A Funny Looking Sheep…

llama back

As far as mountain ranges go, the Kaikoura ranges do not really compare to the massive Andes of South America when it comes to height or scale. When it comes to long-necked furry mammals though, it is another story. Last weekend we headed north to explore the coast and to experience the new tourist phenomenon that is llama trekking.

First up, a clarification: ‘You Do Not Ride Llama!’ as the brochure loudly exclaims. Instead, you walk alongside the animal, gazing into its large black eyes and hoping that it doesn’t decide to spit in your general direction. First, though, you need to pen the creatures so they can be haltered up. That was an interesting way to start the morning, chasing llamas round a muddy paddock. Since moving down here I have invested in a pair of good quality gumboots, and in this situation they really came into their own.

Next it was time to get to know our charges, and for them to get to know us. Each llama has a distinct personality, which was evident from the outset. Just like the seven dwarves, there was the slow one, the grumpy one, the eager one. Carlos and Rocky were the best of friends, so naturally they had to walk side by side. We took them by the halter, and headed off for the grassy verge of the highway, into the late morning light.

Being llama novices, we opted for a flat and easy hour-long taster rather than a half-day trek or an overnight mission. As it turned out, they were very pleasant exercise companions, stopping for a chomp of grass every now and then, but otherwise peering quite happily over our shoulders at the mountainous terrain and posing for the obligatory llama selfies. While riding is out, you can put any important documents in the satchel bags on the animals’ flanks to get ‘llaminated’ (this is a great activity for families, because the opportunities for ‘dad jokes’ are endless).

Llamas in Auckland are about as rare as lapdogs at the Brown Pub, so the opportunity to make friends with what looks like a long-necked sheep was rather novel, and not to be passed up. In fact it was a friend from the city who tipped me off the activity in the first place. Of course I booked right away. In short, we paid good money to take someone else’s llamas for their daily exercise. And we had a lovely time.

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A Taste of the South

Repres - Antarctic

What does Antarctica taste like? Well, literally it is cold and icy, and tastes best in the midst of a good single malt. For those of us who spend our lives in lower latitudes, there is still a way to enjoy a taste of the South without investing in schemes to tow icebergs up into the Sydney Harbour first. Instead, we can turn to the rations boxes of early explorers and flick through their recipes from the comfort of our own homes. Penguin and seal may be off the menu these days, but it is still possible to give your tastebuds a southern sensation akin to that enjoyed by Scott and Shackleton some 100 years ago.

These days those who work at Antarctic research stations enjoy the same diet as those of us back home, bar the ‘freshies’ such as fruit and milk, which come in frozen or powdered forms…

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Aussie Aussie Aussie, Sheep Sheep Sheep

shrek

We recently had an Australian couch surfer come to stay on our lounge suite. He came for the snow and a small taste of the rural, but in light of the gale force winds he was starved of the former and gorged at a buffet of small town NZ until he was full to bursting.

First up, we took him for a pint at The Blue. On a Wednesday night, the pub was not its usual bustling self, but we assured our guest that on special occasions, like the speed shearing competition, both our local landmarks pack out. The mention of sheep shearing was innocent enough, but apparently the trend has yet to hit the hip new nightclubs of Brisbane. Eyebrows were raised.

The next day I sent him off for a wander through the town, marking such highlights as ‘The Garden of Harmony’ and the ploughing sculpture on a map. They were nice enough, but it was the sheep in our neighbour’s garden that had him raving. ‘It’s a pet,’ I explained, ‘until it becomes dinner.’ Living in an apartment 12 stories up, a hamster was the best our visitor could manage back home, and his hamster was definitely not named ‘snack’.

Next it was time to get outdoors for a stretch and some scenery with a gradient. On our hike up Awa Awa Rata our Aussie was initially cautious as I strode ahead. ‘Back home you’d definitely be on the look out for snakes in this terrain’ he told me. Not here, though. The wasps of summer were nowhere to be seen, and the dearth of venomous creepy crawlies made all manner of cross-country manoeuvres possible. He started to relax. ‘I could get used to this’ he told me as we descended towards the car park. Then, as we drove past paddocks of livestock and over the RDR, he snapped a few photos and offered to make dinner. 

Post meal, when I asked our Aussie about his impressions of Mid Canterbury he went quiet for a moment before offering his response: ‘I never thought that all the sheep clichés were true before I came here.’ In light of his reply, I’m not quite sure what to make of the fact that he cooked us a lamb curry for dinner that evening…

The next day our guest departed Methven, bound for Queenstown, culture, and the slopes of the south. Or so he thought. What he’ll make of the Shrek museum in Tarras is anyone’s guess…

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian