Thursday, 30 June 2011

Lambs, Meg and Pendragon

Well its not been an easy day for me today. Some twin lambs were born last night and today we went to catch them to put the tags in their ears and saw that one was a lot smaller than the other. When her mother walked off she wasn't following and when we caught the sheep we found that she had mastitis in one side of her udder, where no milk is produced. Its horrible for sheep because that side just rots away eventually. It wouldn't be a problem if she had a single lamb, as she is old and off to the works due to her deteriorating teeth so a slow illness like that wouldn't have bothered her anyway. But she can't look after both so we had to force the smallest lamb to get one last feed from her by putting the sheep on its side and holding the teat out to the lamb (after all breast is best) and then carried her to the house and put her in a pen in the garden. She keeps baaaaa-ing, calling for her mother and its a horrible noise. Its like a normal lamb noise mixed with desperate scream. She will get used to us in a few days, and if any other twins are born to mothers who can't take care of then she will have company. We were working in the vineyard after and I forgot my iPod, I had to go back and get it just because it was to hard to hear the lamb crying out.

Other than that we are on row 37 out of 87 off the vineyard, and I would say without my iPod I would want to kill myself. We are babysitting 7 miniature horses for a friend of Pam and Dave's and the other day we put some in a field with the cows. There are 8 very large cows and 5 very very small miniature horses (about the size of a very large dog) and guess who get the best grazing, and access to water first? The horses. They are just so bossy!

Meg the dog is a the most needy dog you can get. She was trained as a working dog but got shocked by the electric fence to many times and developed a phobia, which lead to other phobias. She is now useless really, we tried to use her to round up the cows but she just ran from Dave to me. She needs re-training or a bullet, thats what Dave says. The cat. Pendragon, its the funnies cat ever. He likes sitting right in front of a fire or on someones lap. He lets you pick him up and play with him and will curl up on your lap if he feels like it. He likes to sleep with Pam and Dave and even has learn to jump up and pull the door handle down to get into their room. But now that I am here he sleeps with me, every night he come and and gets UNDER the covers and curls up next to me. I can't stop him, he walks around my pillows and the funny thing is if I' sleeping on my side he comes in under me, and if I turn over he gets up and climbs over, or around so he's in front of me again! crazy cat he just likes it because its warm under the covers.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Lamb, Hoggit and Mutton

Well its no secret that New Zealand is famous for sheep. Wool and meat were two massive export industries until fairly recently when a change to wine and dairy cows and the desire for man-made textiles rather than wool meant that the sheep industry was in decline for a while. The national flock has gone from 70 million to 30 million over the last few years. However there is not as much money in grapes as there used to be and wool is becoming very fashionable again. This means that a lamb which used to sell for about $60 is now going for $200+ and ewes (female sheep) are going for even more. There was an auction last week where one went for $360 and a lamb $315. Thats just crazy!!!

There are 30 ewes on this farm and it is coming up to lambing, with most being pregnant. We got them in for shearing a few days ago, which the sheep don't like very much but oh well. When you shear them in mid-winter it means that once the baby is born they have to go find shelter themselves and so the lamb comes with them. If not, the sheep will quite happily stay out in the cold and rain while the lambs, still very small, will freeze to death. 5 lambs have been born so far and they are so cute!!! We have to catch them, find out if they are ewes or rams and put tags in their ears accordingly. This is like having your ears pierced with a large plastic earring but animals have a much greater capacity for pain then humans and after a few second they seem fine. You have to do it in the first few days, and catch them with a shepherds crook because after that there is no chance of outrunning them. Any lambs which are twins (so far of the 5 on is single and there are 2 sets of twins) will be kept as part of the permanent stock to breed and get wool from. singles lambs and rams will be kept till they are old enough to be weened then sent to the works to be sold as lamb. Some of the older sheep with deteriorating teeth will also be sold as mutton once their lambs are weened because you either keep them and let them starve to death when they struggle to eat or just shoot them so they die painlessly.

For dinner last night we had mutton, a mature sheep. Lambs are less than a year old, hoggit about 1-2 years and mutton is an adult. They taste slightly different and have different textures. Hoggit is the favorite here, having more meat then lamb but still the sweet, meaty flavor. We are having a leg of hoggit for dinner tonight so I will be excited to try it. Mutton is a different matter however. I've had it before, in a pie and being tough it is best for slow cookers and stews, so in the pie it was nice. We had it very differently, it was a Mutton flap. The flap is the belly, a very thing piece of meat surrounded by gristle and fat. (Incidentally fat in grass fed red meat is better for you than grain fed red meat, another reason to buy outdoor farmed foods rather than factory farmed ). We had it wrapped around a large amount of stuffing. I can only describe the portion by comparing to a beef wellington, where the stuffing was like the beef fillet, and the mutton flap was wrapped around like the pastry of the wellington. As it cooked the fat melted and dripped through the stuffing, it was very nice but I can't say I like the taste of the meat itself. It was a little tough and tasted like what sheep smell like. I couldn't get the smell of sheep droppings, unwashed wool, and the general smell of a farm out of my nose as I was eating, and covered it in stuffing, sauce and veges to hide the taste.

In between the sheep we have still been working on the vines, its taking forever!!!!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Corned Beef, Bambi and Vineyards

I'm still in Blenhime, at the same place. There is still a LOT of work to do on the vinyard. The other night we had the strangest thing for dinner, it was corned beef but not as I know it. Corned beef, for those who do not know, is a bit like spam. Its tinned beef with lots of fat and salt, and all the leftover cheap bits of meat. It was invented in the first world war to feed the soldiers in the trenches and has a very distinctive flavour, I don't mind it but it wouldn't occur to me to buy it. Anyway this was different. It was a big lump of beef, an actual roasting joint that had been soaked and aged in brine. We cooked it in the slow cooker and despite the long cooking time the entire inside was a very dark red. It was extreamly tender and cut so easily with a butter knife. The taste was almost like tinned corned beef really, but not as fatty or salty. We had a sweet mustard sauce with it which is traditional apparently. It was very strange though to see something so familliar in such a different form.

The vineyard is coming along slowly,out of 86 rows we've done 15. it just takes a long time. We've also had a few distractions. The calves were weened off their mothers and put in a separate paddock at the other end of the farm but two escaped and somehow got back with their mothers. so when Dave's friend John came over to collect firewood (they have a forestry block which will be cut down in 15 years but has been thinned out) we spent ages trying to separate the cows.  That was hard work and was all for nothing as one of the cows and one of the calves escaped that night and were wandering around the vineyard. We repaired one of the electric fences in the field where the calves were and made a horrible discovery. Dave had a tame deer on the property, raised it and and brought it up. they left the door open one day and even found him on their bed (the house is one story)!!!!! He was totally harmless but pam was worried that he would hurt someone by accident one day or that he would realize he was wild and hurt someone on purpose. Anyway in our fence repairing quest we found Bambi, strangled by the electric fence tape and completely disintegrated. It looks like he must have got an antler caught and wrapped himself up so badly he had choked. His head was their with the tape around it, and his fur and skeleton but maggots and bugs seemed to have got the rest. What a horrible way to die! He could have been shot humanly and made good venison! Such a sad death and a waste of good meat. Pam is happy though, one less thing to worry about.

After working in the garden this morning Pam and I went on a bit of a vineyard tour. This area, surrounding Blenhiem is full of them. About 10 years ago it was full of sheep but they got rid of them when wool prices dropped and put vines everywhere. Its NZ's biggest area for wine production. We just went to four (Pam was driving and I'm a lightweight so more then that would have been a very bad idea) and tried some of the more and less famous vineyards. Villa Maria and Cloudy bay are excellent vineyards and I've had their wine at home. The stuff we get from Villa Maria is the cheaper range that they sell. Its not the cheap nasty stuff, its consistent, drinkable, fairly priced vine that is not fancy but just nice. However they have a reserve range, which is not exported and these were very good indeed. The Pinot Noire especially. I did not like their Malbec at all, Argentina makes better, it was to chalky and heavy on the tannins, dried my mouth out. I also have found out the difference between Syrah and Shiraz. They are the same grape and was called Syrah in France but then the Australians started growing it they re-named it Shiraz and gave it a much bigger, bolder, in your face, aggressive taste. They use Syrah to refer to the more mellow wines made with those grapes. Cloudy Bay was excellent, just as I expected. The highlight there was a Sauvignon Blanc aged in oak barrels. Sav is normally a very fruity, fresh, tropical sort of grape but this was very very different taste, hard to describe but a pleasant surprise. It reminded me of the wine Pam and Dave gave me that they grow, and it turns out they also use oak for their Sav. We Went to Whither Hills as well where I learned that they sell their wine in the UK, but for much cheaper then sell their wine in the tasting room! Highfields was the other one, their wine was average with a horrible sparkling wine. All in all a good afternoon and a simmilar tour would have cost about $60 so I am very grateful!

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Blenheim was the scary airport I flew into from the North island, when I thought I was going to die because we were getting tossed around so much. If I hadn't been so scared I would have been admiring all the vines with their red and gold leaves. Now all the leaves have fallen off leaving rows and rows of empty, skeletal vines. I got picked up in Blenheim by Pam, my new wwoofing host and taken to her house not far from town. They have a few cows, sheep, 2 pigs, chickens, and cat and a dog. They are also looking after a friends 7 miniature horses. My first task on Saturday was to got collecting to poo in the horses field for manure. I had to do this every Saturday at the stables, they told us it stopped the horses from getting worms. I think they lied because if we hadn't needed manure we wouldn't have bothered, it was just to give us something to do. We then wen and dug up some red volcanic rocks and gravel which are very good for making roads and fixed the driveway. That afternoon Pam and David has some friends come round, they seem to have more of a social life, being closer to town. Also Pam works full time a s a social worker. That morning she actually had to go to court as a 14 year old had skipped bail (very sad) and then the hospital that night as a 14 year old boy was threatening suicide (also sad). Their son also came round after a days diving with some Paua, a shellfish which has a white centre like a scollop bit is sitting on a black disk which fills the shell. I have wanted to try them for a while, and they were nice, but I prefer scollops.

Sunday we went to their friends farm, which had olive groves on it when they bought it. There is not much profit in olives so we volunteered to harvest and sort them with plastic rakes and then it gets bottled for charity. It was an interesting day, and I realise now why olive oil is so expensive, it is such labour intensive work. Its not that its hard, its just slow and laborious and needs lots and lots of people. The problem is with New Zealand that they don't really appreciate good olive oil either. There are the odd food snobs but in general it is under-rated here and people don't really grasp the health benefits or the superior taste that it has to other oils so most people aren't really prepared to pay for it. So you can only really get very expensive stuff for the food snobs, and not common, second press oil for cooking.

I had a very interesting day today. Pam had gone to work and me and David got to work pruning the 4.5 hectare (acre?) vineyard. That is another task which isn't particularly hard, as you are standing most of the time, but its just time consuming. He was telling me how in the old days you could get $25,000 off one acre (hectare?) of vines before the market crashed. His whole farm, animals and everything used to be valued at $200,000 a year, and that's a lot. Not anymore though, and only the larger vineyards are surviving. I also asked if his cows and sheep would be sold as free range meat, as they are really. He said there is no free range in New Zealand as they have no indoor farming. Outdoor farming is far cheaper, environmentally friendly and humane .With indoor farming you have to buy the grain, maintain water and electric lines, and it is cruel. So we have a situation in the UK where people are paying less money for a product which is more expensive to produce, but more money for the cheaper, more ethical free range product because free range is fashionable. There was also this talk of food miles and they worked out that shipping lamb from NZ to the UK has less food miles then buying British factory farmed meat as you feed it on grass and spring water, not grain and water from the mains. So the moral of the story is that free range meat in the UK is a big con as they are charging a higher price for the cheaper product and the best thing to do is buy New Zealand lamb. He was also moaning about how in Europe and America farmers are subsidised, and they are not in NZ, which means NZ farmers are the most efficient in the world, they have to be to keep up.

The house I am in is much more modern then the previous one, and more comfortable. They have a wood burning stove for heating and hot water. So we'll see what else I get up to, probably more vine pruing, there loads to do!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Back to Nelson

Well I left Clarrie and Syth on Wednesday. They were very nice people and I think if everyone incorporated some aspects of their lifestyle, be it the solar panels, not eating meat, or switching off all appliances unless they are needed, then the world would be a much better place.

But a week in complete seclusion was enough for me. I headed back to Nelson, hoping to do a bone carving workshop before going to Blenhiem (The Maori jewelry here is made of either jade or bone). But it was closed for the winter so I had a day free. I went to the museum (small, not much their that was very different, except that Nelson is the home of Rugby in NZ) and the Cathedral. This was a horrible building, the shape of it was meant to be a gothic cathedral but it was all very square and simplified, like the architect was trying to copy and old one and got lazy. The outside was clad in what looked like slate which is very odd for a church.

Then I just went to the cinema, after only beeing allowed to watch the 6 o'clock news, and nothing else as there wasn't enough power, I though I would treat myself to the new Pirates of the Caribbean.

I'm now waiting for 8 o'clock to arrive as the hostel I'm staying in has free chocolate pudding and ice cream!!! yum yum. I get the bus to Blenheim tomorrow and stay with a new family. They have one child still at home so they are a bit younger, and I should have someone close to my own age for company then.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


I was extremely lucky today. Carrie and Sythe have two friends who own a large sail boat/small yacht type thing.  They sail it in French Pass, a place about 1/2 hour up the road. Its  very narrow strip of water between the mainland and d'Urville island where boats can go through, but only in a tiny section of the pass. Its so narrow that when the tides are changing water gets dragged through and it creates whirlpools. They use it for a schools sailing club, as well as private charters for tourists and you can actually take it out for days at a time because there is a galley (kitchen) and births (beds) below deck. Normally its about $160 per person but they have to move it for the winter from French Pass to Elaine Bay and had no way for driving home as they only have one car. So they asked Clarrie and Sythe to do the driving, leaving one car at Elaine bay then driving us back to French Pass, and let us go on the boat for free. It was great, I got to see French pass from the road (we were sailing in the other direction) which a lot of wwoofers don't as Sythe stopped taking them there due to the rising fuel costs. and I got a 5 hour trip on a boat!

The boat was had built by Lawarance and it is he and his wife that own it. He literally just bought some wood, shaped it himself and built the whole thing by hand. He had a few friends who helped him with the heavy lifting and stuff and a professional joiner but most of it was his own work. It took 16 years he said, on and off so about 8 years of work. Its maybe 40 feet long. He built it in Western Australia then sailed it over to New Zealand. Unfortunately there was so little wind that we had to use the motor, so I didn't get to see the sail up, or go along in total silence but other than that it was great! Grace made some potato, cabbage and bacon soup as well, forgetting about the vegetarians and it was great to have meat!!! Most of the time I could take or leave it, and I don't buy much anyway as its expensive. I even gave up meat for Lent one year but I ate a lot of fish and eggs. Sythe doesn't cook her eggs at this time of year, she sells them and as the chickens aren't laying many in the winter she only keeps 2 or 3 a week for baking. They've had tinned tuna but its not the same. So I was really grateful for the bacon anyway!!!!

We arrived Elaine Bay and moored for the winter, then took the little row boat back to the shore. All in all a very good day and I was so lucky to see such a beautiful part of New Zealand.

Here is the website of the boat, and Clarrie and Sythe's website:

Cissy Bay

Its raining here so I have a bit of time inside to catch up with my blog. On Wednesday I got picked up in the afternoon by Clarrie, he and his wife host wwoofers at their farm in Cissy Bay, about 2 hours north of Nelson. After a long drive along winding roads we arrived in the dark so I didn't really get to see the place. Syth greeted us at the door and we had dinner in their very small and dark living room/kithen/dining room/office. Its a very small square room here, the rest is a shed with 2 beds behind and MDF wall. They have no mains electricity or gas, instead they use solar power and gas tanks filled up at the petrol station. This means that at night when it gets dark you need a flashlight to do anything outside of the main room and they just have a small candle in the bathroom. The fridge and oven are both powered by gas tanks which seem to last along time and whenever they are not on the computer they switch off all the power to the house, so they just have one big gas light and flashlights for the whole room. They sleep in a caravan outside of the main building, I'm in the shed half of the building on a very comfy mattress. The water comes from a spring so it is very nice and fresh tasting. They have a very small hot water heater for the shower, and a tap but no pipe to the kitchen sink so there is a bit of a ritual with the washing up. First you rinse and scrub all the dishes in the cold water to get all the food off. Then you go over to the hot water heater and turn the tap gently and pray you can get it up to about 45degrees. Then you wash the dishes in the hot water and soap. They are also vegetarians so all in all the is a very eco-friendly lifestyle.

As well as the farm they have a website design business which they mostly work from at home. Clarrie goes into Nelson once a week overnight to work at the office and do the food shopping for the week (there are no shops here, no pubs, nothing but a few houses). There are about 13 permanent residents on Cissy Bay, the rest having holiday homes here. The community is very small and has a few problems, mainly instigated by a man who got kicked out of South Africa for 'giving sweets to little girls' as he says and 'Madame Butterfly' and absolute nutter who sometimes sits with her binoculars on the road spying on Syth and Clarrie. I have only heard their side of the story so I won't repeat it here, but this woman is mad, anyone can tell that and she has nothing to do in her life so she goes around bothering others.

Anyway I woke up on my first morning here and got an amazing view of the sounds. The bay is at the bottom and, similar to Milford, the earth rises up in steep ridges. Its just not as steep or dramatic. The house is about half way up one ridge and they own fields on the other side where llamas and scottish highland cows, which are their pets, graze. They also have chickens, a dog called Duke and a cat called Nova. They try as much as possible to eat vegetables from the very large garden although at this time of year that is not always possible. There are a few fruit trees as well, and the passion fruit here is amazing! If they sell their cows and llamas they try to make sure they go to other 'lifestyle' families as pets, rather than as food!

Duke is an amazing dog. He is a New Zealand Huntaway, a bit bigger than a Labrador, black and brown and very energetic, intelligent and friendly. He knows what a Weka is, a native brown wild hen, and enjoys chasing them. He loves riding in the car and on the way back from a neighbors house Clarrie shouted 'RACE' and we let duke out and he ran all the way home with us chasing him. He can jump fences and gates as well and any horse as well and when you scratch his ear, then stop he nudges your hand till you start again.

I've been working very hard since I've been here, thats the point of wwoofing. I did a lot of weeding in the garden which is actually very satisfying to see a patch which was green and overgrown turned into nice brown soil ready for planting. We have built a fence as well, that was hard work as it was on a very very steep hill and I kept falling down. The actual work was easy, its just the hill the was trying to kill me that I didn't like. But they've planted a load of native trees along a paddock and wanted to fence them off so when the animals come in they don't get destroyed.

Clarrie and Sythe are very nice people, the both have older children and grandchildren. Clarrie is from New Zealand whereas Sythe is Scottish and her and her son have emigrated, she has a daughter still in England. They met about 15 years ago and Clarrie proposed after 10 days! They've been very nice to me, even though I'm not as strong or fast as some of the other wwoofers that they've had. I've enjoyed it here but I think a week is long enough. I'm so isolated from everything and there are so few people hear that as great as it has been I think another week would drive me mad. I've had a good experience but I'd like to go somewhere with a few more people, and maybe a pub!