirt roads so I am just very careful now. We also went to AA, which is the automobile association in NZ, and got coverage for free because of our Canadian membership. Awesome! Next time we can get a tow!


We hit slope point, the southern most point of the south island. It hard to see in pictures, but it is a huge cliff and wild water below. IMG_4136

We drove to a hike by a pretty river just outside Dunedin to sleep for the night. There are lots of waterfalls on the way, along with petrified wood at Curio Bay.


Next stop was Dunedin for the day. The botanical gardens and public Aviary are beautiful, as well as the city in general. It really reminded us a lot of Kingston because of the University feel. There are plenty of houses around with torn couches outside and students partying, which really helped us feel at home. It also reminded us on Vancouver, the vegetation was so beautiful! The houses are all up on the hills and there are flowering trees everywhere. I don’t think it would be too hard to stay here for a while. But alas, we must move on to see everything!


We left town to find a place to camp and traveled up a very narrow coastal road along the Otago Peninsula, until we came across Okia park, which is over a fucking insane (I don’t use the word lightly) road. Worth the drive for the “Little pyramid” total seclusion, and beautiful beach complete with steamship wreck and sea lions.




The site was so nice we stayed for two nights, and just took a daytrip to see the albatross colony. What we learned: albatross look more or less like a large seagull. Great drive though. This is a view from Taiaroa Head, the top of the peninsula looking back at Dunedin.


The next day we went and saw “The chasm”, which required a hike to one of the highest places on the peninsula. You can see mountain ranges in the distance, and beaches up close. It was fantastic. Let me remind you that this is all under 26 km from the heart of the city, what a sweet place! It was hard climbing, so we headed back to Dunedin for a meat pie.

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While buying fuel at the outdoor store, we met a guy who was from San Diego who told us about a glowworm spot about 10 minutes from the city. It is fantastic that you can drive for 10 minutes and be way out in the hills. We found the glowworms, which were unbelievably cool. There is a track that goes up to a gorgeous waterfall and as soon as it gets dark, tiny glowing lights appear from underneath all the ferns. It was like looking at the night sky on the banks of a beautiful river. Glowworms need extremely humid environments, so rivers and caves are key places to see them. We hope to see more in the caves in Te Anau. We then spent about half an hour getting the van off the grassy slope we parked on. Thankfully, some guys were heading to the glowworms to smoke a joint, and were good enough to push us out. Friendly potheads!

That night we had our first try at urban camping. We just pulled up on a residential street in Dunedin, closed the curtains and laid out the bed. We walked to the pub for some live jazz and a beer, then when we got back to the van we just tried to be quite. We had no trouble at all, and a very nice sleep. I think we are going to try to stick to the country, but its nice to know it works when you can’t get out of the city.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch. Free wi-fi is almost exclusively available in McDonalds here, so its nice to get a message when we sit down for a coffee and an egg mcmuffin. Next stop the Catlins (again) then Stewart Island!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Next Chapter

Our time as sheep farmers has come to an end. Most of the sheep have lambed, a measly 800 remain, and we are no longer needed around the farm. Tailing, where the tails of the lambs are cut off as a measure to prevent flystrike, happens in a week or so.Flystrike happens when the flies lay eggs on the rear end of the sheep, and the maggots start into the living meat. Very nasty. We might come back for a few days to help out with tailing, but we aren’t sure yet. It sounds a lot like the Kiwi equivalent to the Western Canadian branding, basically drink beer and physically alter animals. tailing is done by putting a tight rubber band at the base of the lambs tail. In a few weeks, the tail simply falls off. You might think this is inhumane. I recently watched a show about a campaign in Western Africa to circumcise men in order to hinder the spread of AIDS. This was done by putting a plastic ring under the foreskin and a tight rubber band on the outside… the guy they interviewed said it stung a bit, but then just went numb, so it makes me feel a bit better about what the lambs are going through.

It’s been an interesting experience working here but I think I can safely say for both of us that we are excited to get on our way. This was our first full day off in 3 weeks, and the farm has taken a bit of a toll on our bodies. Kelly's tendonitis is acting up from driving the ATV, and my hands are full of winter cracks, which makes doing things quite painful. We could keep going, but it is nice to be done.

Yesterday we took a few hours to drive into Invercargill to get some things. We picked up a new camping stove for a pupil widening sum, but it came with a fuel bottle and can run on white gas, unleaded, diesel, alcohol, or kerosene. Pretty sick. The only other options were wimpy little things, and at least this one will last a few years. Our next stop was to get a bank account and IRD (=SIN) number at KiwiBank. It took about an hour and a half to get through the questions, but it all worked out. Now we have a place to put our pay cheque, which we unexpectedly got a few days ago. We got our first look at a Kiwi grocery store at the Pack’n Save. The prices are similar to Canada, expect for Bacon which cost $12.65. We skipped it.

Today we took some time to fix up the van to make it more livable. We originally had plans to build a bed structure that would have compartment below to put our bags in. The more we think about it, though, the more it seems like a dream and less of a reality. We want to keep the back seats in case we have some extra passengers (like anyone who wants to visit!). This means that we would have to make some sort of folding bed and it’s just a little too much work. The wood here is also really expensive, which was quite a shock. Also, we don’t have any tools. Needless to say, we have settled on buying a thick piece of foam, should be comfy!

The plan as it stands right now is to spend a day in Invercargill, tying up some loose ends in terms of applications and internet stuff. John was pretty panicked for the last few days about getting the reference letters he needed for an application, but it all worked out in the end. Then we’ll head to Bluff, the southernmost part of NZ and take the ferry over to Stewart Island. We’ll pick up the food and fuel for our new whisperlite camping stove, and head out on the 10 day hiking trip around the island. We have already put together a menu, which I’m sure will be tasty on trip, but right now seems a little boring. It consists of a lot of oatmeal and PB and H wraps.  From what we’ve heard, the hike is pretty muddy, and the weather looks pretty intense, but apparently it’s gorgeous and totally worth doing. There are huts along the way that you can rent, or you can opt to stay in your own tent. I think we will be doing a little bit of both, especially if it gets really rainy and cold.

I would like to say we are going to be better about getting in touch with all of you back in Canada now that we don’t have to work all the time, but the reality is we will have even less access to the internet.  Hopefully we can get some emails and calls out tomorrow from the library.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Little Trip to the Sea


Every day here gets a bit easier and a bit more enjoyable. The days have settled into a pretty familiar routine: wake up, feed lambs, breakfast, catch calves and chase their mothers to the dairy truck, feed lambs, lunch, odd job around the farm (fix a fence, take all the dead animals away, etc) feed lams, check sheep and lambs in the paddocks, and finally tea.

John lately has been doing a lot of ATV fixing. One bike broke, he fixed it, the next broke, he fixed it, and so on. I think he’s fixed all 4 bikes now and a tractor! He is on the left, Ken is on the right.


I on the other hand have been doing a lot of lamb feeding. We have 51 ‘pet’ lambs. These are the orphaned and sick. Thirty or so off them can now feed off the bucket, which is literally a bucket with 8 teats on it. These lambs are nuts. The second you walk into their pen they all swarm you and jump all over you looking for milk. They have the tendency of head butting you, which they usually do to their mothers to get milk.


The rest have to be bottle fed. It takes about two hours each time, so six hours of every day I spend feeding lambs. To make it slightly worse (it really isn’t that bad to begin with) 15 of them have diarrhea, it’s very smelly. My favorite lamb, who I’ve named Mr. W, has diarrhea (or scours, in the lingo) but he is still very cute.


Although the lambs are cute, and feeding them can be fun, my favorite part of the day is catching calves. Every morning we go check which cows have calved and then pick the calves up to take back to the shed and send the mother cows to the dairy farm. I’m not sure what it is about cows, but I like pushing them along through the paddocks. These are some pictures of John and the cows in one of the cow paddocks. John wears a full orange, water resistant, reflective suit/coverall. Very sexy.






This week has also been a little more exciting than usual. A couple days ago we went with Ken to the Scotland vs Georgia World Cup Rugby Game in Invercargill. It wasn’t the most exciting game, a lot of knock-ons and weak kicks, but the atmosphere was unreal. Everyone was cheering and dressed up. We were in the stands, and it didn’t even matter that it was raining. John, who can’t catch anything, caught a ball off a penalty kick! John said that Chris (Kel’s dad) would be proud. As all Canadians know, if you catch a puck or ball, you keep it. Not the case in NZ. He pretty much tackled a girl, ran about 20 m, and full out dove on the concrete to get it. Very sexy. When he stood up beaming and Ken told him to throw it back he was pretty bummed. We later learned that someone in the stands who took a few more seconds to throw it back was kicked out for delay of game. Good to know!

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We also got part of yesterday afternoon off, about two hours before feeding. We decided to take the two wheeler, as they call it, down to the Ocean. It’s about a 15 min drive down from the farm. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and the drive was lovely, except for John’s insistence on hitting potholes. The chain popped off on one, but he put it back on and other than that the bike performed admirably. The ocean was unbelievable, it was windy and there were huge waves. Bluff, which is the mountain in the following pictures, is the most southern point of New Zealand, and the closest you can get to Antarctica. Right before the Ocean, there’s Waituna Lagoon which the farm backs onto. There are all sorts of walking trails around the lagoon. As it is a protected wetland area, there are conflicts between the environment agency in the area and the farmers. It’s hard to find a fair compromise when you can see both sides of the problem. John is holding a somewhat beat up abalone shell that we found. Those are what your hands look like after a few weeks on a sheep farm.

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So now we are on to another day, and another 6 hours of feeding lambs. Hopefully no bikes break down and John can have a day off from being a mechanic (update: he is changing swing arm bearings as we speak). It’s breakfast time now so we’ll be going out to catch some calves. To give you an idea of how cute these guys are I’ll leave you with a picture of them sucking my fingers.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Settling In

**More pictures to follow soon

Work on the farm has been getting along pretty well. There really hasn’t been that much of a change in what we have been doing since the last post, but we have seen some remarkable things and made a few strides in figuring out our lives outside the farm.

Over the last few days lambing has slowed a bit. This was intentional, and was determined about five months ago by allowing the Ram access to the sheep at a staggered pace. He wears a crown, which is a piece of chalk under his belly, that marks each sheep when he mounts it. The sheep marked red have mostly all lambed, while the blues, oranges, greens, and yellows are just coming up. The hoggettes, which are first time lambers, are also starting.

The slowing of lambing has allowed for us to work through the “to do” list. On the farm side of things, we cleaned up some dead animals and repaired some broken ones. Cleaning up involves driving around with a trailer and dragging dead things onto it, then driving to a hole and dumping them in. We had a bad storm the day before last, and it caused many lambs to die of exposure. I have personally picked up at least 20 lambs in the last week, many of them yesterday. Kelly and I were both quite wet that day, but we managed to avoid any lasting negative effects. Below is a picture of the daily lamb pile. It is a part of life we are insulated from, in this case by Styrofoam squares that the meat is stacked on in the grocery store.


We also picked up a sheep that must have been dead for at least a week. I don’t think I have ever really smelt truly rotten animal, other than the stuff that is frozen in the freezer downstairs at our house in Ottawa (Mom). It is the most foul thing you can possibly imagine. I have a very strong stomach, but putting the rope on the hind leg of that animal was the closest I have ever come to losing my lunch over a smell.

Repairing the animals was a much more interesting and much less disgusting. A lamb came in with a broken hock, which on a lamb is much higher than the human knee which is equivalent. This made it difficult to splint, but after some Google-ing we found the best way was to bind it to the body. We change the bandage periodically, and in a few weeks he should be right. We also helped fix a few Bearings, which if you remember from last post is a prolapsed uterus. This is a pretty bloody endeavor, as you have to push the uterus in, shove in what looks like a very large IUD, and then sow it into place with thick thread. The sheep can’t pee with the bearing, so the faster you are at fixing it the sooner you can be covered in sheep urine. Lovely.

Despite some of the more unpleasant aspects, we are really enjoying our time here, even more so than last week. We have had some really nice dinners of roast chicken, stew, and casserole. We also feel much more capable, and have also been able to use some of our talents.I got to work on a broken ATV for a whole day, and Kelly is getting really good at feeding the lambs.

While the lambing is slow, the eye of the storm as I like to think of it, we have also been taking care of some of our personal goals. I am almost done the med school apps, which is good. Kelly and I are applying for jobs working at a resort in the Mountains. This would start in October. It is called The Hermitage, but it is still a big maybe. Tonight we are going to Invercargill with Ken, to watch one of the rugby world cup games and also, I hope, to get pissed up (as the Kiwis would say). Georgia vs. Scotland.

Now, the most exciting news: we bought a van. May I introduce you to Todo. Sorry this pictures are so boring, we will try to get some of her finer features. For those who want more information, she is a 1989 Toyota Townace. With only 164000 Km, this baby is good for another 100000 at least. Considering it won't drive past 80 km/hr without wild protest, it should make for lots of time on the road. We are going to put a bed in the back, and get a camping stove. Under the hood, or more correctly under the passenger seat, is a straight 4, naturally aspirated, carbureted petrol engine displacing a staggering 1.4 L. This will produce approximately one third of the power of the Pontiac Grand Prix we used to drive in Canada. Considering the van is only a third heavier, it should make for some unreal performance. Anyway, the price was right at 1500$ NZ, talked down from 1750$.. They resale for about 4000$, so we run a good chance of paying for our flights home with it. As long as we don’t hit any hills, we should be golden... What's that? There are mountains in New Zealand?  Well, I guess we will turn the AC off and hope for the best. When this vans a rocking’, don’t come a knockin’!!



Friday, September 9, 2011

4 Days in the Life of a Southland Farmer

Sheep farming is tough. We have been here less than a week, and we are both just getting used to the routine. The family is really nice, and they are great about showing us the ropes. Kel and I wake up at 6 and get out to do the first round of checks on the sheep by 6:30. We ride these sweet ATVs (motorbikes if you are from New Zealand… you have to know the context to tell between these and motorcycles).
We then get in for breakfast of farm fresh eggs, toast, beans, and canned spaghetti. The latter was a bit of a shock, but breakfast around here is a bit different. The food in NZ in general is different then home. Its what I would imagine people on that old soap Eastenders ate. Sausages, lot of prepared and fried foods. I guess it is the English influence. The potatoes and veggies are great, and we have had some great stews and roasts. As we live on sheep farms, you would think there would be more lamb. Unfortunately, lamb is sold, and Mutton is eaten. If you have never had the pleasure, imagine a plate full of that piece of lamb that was a bit too “lamby”, but tolerable next too the delicious lamb. Its not terrible,  but I would take lamb if I could. Today we had duck, shot early last month. I asked the farmer what he thought of it, and his response was: “Well, enough plum sauce and its alright, I guess. Its best in casserole.”. I thought it was pretty good though.
I should add that every meal is called Tea. We missed dinner the first night because we declined tea. Its another one of those context things. After first meal tea, we go out and check the sheep again. I will walk you through it:
Things to look for:
  • Pregnant ewes that have fallen over. They are so large they cannot right themselves, which is hilarious.You have to give them a bit of a lift.
  • Unmarked twins. Lambs often have twins, and you spraypaint a number on each of the twins so that you can match them. if you find a lamb with a number on it and no partner or mum, you can then drive around until you make the pair. They are fast, so you need to catch and spraypaint them quickly.
  • Lambs that are looking weak. Sometimes you have to catch the lamb and sheep and bring them in for more careful observation. Other times, especially with triplets or twins, the mum will not be able to feed all the lambs, and you will take one off and bottle feed it, or put it onto a sheep that lost its lamb.
  • Sheep that are having trouble lambing. You end up pulling a lot of lambs. Here are some picks of the before, middle and after. The sheep need help when the lamb is too big, or when the presentation is bad. In these pictures the lambs had come out with their head and one hoof, rather than both, and the leg was catching. It is pretty common. The proper presentation and delivery is front legs first, followed by the head and then the rest of the body. If only one leg comes through with a head, you have to first push it all back into the sheep’s uterus and find the other leg and then pull it all out again. It is also important that that the mother sheep licks all the membrane off the lamb so that it doesn’t suffocate. That is why you bring the lamb up to the sheep’s face after the birth.

Congratulations! it’s a lamb. Most of the time the sheep needs no help at all. It is amazing. There are some sheep that die during the birth, and also lots of lambs. The farmers here have names for all the different conditions that you could imagine: Watery mouth (caused by an abundance of e-coli bacteria in the gut) , watery eye (infection of the eye that can cause blindness), and bearing (a prolapsed uterus) to name a few.
There are over 3000 sheep on this farm, all having lambs. Most of these lambs will be sold after a few months for meat. The next time we see a leg of lamb on sale, we’ll think twice about how hard the farmer worked, and how fair a 7$ leg of lamb is for him. The wool is not as valuable. The finer wools come from the highlands. Think merino. Yes, it’s a hell of a thing. Another crazy thing: When you want a sheep to care for a orphaned or abandoned lamb and the sheep’s own lamb dies, you skin it and put the skin on the other lamb. I wonder if Thomas Harris was into sheep farming…
The farm also has dairy cows, which are calving right now. We have to go find and take the calves, and then bring in the new mums so that they can be milked. Here is a picture of the paddock, with Stewart Island in the back and Kel feeding the cows. The hay has thistles in it, which hurt so hard, and are difficult to get out. This was not intentional, I understand.
It is a good day when we are done by 9. Besides all this, the dogs must be fed, the equipment maintained, and the people filled with tea, the drink and the meals. It’s a very wholesome lifestyle, and if nothing else you get to stand in a field with 300 sets of eyes looking at you like you are god. Or is it 300 ewes…

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Arrived Safe in Dunedin


After a not so grueling 12 hour flight to Auckland and an easy 2 hr flight to Dunedin we have made it most of the way to our destination. Just a 5 hr wait in the airport and a 2 hr bus ride to Invercargill. The flight to Auckland was fantastic. We had beef lasagna and tasted some NZ wines. We must have slept for most of it because when I woke up the cabin lights were coming on and John said we only had 2.5 hrs left. Shortly after that we had cheese omelets and mimosas for breaky. (One might note that when I write the blog entries there will be much attention paid to food and wine). We were also lucky enough to sit beside a very nice woman. We hope to see her again sometime later in the trip.

The flight from Auckland to Dunedin was pretty great as well (minus the fact that my ears STILL haven’t popped). It was beautiful to look out the window and see the water, a volcano, and mountain ranges! The Dunedin airport is quite nice, although the price of food here was a bit of a shock. We think eggs are very expensive. Anything without eggs seems reasonable…. strange. This is a picture of us outside the Dunedin Airport, waiting for the bus.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

John and Kel do California, before NZ


First off, Kel wrote a long, thourogh blog entry that I deleted, accidently. My bad.

The flight down here was uneventful… mom was great about getting us to syracuse, and the transfer through NY was fine. When we got to San Fran Ellin picked us up. Miles gave us the cold shoulder for a while, but warmed up. Kelly is of course wonderful with him. He can’t resist her hair.

On the second day we went for a swim and Ellin and Jer had some friends to dinner. We were pretty wiped from the flight so it was nice to take it easy. Nevertheless, we played some drunken pictionary and had some good wine.

The next day we went to Monterey Bay Aquarium. We always try to get an early start, but with Miles around that isn’t really possible. The aquarium was unreal, John liked the Tuna the most, while kel really enjoyed the seahorses. Two had wrapped tails and were “dancing”, apparently. She is such a romantic… We had sushi before hand… HA! The tuna was equally beautiful on my chopsticks.

This morning, Ellin went out for some time with a friend and Kel and I tended Miles. He was pretty ridiculous when Mum left, but we distracted him with some books and swinging, which did the trick. A trip to the park later he was pretty tuckered out, but refused a nap. We fed him lunch, and about halfway through a PB sandwich kel left the room and asked me to watch him. By the time I got into the kitchen he had fallen asleep in the sandwitch. It was very sweet. We cleaned him up and kel and he took a nice nap on the couch This was after we trie to put him to bed in the crib, which was a pparently a pretty  bad idea, if you ask Miles.

Tommorow we head to San Fran to see Ang and Alex. The plan is to play some Frolf (frisbee golf) and sample some beer, so that we know what we are missing up in Canada. It was a lot of fun in San Jose, and we are excited to get on the way to NZ. Free booze and food… woo!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

T minus one

Kels parents drove up to Ottawa with Kelly for the big send off. We had a nice dinner and breakfast, as well as a productive trip to Costco. I also got a bag, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag, and kelly got a sleeping mat. We also got some dry sacks. Finally some nice gear for us to camp with!! Woooooo.
One more day to pack and then we head down to Syracuse early Tuesday morning. Apparently we won’t have any trouble with our flight into New York...we’ll see about that.

Pre trip fun

Wrapping up things in Ottawa. Getting the moneys, credit cards, and travel documents sorted. Ellin and Jrem are giving us the plug adapter that I was going to buy tomorrow, which knocks off a last “to do”. I hope to sell the go kart tomorrow, which I feel is a major milestone in my maturation. Kelly arrives tomorrow with the family for the night. The tone of the ~year long trip has been set: We are flying through JFK on the 30th, shortly after hurricane Irene is slated to push 15 ft of water over said airport. Should be a blast!

New Zealand Trip

Kel and I will try to update this with information about the trip. We are not sure how much Internet we will have access to, but whenever we can we will do it. Mum, you can share this with other people by giving them the link (Ellin will help). Feel free to make comments.