Monday, May 2, 2011

Sharika Farm

Christmas season 2010 was challenging for gift-givers to our family as we were leaving for 8 months 3 days later. We gave our kids iPod Touch's in preparation for long plane rides - they could keep a slew of games, TV shows, movies and music all in the same device and I could squeeze in some educational stuff as well. In retrospect, they have been a double-edged sword of sorts. On one hand, they entertain the kids for hours. They're great for restaurants when Trish and I want to enjoy a more leisurely meal and bottle of wine while these crafty devices keep the kids from fidgeting out onto the street. On the other hand, as we drive through amazing New Zealand countryside and Trish and I ooh and aah at the stunning scenery, any attempt to distract them from their 4.4" x 2.3" screens is a complete waste of time. If they hear us at all under their earphones, their interest is limited to the briefest of glances and a conciliatory "Hmmph."

Farmland in central Hawke's Bay ignored by the kids in favor of the latest episode of Glee
My parents gave their gift a little more thought. They arranged a New Zealand farmstay for the whole family on a weekend of our choosing. We visited Sharika Farm in central Hawke's Bay on the weekend of April 1 - 3.

Given that a field with a sheep or cow in it is never more than 20 minutes drive away from anywhere in New Zealand (even downtown Auckland or Wellington), equating rural with remote would be a big mistake. To get to Porangahau, the nearest town to Sharika Farm, we drove 2 hours from anything that resembled civilization. To Trish's delight, we swerved along more serpentine roads in the failing light. Three of the 5 occupants in the vehicle felt carsick. For over an hour, we didn't see another car traveling in either direction.

Sharika Farm
We arrived in Porangahau, population 243, well after dusk and easily found Sharika Farm 10 minutes along the road that followed the Pacific coast. Our hosts, Sheryl & Andrew, had a delicious pasta dinner waiting for us. After supper, anticipating an early start the next day, we retired to our quarters for the night. All five of us slept in a large single room which was as rustic as I expected a farmhouse to be. It was relatively uninsulated from the cool mountain air, but the beds were comfortable and piled high with warm blankets. Sheryl's artwork decorated the walls. Andrew had considered renovating the guest accommodations on the farm, but had decided to leave them as is in order to provide a more genuine farm experience. 

To our delight,  a rooster started to crow at 5:10 and every 20 minutes after that. By the third time, we were all lying in our beds wide awake and giggling at this rooster that seemed to have it's own built in snooze button. Or maybe it had to pee.

Sheryl & Andrew pride themselves on living off their farm. They grow all their own fruits & vegetables and all their meat comes from animals from their farm. They barter for other goods with other farmers in the area. The grocery store supplies only the bare minimum. We were treated to a country breakfast and then it was off to feed the chickens and the infernal rooster.

Andrew took us on a tour of his property and let us in on the day-to-day workings of a cattle and sheep farm. The children were infatuated with how much poo littered the fields. Like Easter eggs, they ran from mound to mound yelling "Cassandra, look at this! It's another huge poo!" Apart from keeping an eye on where I was stepping, the landscape was a portrait of green. So lush! And with the Pacific Ocean less than a mile away, the view was awesome!

Harrison with Mace and Tasha
The kids made friends with the dogs Mace & Tasha and Sheryl's pet goat Nat Nat that was convinced that he was a dog as well. Nat Nat quickly became their favorite. There wasn't much point in keeping track of where they were at any one time - they were always playing with Nat Nat.

The kid's new best friend Nat Nat, the pet goat
Sheryl spends a lot of her free time painting and riding their horses around their large property. She draws inspiration for her art from the animals on the farm and the rugged landscape of central Hawke's Bay. The kids got a chance to meet Charlotte, the beautiful & friendly black horse, and Abby, the very grumpy older black and white speckled horse. They each got a little ride around the farmyard.

Harrison riding the grumpy horse.

Mackenzie & Cassandra having their turns.
To round out a very busy morning, Andrew demonstrated his principle trade - sheep shearing. The two dogs, Mace & Tasha, expertly cleared the paddock of all 100 or so sheep. As Sheryl directed the sheep through a series of narrow wooden channels in the stable, Andrew sorted the black-faced Suffolk sheep (who need shearing only once a year) from the white-faced Romney sheep (who can be shorn up to twice per year).
Watching Romney's about to get a haircut
Apart from tending to his own herd, Andrew leaves the farm for periods of as long as 3 months to go shear sheep in Italy, Spain and Scotland. Apparently, he makes a fortune doing it, as he can shear well over 400 sheep per day! He was leaving to go to Italy for three months later in the week after our visit.

Andrew hard at work
Once the sheep were sorted, Andrew chose a lucky few to shear before a captive audience. The skill seems to lie in propping the 150 lb. animal in such a position that it doesn't struggle to get free or try to regain its balance. Andrew certainly made it look easy as he pinned the animal in various positions such that it almost seemed to obediently pose itself for its haircut. In Queenstown, we had seen another farmer really botch a sheep shearing, leaving the animal bleeding from a few different places. The kids were in charge of gathering the wool and putting it into these massive bags that are then transported to a dealer.

After lunch, we walked out to the field where the calves were grazing. They are separated from the adults (especially those trouble-making bulls) to limit the teen pregnancy rate among cows. Sheryl & Andrew seemed to have some preparations to make for his upcoming trip so we were on our own for the afternoon.

Longest place name in the world
Just outside Porangahau, we took advantage of the photo op of an otherwise unremarkable hill called Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu (85 letters!), the longest place name in the world. Yup, did that, snapped a few pictures, passed on the T-shirt.

Next, we spent two hours walking along the deserted Porangahau beach which was spectacular. Then back to the farm for a nap and some downtime before Sheryl served us a delicious roast lamb dinner.

Our morning hike
The rooster was hungover on Sunday (works every time!), so we were able to sleep in until 7:30am. Sheryl was taking care of another farm and the flock had broken through a fence, so that the rams were all mixed up with lambs and some sheep had wandered outside the confines of the farm. Our mission that Sunday morning was to gather the strays and separate horny rams from virginal lambs. We hiked along the mouth of the Porangahau River to look for stragglers and once all the flock was together again, we were a part of the same sorting procedure we had witnessed the day before.

With the reproductive practices of the flock once again under control, we returned to Sharika Farm to gather our things and say goodbye to Andrew & Sheryl. The kids, especially Mackenzie, spent some quality time with Nat Nat.

Mackenzie with Nat Nat

As a footnote, were any of you wondering what Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu means?

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