Chasing Cows and Hatching Chooks

Zoe and a "chook"

This morning I woke up thinking I would be going to a prison to do interviews. I found myself instead chasing cows through a New Zealand paddock.

Since Tuesday I’ve been staying with the Taylors, a lovely family who live on a farm outside of Wellington. The couple (Graeme and Mary) used to work for Prison Fellowship in New Zealand, so we have many mutual friends, and they graciously offered me a bed for a few days. After a week of tramping, whale-watching, and glacier walking, I was ready to take off my tourist hat and taste a bit of local flavor. I don’t think it gets more local than what happened to me today.

I was driving back from town with Graeme today (I was sitting on the passenger side, the left side, of course). As we approached the turn-off for the Taylors’ rural road, I saw five large blobs of black and white blocking the entrance.

“Oh, hello?” Graeme said quietly (but I could tell something was wrong). It was “the boys” (the Taylors’ five Hereford cows), who had apparently escaped from their paddock and were making good progress toward a dangerous intersection. “Gramps,” Mary’s father, had arrived on the scene just minutes before us, and was doing the best a 91-year-old man could do at rallying a small herd. Graeme whisked his white pickup alongside the escaping fivesome, threw on his gum boots, and began chasing the cows back down the road.

"The Boys"

He soon realized that he couldn’t do it alone, so he instructed Gramps to drive ahead and close off the neighbors’ gates, while he drove the truck behind the cows with the intent of encouraging them to move in the right direction. Feeling a bit out of my league, I offered to chase behind them on foot. Graeme thought that would be lovely. So, out I jumped, into the wet field with my nice blue jeans and new shoes. I wasn’t quite sure what was involved in moving five breathing objects, all four times my size, but I figured yelling and clapping would do the trick. So off I went, running through wet grass up to my waist, clapping away.

Surprisingly, the big boys took the hint and began galloping (as much as two-ton mammals can gallop) down the road. After several detours (at one point, two took off up a side road), quite a few laughs, and one soggy pair of jeans later, Graeme, Gramps, and I had herded “the boys” safely into a new paddock (one broken fence showed us how they had escaped from the first one).

But the rural excitement was only beginning. This time in the hen house.

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Tramping through New Zealand

There are few things more quintessentially “Kiwi” than “tramping.”  And it has nothing to do with selling oneself on a street corner or sleeping in a cardboard box. Rather, it has everything to do with strapping a bulky pack to one’s back and spending the next few days becoming incrementally dirtier.

Last Tuesday, Shannon (my traveling buddy) and I ventured into the world of New Zealand tramping—essentially backpacking, but sleeping in communal huts instead of tents—in what could be considered the most mouthwatering vista in the known universe (aka Fiordland National Park in New Zealand’s South Island).

Not a half hour into our “tramp,” I discovered that it is one thing to climb up a mountain; quite another to climb up a mountain with a 20-pound pack on your back. It wasn’t so much the weight, as the inertia. Lean forward, and you’re bound to lean forward all the way off a cliff. Lean backward, and you’ll land your rear side on that perfectly placed rock with a thousand sharp angles.

I also found out my pack liked to play this little trick of hiding the very thing I was looking for—whether it was a granola bar, my sunglasses, or some toilet paper. I eventually found them nestled among the bulging curvers, but not until I had emptied all of my belongings across the track, winning myself the title of the most inexperienced backpacker (or should I say “tramper” on the trail).

But this was nothing compared to the enemy I encountered that evening. After downing a bowl of soup with fellow sojourners at the Routeburn Falls Hut (a shelter with bunks, and a kitchen with stoves and running water), I was excited to nestle into my dry bunk for what I hoped would be a good night’s sleep. Not a second after I had crawled into my sleeping bag, I heard him.

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