What Do Travellers Do All Day?: #19 – Dropped Amongst the Sheep Shaggers – Christchurch to Dunedin, New Zealand

19: Dropped Amongst the Sheep Shaggers

11 October 2002
One day when I was in Australia there was a story on the radio news, telling of a mysterious shearing incident with some sheep. They apparently had been finding a lot of sheep totally sheared in the night on some cattle ranches, presumably for the wool – like poaching but without all the mess and loss of life. At the end of the news broadcast, the DJ came on and said that he thought it was some Kiwi who must not like his women hairy! I had to laugh!

I was picked up from the airport in Christchurch by my mate Rio, also travelling New Zealand, and then taken home to someone else’s home. The owners of the house, and friends of Rio’s, were away and we stayed over to “keep the home fires burning”. Whilst Rio and I climbed up Potts Point to watch the sun go down (which we missed), Caroline made us a delicious home-cooked meal – so far no roughing it in sight! We then caught up, after months of not seeing each other, with some beer and wine by an open fire – still a little chilly here in NZ.

A few days later I hired a ‘Rent-a-Wreck’ which I’ve since named Miss Daisy. She’s a green Honda Civic with a few leaks and creaks and these fast and amazing little spiders that make intricate cobwebs on my wing mirrors overnight – but she goes like there’s someone behind poking her on the rump with a pin on a stick. Twice I’ve been told to slow down, once by a cop directing traffic past a jack-knifed truck, and once by an old lady walking her dog wagging her finger at me, in this little town that popped out of nowhere – I felt like a naughty schoolkid. The squeaking of the windscreen wiper drowns out the music, but at least it keeps me awake – with all these sheep around you can find yourself starting to count them, and the next thing you’re fast asleep in a ditch on someone’s farm – sheep eating the grass around you. You move the car and suddenly you have NZ’s equivalent of mysterious crop circles but in the shape of old cars. So how do kiwi’s get to sleep at night if counting sheep is what keeps them awake?!

I initially took on 3 other travellers, a 19-year-old Brazilian and two 20-year-old Israelis. After buzzing up to Kaikoura for whale watching (cancelled due to the weather) and swimming with dolphins (cancelled due to the weather) and swimming in Hamner Hot Springs and down to Akaroa for some tramping (hiking) and several disagreements on POA (Plan of Action) between us, I swiftly moved to Plan B and informed them that I would prefer to go it alone and what a brilliant decision I made! (I do love that look of surprise though!)

First stop was the electrical store to buy a CD adapter for the tape player in the car, and I have since become well acquainted with my music at HIGH volume. The wisdom of the Chili Peppers inspired me to take corners on gravel roads on only two wheels – have you ever seen the above-mentioned ‘look of surprise’ on a sheep?

But imagine my surprise one day, lost on a little windy road amongst rolling green hills, a lot like the last little windy road amongst rolling green hills except this time I did a double take at this sheep. It seemed to have grown to 3 times the size of a normal sheep and had an abnormally elongated neck – I had to get out of the car and take a closer peek at it to realise I was looking at a blinkin’ llama!

And never will the approach to Mt. Cook be more inspiring as it did to the lyrics of Enya. Mt. Cook is a must see, one of my highlights as will be reflected by the whole spool of film I used as I slammed on the brakes every 20 metres driving up to it. The weather was snowy and freezing at night, but lovely and warm during the day for nice long walks up into the surrounding mountains. All this white snow surrounded crystal clear lakes that mirrored everything around us.

I met this ‘laugh-a-minute’ English girl and another ‘good-value’ English couple, and we did a couple of hours of walking together, but mostly talking and ended up running down the slushy steps of the mountain and dodging snowballs. And even though it was way overpriced, the YHA had a really cool log cabin at the foot of the mountain with open fires, videos and sauna. There I met an Ozzie snowboarder from Melbourne, also travelling alone, and for the next 2 days we travelled in convoy down to Dunedin.

In Timaru we sat giving this new hostel owner our opinions of what a good hostel is. I felt a bit bad for him, as he’s been ripped off twice since he opened only a month back. There are dodgy travellers everywhere – but they were all Kiwi con artists so far. I was actually quite surprised he let me in after all that, as he pointed out, I am from the crime capital of the world.

Before we left the next day, we went on a quick DB Brewery tour. Us and a whole lot of school kids on a school tour – there were a lot of jealous faces when we got a six-pack each of free beers to taste at the end and they got none – pays to be an old croney sometimes!

In Oamaru, listening to “Roxanne” by the Police, we stopped the cars for jaywalkers of the blue penguin kind. At sunset they roam the streets like cheap hookers, and it’s quite comical. We also managed to spot a yellow-eyed penguin, quite rare as they are a little shy of people and get stage fright if people disturb them too much and then they don’t mate – can’t blame them really, can you? We all need our privacy! Just south of Oamaru, we stopped to take a look at the Moeraki boulders, huge spherical rocks that have fallen out of the crumbling land and into the sea.

Dunedin is a vibey student town with a lot of atmosphere, and loads of cool spots with live bands and arty misfits roaming about. The Otago peninsula (best driven to the sounds of Powderfinger) just south of there is famous for its albatross. Of course, Murphy’s Law, I arrive there an hour after the littlest albatross has flown the nest. Turns out he landed in the sea a few kilometres from there because he had eaten too much and didn’t fly so much as ‘plummet’. They spend an entire year out at sea without touching land apparently – I’m a bit dubious about that little fact however.

Here I met a girl from Jersey and we braved the steep ascent of the world’s highest road – by car! Laughing all the way I deftly switched into first just before Daisy stalled and started rolling backwards, only to find that there’s nowhere to go once you reach the top and we had to do a 3-point turn at a 90� angle – cheap thrills!

On my own again I contemplated a few citizen’s arrests for more jaywalking… jaywalking sheep, jaywalking cows, jaywalking ducks – this is peak hour on the South Island. I sat munching carrots whilst hooning around the island and popping in at waterfalls, lighthouses, beaches, old train tunnels, penguin lookouts, cliffs and sand dunes.

On one occasion just near Invercargill, I hopped out for a scenic walk at Nugget Point. Just as I came over this grassy knoll, I hopped down on the beach next to a log – but then the log moved! It was a baby sea lion. He sat up and looked at me – eyes like saucers (as were mine!) but I think that’s normal for a sea lion. He grunted a bit and then another log a few metres to my left moved too, but it was a BIG mother of a log and incidentally more of a mother than a log! So I legged it to safety on the grassy knoll, my heart beating in time with my wobbly legs – surprise, surprise!

With all this excitement one tends to need to pee. With no toilet in sight I picked a nice grassy bit surrounded by trees, only to be squatting trousers around ankles and staring straight at a car of people through the trees. I hopped to one side and leopard-crawled back to my car on the other side of the hill between us, and just sat there for a while, hoping they would leave before I had to drive past and wave for the second close-up of the day. No such luck – my timing was perfect, and they reached the gate just before me. I don’t have to get out and open or close it, but I have to wave as I drive past them. Hopefully they don’t recognise me at this angle!

But the best entertainment is at the roadside. Coming from where I come from I’m amazed that someone puts a bucket at the side of the road with tulips in it, and the bucket says “$1 a bunch”, and there’s an honesty box where you pop your $1 in. The next town offers carrots and the next is swedes – all self-serve at the side of a gravel road. The most fascinating however, are the ones that are selling sheep manure. From what I’ve seen there is no shortage for each and every person in the land to be able to soundproof every room in their houses with their own personal stash. I picture a sheep farmer in dismay at the failure of his groundbreaking new business venture.

I slammed on brakes when I came across a field of reindeer. It may seem strange, but it’s a sight I have never seen. Only elephant, lion, zebra and giraffes are normal for me. There was no sight of Rudolph or Santa. Coming up to Christmas Santa was off giving his sled a new paint job – I only know this because Prancer came over to have a word with me (he he). At Curio Bay I sat for hours at low tide, fascinated by a petrified rainforest in the shallows. Sitting on a rock watching the sea move over the rocks of timber, I didn’t realise the tide coming in until a wave crashed over the rock, and me sitting on top of it, and I doubled over to keep my camera dry. I decided to leave before I became an addition to the scenery.