How does one begin to describe one of the best weeks of the Grand Adventure to date? Does he talk about the evening with cowboys and farmers, shooting guns and talking politics – or maybe he describes one of those rare moments when you are in the presence of someone who is in their “zone”, that rare moment when you observe someone who has found their sweet spot – or maybe he talks about daily life on a New Zealand dairy farm? The opportunities are boundless, so it is only fitting to start from the beginning.
We arrive on the remote dairy farm early on our first morning. To say that we knew any details about the week-long workstay besides the names of the hosts and the address would be a strech. We didn’t know what we would be doing, where we would be staying, or how we would hold up – all we knew was that it couldn’t be worse than the “tramp from hell” and that Jack was the only one who ‘knew’ how to drive a stick. This was going to be an adventure for sure.
Immediately upon arrival, we find Rachel, our host, and her sister along with Rachel’s newborn baby [Jess] and her 17 month old son [Mike]. Rachel throws such a hard handshake in her greeting that I am actually taken by surprise – there was no question that we are going get absolutely worked. We jump in the truck, get a tour of the farm, and shovel some grain for the pigs all the while smelling something absolutely rancid, so rancid infact that it is clearly distinguishing itself from the cow/horse menuer that litters the entire area. We soon are instructed to help move the horse legs that have been decomposing for the past month after one of the horses went lame – we found the root of the smell. We had been on the farm for 30 minutes.
Over the next 2 days we work on clearing the thick pine bows away from the electrical fences along one of the cow ‘paddocks’, learned how to drive multiple stick shifts left-handed, and eat like kings. The beauty of the workstay arrangement being that if we work 3 hours every day, we get free housing and meals, with any work over 3 hours earning us cash under-the-table, which meant that if we played our cards right, we would could turn off the travel spending faucet for a coulple of days – we worked like dogs. Another wonderful part about the workstay was that we were encouraged to use anything on the farm, including the horses. So after a long day, we would
saddle up and were sent out to work the horses a bit. The two of us would trot on down to the river and then direct the horses up the riverbed for a bit of trail riding. We would watch the sun fill the sky with beautiful oranges and reds while we snaked our way through the bush on horseback, drinking in every last second. It was
during one of these magical rides when we had quite the funny moment, when Ryan’s horses decided that when Ryan tied him to the fence post to close the gate, he was going to break the reigns and bolt down the road. That is when Jack’s horse wanted to play ‘cowboy’ and run him down. Over the next 5 minutes, Jack went at full-gallop while trying to grab the broken reigns of Ryan’s horse, all the while trying to veer it closer to the fence to slow it down. It was absolutely thrilling. Once the dust settled, we both decided that if the horses wanted to run, we should let them run, and took off. It was at that moment when we were going all-out, at sunset, in the New Zealand countryside, on horseback that we both just started ‘hooping’ and ‘hollaring’ out of pure joy – we were having the time of our lives.
Over the next week, we feasted on wonderful stews and fresh dairy, rode dirtbikes, drove enormous John Deere tractors, and got our asses absolutely handed to us by a certain wood-splitter. It doesn’t take long for one to tire from continuously picking up 100lbs. logs for splitting and doing it 8 hours a day. It gets even worse when you are constantly getting fine splinters in your hands and are getting your fingers pinched between the rolling logs, but we were determined to work hard for our food (not to mention make a little cash).
It was after a morning of woodsplitting when we had our first big outing with the family – we were invited to Rachel’s brother’s 30thbirthday party. So we made the drive into the foothills and arrive in the early afternoon for the all day/night event. We were instructed to bring sleeping bags in case everyone was too “pissed” to drive home – we were going to have some fun at this event. We first meet the birthday man, Joe, and his family and are blown away by the size of the barbeque they have going – this thing could literally hold 4 pig roasts inside. We are then handed some local brews and head on down to the fields where we help set up the gun range. Within minutes we decide that it would be a crime to not ‘test’ the guns before all the other guests arrive… 4 hours later we are more than a few beers deep, classic rock is blasting from the
radio of the old pickup truck, clay birds litter the field in front of us, Ryan has shot his first gun, Jack has gotten his forehead split open from the kick of a 7mm rifle with bullet casings almost as big as his hand, Ryan has learned that he isn’t the worst ‘shot’ in the world, Americans have been given due credit for our shooting
abilities, and 5 men are standing in a half-moon getting ready to blow 2 clays out of the sky with an array of shotguns. Needless to say we never left our ‘testing’ session and by the end of the night we had gone through over 500 rounds and hundreds of clay pigeons lay scattered across the fields.
Following the gun show, everyone made their way back to the house for the traditional New Zealand barbeque which was nothing short of an absolute feast. It wasn’t much after everyone collapsed into the chairs off the porch that the steel drum was filled with wood and a healthy portion of petrol, which quickly turned into a massive fire that lasted almost as long into the night as all the guests. By 1am we were absolutely exhausted after chatting with a group of ten guests, who ranged from neighboring farmers to cowboys to one of the lead riders from the Lord of the Rings. To say that the conversation was diverse would be an understatement – we must have talked about everything from Obama’s economic policies to how well Liv Tyler rode a horse. Finally we couldn’t keep our eyes open, so we made our way to the tent and passed out, leaving the 10 or so remaining guests to dance around the fire until 3am when they either fell where they were standing or their spouse dragged them into bed.
The following morning we woke up for massive breakfast spread and jumped into the back of the pickup truck for a little bit of hunting – we were going to get ourselves a wild wallaby. Soon we were hiking through the highcountry mists to try to spot our prey. After a frustrating few hours, we finally stumbled upon the peculiar animal and did our best to find it in our crosshairs. This deemed to be much more difficult than we had expected and did not inticipate the fact that the wallaby can jump down the side of a mountain 15ft at a time. Even though Joe and Rachel were with us to both shoot and guide, we didn’t get a shot on any of our 3 wallaby targets, leaving the whole lot of us a bit stumped as to how those “little bouncing bastards” got away. In any case, we had a wonderful time and promptly decided that it was one of the best birthdays we have ever experienced.
Not 4 days later we were again in the truck working our way back into the highcountry with rifles in hand to do a bit more hunting. We did our best to get the splinters out of our hands and joined Rachel’s father, Scott, for a day with a “real highcountry-man” as he put it. We started the morning off by helping him with a bit of concrete work that he had to do for a friend and then made our way deep into the mountain valley for a bit of a history lesson. On the drive we were able to learn of Scott’s background, which was that he had worked as a muster, or a shepard, in the backcountry of New Zealand for most of his life. He and 5 other men were in charge of 28,000 sheep and it was their
job to move them over 37 miles to the shearing barn when the season was right. Because he mustered in the backcountry, that is where he and his wife raised Rachel and Joe in a community with no more than 28 people – Mesopotamia. Scott was the real deal and not 20 minutes after we heard this background, we
were in Mesopotamia looking around the single room schoolhouse, the shearing barn and their old house. The community was stunning in the fact that absolutely nothing had moved since he left 10 years ago. Scott could immediately find his old mustering saddle and pointed us to his old shearing station. Everything was just sitting, gathering dust, as it had done for over 120 years and would continue to do until mother nature reclaimed it. We were shown the old blacksmith shop, handled discarded wool, and touched horsedrawn wagons that had gone to rest for over 60 years. We were in a living museum and had the best guide of all time.
Following the tour, Scott had one more treat left for us. We gathered our belongings and set out into the countryside to find some Himilayan tar [tar: an animal about the size of a small deer and has horns similar to a mountain goat]. Not 15 minutes into the hike, the landscape has turned from rolling hills to steep mountainsides and gorges. Along with the landscape change, Scott changes as well. All day he was the wonderful grandfather who fondly looked back on his past, but at this moment in the mountains tracking the tar, he became something else entirely. His breathing slowed down and his footing became more sure. His eyes narrowed and his smile turned into an expresseion of genuine happiness. This man had found his element and we were there to witness it. He soon was literally running up the mountain, never missing a step, with Ryan and Jack doing our best to keep up. Scott would stop every
few minutes, take some deep breaths through his nose, wait for us to catch up, and then tear up the mountain some more. We would come to a ridge and dive into the grass, check out a water source 100 meters away through the binoculars and move on. Eventually Scott takes one of his deep breaths and excitingly exclaims “Aww blimey, we are so close to ‘em! I can smell ‘em boys, I can smell those sneaky tar!” We stand there stunned. This man had not only been working us, two fit young guys, up this mountain, but he was tracking the tar with his nose. He immediately moved from Bad Ass to total BAMF status. This guy was unreal.
Not 5 minutes later, Scott dives into the grass and points forward down the gully. We dive as well and take the rifles from our backs. We had come upon 2 young, female tar – exactly what we had hoped to find. We line up and let Scott take the first shot and from that moment, we unleash a volly of lead into the air. Ryan is continually letting his rifle bark towards the bounding tar and Jack is tossing the other rifle back and forth with Scott while Scott is screaming words of encouragement. Those 3 minutes of shooting, with Scott urging us on, was one of the most exciting moments of our lives. Rock shards are blasting off of the cliff behind the tar all the while more and more tar start coming over the ridge and into our line of fire. The exhilaration at that moment, going from the dullness of tracking to the heat of firing in less than 30 seconds was such a large swing of emotion that after 3 minutes we were exhausted.
Once the smoke cleared we started hiking again to see if we got anything and let Scott’s little dog get to work. After about 15 minutes of searching the mountainside, Scott whoops “We’ve got blood boys!” and we bound down the mountain. Sure enough, the little dog has found blood and we start to track it
down the steep mountain, using our walking sticks as rudders to keep from falling. 5 minutes later we find our kill – a young female tar – and happily find that she had died instantly on impact. Jack had managed to lace a shot through its shoulder and split its heart into two halves. To say that Ryan was a bit jealous would be an understatement. We then watched as Scott wielded his knife as the true professional he is and prepared the animal for the trip back down the mountainside. Within minutes the tar was prepped and slung over Jack’s shoulders for the 90 minute hike back down. A day later the tar was cooked up in a wonderful stew and we were all very happy men.
We wanted to make sure to thank our host family on the farm for all of the experiences. We have been blessed to have the opportunities that we have had and working on the farm was an incredible way to end our time in New Zealand. It really drove home what we are striving to achieve on this Grand Adventure of ours. We are working to get off the beaten path, get lost in adventure, and make meaningful connections. Standing on top of the mountain watching Scott morph into man who was completely in his element was a really special moment for us and we recognize that. We understand that these people did not have to take us in or present us these opportunities. These strangers immediately accepted us without predujice or judgement. To have the opportunity to build that relationship without any malicious influences is quite rare and we will not forget it. Thanks again for everything.
Current Location: Ashburton, New Zealand