February 22, 2017

Owaka Valley & The Catlins, South Otago, New Zealand

After the Milford Track, we were ready to explore a new area of New Zealand, South Otago including the Owaka Valley and The Catlins!

While our trip to New Zealand was incredible last year, we felt like we missed out on a significant part of New Zealand culture, its farming.

Farming is New Zealand’s largest industry. While the farming industry is diverse, New Zealand is famous for sheep farming and its high quality Merino wool.

In 1982, New Zealand’s sheep population peaked at 70 million. That was 22 sheep per person! While it is lower today around 30 million, only 6 sheep per person, it continues to have the highest density of sheep in the world.

New Zealand is the world’s largest exporter of lamb and it produces 220,000 tonnes of wool each year.

So, what’s with all the sheep, you may be asking?

Well, New Zealand is particularly suited for sheep farming as it has no remaining large carnivores. From my research, the only wild animal known to attack sheep is the rare and unusual kea parrot.

Can you believe that? A bird? To be honest, I find that hard to believe…

Anyway, farming is a HUGE part of New Zealand. So this year, we took Annie and Andrew up on their offer to stay with them on their sheep farm for a week after the Milford Track.

It was going to be amazing!

Now, I grew up on a farm in Canada, but Kevin, he has NEVER been on a farm. Tractors, animals, gum boots and coveralls! He couldn’t wait to learn the ins and outs of farming.

And honestly, I couldn’t wait to see it.

After the Milford Track, we drove the Southern Scenic Route from Te Anau south to Invercargill then east to the Owaka Valley where Annie and Andrew live.

In addition to the Owaka Valley, we planned to explore through The Catlins while we were there.

Know for its remoteness and low population, The Catlins is considered a hidden gem on the south eastern coast of the South Island. Featuring coastal cliffs, headlands, long sweeping beaches, coves, sandy bays, temperate rainforests, waterfalls and rolling farmland, The Catlins promises to have it all.

The drive along the Southern Scenic Route is beautiful filled with picturesque views of the coast, and eventually, rolling hills of green paddocks. We quickly understood why it was called the Southern Scenic Route and we couldn’t wait to explore more of the area!

When we arrived at Annie and Andrew’s, Kevin wasted no time getting out to the farm. While I took care of some wedding details, he suited up in coveralls and rubber boots, and spent a day shadowing Andrew on the farm.

They rounded up some sheep with the help of the farm dogs, mended a fence on the paddock, and Kevin took his first ride in a tractor.

I think it was everything he imagined and more. Not to mention, I think he looked pretty damn good doing it too! A new career, perhaps?

While the boys were working in the farm, I got a surprise visit from Canada! My friend Ria’s parents were travelling in New Zealand visiting her Aunt Dolly, and they came to Andrew’s to deliver a wedding package organized by my girlfriends back home.

I couldn’t believe it! It was a great visit with her family and was another piece of the wedding that was coming together. Even though I was happy it was only going to be Kevin and me at our wedding, it made it more special to have a piece of them with me too.

Now, I just had to keep myself from opening the package before the wedding.

That evening Andrew and his son, Robbie, took us on an adventure to a viewpoint located on the edge of their property. We loaded on the quad just before dusk and headed up the hill.

Now, I have to admit, it’s been some time since I’ve been on the back of a quad. Shuffled up close to Andrew, I struggled to find a solid grip for my hands. Eventually, I just grabbed on to Kevin and Andrew and prayed I didn’t fall off.

We motored up and around the hillside, weaving between russets and sheep, splashing through puddles, and climbing over boulders. As we climbed higher on the property, the view began to open up and we made Andrew stop for a few photos along the way.

We eventually made it to the base of the view point. There, we hopped off and hiked to the top. Within a couple of minutes, we were on top of the world!

Kevin and I ran to the edge of the cliff and stared out in amazement. We have seen hundreds of spectacular views around the world but this has got to be one of the best!

We looked at Robbie and Andrew with jealousy, “You get to live here?!” The Owaka Valley was quickly becoming a new favourite of ours in New Zealand.

At the viewpoint, we took as many photos as we could. As Kevin put his arm around me to pose for another photo, he looked down and started to laugh.

“Is that sheep shit all over your jacket?”

Yes. Yes it was…. and I couldn’t be happier about it. We were getting a true New Zealand experience like no other! Sheep shit included.

The next day, we got ready for a whole new adventure joining Annie at work. Annie is a rockstar veterinarian specializing in farm animals. Lucky for us, that day she had multiple appointments at her clients’ farms and asked if we wanted to tag along.

Kevin and I jumped at the opportunity to join her!

In the morning, we headed to the vet office and got suited with coveralls and gum boots. Then we were off!

Our first appointment was visiting a horse recovering from a leg wound.

Next, we visited our first sheep farm to assist Annie with a “Ram Run.” These appointments involved Annie checking the male sheep for abnormalities that may affect their reproduction. Kevin and I assisted by herding the sheep into pens.

Even though our assistance was minor, we loved every minute of being out at the farms and contributing.

Our next stop was to a deer farm where Annie checked the bucks for skin reactions from tuberculosis testing. While Kevin and I had to wait outside while the largest male bucks were checked, we were able to peak into the pen at the smaller ones.

As deer scare easily, we huddled in the corner out of the way watching Annie as she moved around the pen. It was nerve racking and exciting. This was way better that the accounting appointments I had with clients!

I think I need a new career…

The end of the day was my favourite. We visited a farm with six puppies that needed to be vaccinated. My heart exploded with love as we got to pick up and play with each of them. I held each one as it got vaccinated. I thought it would be difficult but they barely noticed their shots.

It was the perfect way to end our day!

While the highlights of our day were the appointments, we also got to take in some amazing scenery through The Catlins. Annie took us to the popular camping spot, Purakanui, which features a beautiful white sandy beach at the base of some magnificent cliffs.

Overall, the day was an incredible experience. We couldn’t imagine how the week could get any better.

Turns out, it was just getting started!

That weekend, we headed to the nearby town, Roxburgh, to watch their kids, Robbie and Kate, in an Agriculture competition. AgriKids and AgriTeens includes a series of stations with agricultural related tasks. The kids worked in teams and were judged based on their performance.

Kevin and I eyed up each station and quickly concluded we would fail almost every task. We didn’t know how to milk a cow by hand, we definitely didn’t know how to build a beehive, and we didn’t have a clue how to start installing an electrical fence.

Even the plant identification was difficult. When I saw “oats” and “barley,” I searched the options for some rolled oats and pearl barley. I quickly realized I didn’t know what the actual plant of two things I eat all the time looked like.

Maybe I should study up for next year?

The next day our farming experience continued. A neighbouring farmer of Annie and Andrew’s was shearing his lambs and he invited us to stop by to watch. Annie informed us that these guys were the pros and watching them in action was a real experience.

We took a tour of the shearing area and learned the process of how they separate the wool to ensure only the best quality is packaged for sale.

Then, there was the shearing. These guys were pros! I was worried that the lambs were going to be injured or cut during the shearing, but they were excellent in keeping the lambs still while quickly and meticulously shaving the wool.

That evening, the adventure continued! We loaded up the horses and headed down to the beach to take the horses for a ride.

As I pulled on a pair of Annie’s riding pants and strapped on a helmet, Kate quizzed me about the last time I got on a horse.

I really had to think back on this one. To be honest, I think the last time I went for a ride was close to 15 years ago at a friend’s house in high school.

Or I should say, the horse took ME for a ride! You see, I have an unusual habit of making unnecessary sound effects. The last time I was on a horse, I started clicking my tongue while trying to stear the horse. This apparently gave it the signal that it was time to go! Off it went through the forest as I held on for dear life while dodging branches.

I was pretty sure THAT was my last time on a horse.

I was hoping this time would go a bit more smoothly…

Annie, and then Kate, joined me for a ride down the beach. Basically, I let their horses lead and I just hung on. After a while, I started to relax and loosen up on the reins a little bit. I’m sure my horse appreciated that.

After my ride, it was Kevin’s turn. Like most things, Kevin appeared to be a natural. He looked extremely relaxed heading down the beach with Annie, and eventually, Kate.

Overall, it was just another amazing experience in a part of New Zealand we never knew existed.

The next day was our last day. Kevin and I borrowed Annie’s car and set off on a Tiki Tour through The Catlins.

Armed with a list of sites not to miss, we set off first thing in the morning. Our first spot to visit was the Nugget Point Lighthouse. Located at the northern end of The Catlins coast, this steep headland has a lighthouse at its tip and is surrounded by rocky islets.

Our walk to the lighthouse was misty first thing in the morning.

Eventually, as the sun rose it slowly evaporated and we were left with a beautiful view of the coastline and its cliffs.

After Nugget Point, we headed back to Owaka for breakfast and to view a site Kevin and I had been dying to see.

Teapot Land!

This attraction located on the Main Street of Owaka is the home to hundreds (if not thousands) of teapots. We walked through the teapot garden amazed that someone would collect SO many.

There was every type of teapot that you could imagine. I wondered which ones the owners kept for their personal use. Those must be some of the world’s most unique teapots.

For me, the real highlight of Teapot Land was the mannequins watching over it. Kevin and I thought it was necessary to join them for a cup of tea.

Overall, Teapot Land did not disappoint.

Our next unique experience was stopping by the Lost Gypsy Caravan in Papatowai. Run by Blair Somerville, the caravan and its adjoining theatre, are filled with unique creations made of recycled material.

Continuing on, we stopped at Florence Hill lookout for a stunning view of the ocean. New Zealand has some good looking beaches. Too bad the water is ssoo cold.

Oh and the sandflies too. I can’t get over the sandflies.

Speaking of beaches, after the lookout we continued on to Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay. This incredible area is home to Hector’s dolphins, one of the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world. With a population of just over 7,000, these dolphins are only found in the New Zealand inshore waters.

Porpoise Bay is unique in that it is the only place where dolphins come close to the shore without being enticed by people feeding them. The Porpoise Bay population is small, consisting of fewer than 20 residents. They use the bay to raise their young, feed, and rest.

While we read about the dolphins, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw them throughout the bay near the shore. We ran down to the beach with our cameras and tried to capture shots of them. It was amazing to see them swimming so close to the people in the water.

Now, this is what swimming with the dolphins should be like! Not having a dolphin unnaturally confined to a small pool. These dolphins were wild. If only I had my bathing suit; I might have convinced myself to wade into the cold water for the dolphins.

After enjoying the dolphins, we walked around the bay before heading back.

While we were hoping to stop into the Cathedral Caves, another highlight of The Catlins, the tide was high when we drove past. Viewing of the caves is possible only during low tide.

Plus, we had to get back to Owaka for a final road trip with Annie!

That night she had an unusual appointment for a baby deer named Mary. A farmer found the deer orphaned in the woods and brought Mary back to the farm to take care of her. One day, Mary was startled and tried to jump through a fence and broke her poor little leg. As Annie splintered it a while ago, she needed to come back to the farm to remove the splint and check how it was healing.

Seriously, it’s not everyday you get to see a baby deer up close! Annie removed the splint and applied some antibiotics to the wound. We sat around Mary while she was sedated, cradling her head, waiting for her to wake back up.

She was so precious and sweet. It was such an experience to see Annie in action helping her.

Back at Annie and Andrew’s farm, we headed out to the paddock for some final photos with their friendliest sheep, Lickish. This sheep was originally a pet of Robbie’s when he was young, and continues to keep close to the farm house although he is free to roam throughout the paddock.

Lickish is the best!

I couldn’t get over how thick his wool was! It was like he was wearing a coat.

Well, I guess technically he is.

Our week on the farm in the Owaka Valley, and our time exploring The Catlins could not have been better. Great friends, spectacular views, amazing experiences with animals, and even farm training.

We couldn’t believe how amazing our trip to New Zealand had been so far. First the Milford Track and now this.

What could be next?!

Oh wait, OUR WEDDING!!

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