Saturday, November 21, 2009

Northlands (and Sheep World!)

Last night, while making a a run to the park toilets before bed, I happened to spot an amazing New Zealand Christmas Tree while waiting for Erich. It was the most perfect climbing tree, so I got up about 15 feet and when Erich came out, called him up into the tree too. The limbs were at a perfect angle to recline and look up at the infinite amount of starts gleaming overhead. The branches blocked a few spots, but still, we saw shooting starts and the upside-down Orion's Belt. It was right on the water and it was so quiet in the park, all we could hear was the breeze through the trees and the lapping of the tiny waves on the beach. After awhile, I got too chilly, and we climbed back down and into the heated van for the night.

In the morning, we decided to do a brief hike up the mountain to a lookout over the bay. It was a gorgeous hike, with vines and palm trees and fern trees, looking so tropical yet I was wearing pants and my down vest. At the top, there was a fabulous view of the bay and the clear turquoise waters. Off the coast, dozens of islands dotted the horizon. Back at the start of the trail, we checked out the historical victorian-style house and gardens at the base of the cliffs that has been moved slightly twice, but was built there in the early 1900s.

Back on the road near Warkworth, we passed by one of our stops for the day at the Honey Center. It was neat to see the thousands of bees buzzing around behind the glass bee hive, and they had tastings of at least 30 kinds of honey. All of them were good, but it's interesting when you taste honey like that, back to back, you can really tell the difference with the subtle flavors, sort of like wine tasting.

We needed to get going at that point in order to make the 11am show up the road. When you think of an attraction called "Sheep World," most people probably wouldn't be too upset about missing it. But for me, this was a huge highlight of the Northlands area and I was giddy to go see the sheep shearing and watch the dogs herd. Erich was nice enough to go along with the whole thing, seeing how excited I was about the place and the show and demo they do twice a day.

Surprisingly enough, the show was not that crowded. The employee joked when I was the fifth person in the barn that they were going to have a busy day. Our host, Ross, started by introducing the dogs, one spastic border collie named Dog who could not sit still for even a second, and another New Zealand working dog (a mix of a collie, lab and fox hound) named Sam. Ross is a real hard-core New Zealand farmer. Older now, he has been shearing sheep for 45 years, while most guys only last about 10 due to the exhausting strain on the back and neck. He worked full-time as a shearer and in one year could shear 80,000 sheep. His best time was 30 seconds, although he claims the record is only 14 seconds for a full grown sheep. They have to work so quickly because they get paid per sheep. Back when he was working, the rate was $0.95 per sheep, and now it's up to $1.75.

The demo began with all ten of the audience walking outside and then Dog taking off like a bullet to bring the sheep into the pen. Ross had a shepard's whistle on his neck and by blowing it different ways could steer Dog in different directions or tell him to hold-off or speed up. Dog herds the sheep by nipping or staring at them, while the other work, Sam, has to bark to get the sheep moving but will not nip.

Once all the sheep were in the barn, he explained why they have colored spray paint markings on their heads, markings on the ears and about docking the tails, and then started the sheep shearing demo. I was so excited I was able to get up on the platform and try my hand at shearing the sheep with the clippers, it was actually much harder than I though since you had to avoid the wrinkles in their skin so you wouldn't cut them. I even got to keep my stinky little pile of wool that I had shorn.

After the sheep was sheared, Ross, who I now think of as the Sheep Whisperer, put this sheep to sleep just by rubbing a pressure point behind his left ear. He said he's had vets come from all over to watch and learn how he does this, and supposedly his success rate is 95%. The sheep just slept on the stage while he went on with the show.

Next was the cutest part, when seven baby lambs came sprinting into the barn and we all got massive bottles with warm sheep's milk to feed them. They were feisty little guys, all running to find the nearest bottle and start sucking like crazy. Mine was especially energetic and sloshed me with sheep's milk and then downed the whole bottle in half the time of the other lambs. Erich's certainly had the softest head and they all just reminded us so much of Coco!

Next it was out to the petting area, where we were randomly chosen to feed the calves their half-gallon size bottle of milk. These guys were huge, and they were drooling and one reached out it's enormous tongue and slurped Erich's hand, wanting more food. We continued on to see the alpacas, birds, and pigs but just missed the eel feeding. (These eels live in rivers and ponds and are common all over New Zealand, but really they just look like super long and skinny fish.) There was an eco-walk, a short trail that featured some bird calls and signage which was nice.

Once it began a light drizzle, we headed into the Black Sheep Cafe for lunch, and can you believe what Erich ordered? After our nice time bottle-feeding babies, he orders the LAMB sandwich. But did say is was very good.

After so much farm fun, we had seen all the animals and got back in the camper to continue north. We drove up through the big city of Whangarei and on towards the Tutukaka coast. The area is beautiful with small islands along the coast and blue clear waters. We are camped on a quiet bay with a perfect view of the ocean and soft sand beach. Tomorrow we will get up early and be on our way out to the famous Poor Knights Islands for some (very cold) diving.


  1. that's so cool!!!! bring the stinky wool over and i'll show you how to card and spin it :) miss you guys!!!

  2. LOL! they took away my stinky wool at the airport :( i guess i'm not allowed to take it into australia. maybe i can shear some more sheep here!!! would love to learn to spin it.

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