The 13.30 Wellington to Picton ferry left today, and took me with it. I stayed outside on the deck for the entire 4 hour trip, partly because it was a glorious day, and partly because I haven't been able to wash the smell of stale lamb milk and cattle dung from my clothes (because, admitedly, I haven't tried...)
I've come to love the indelible smells of livestock that have been such a vital part of my farm girl uniform for the past 3 weeks. The uniform didn't just mean I'd been out working stock all day, or working out on the paddocks, or on horse treks, it also meant I was part of the crazy family that made up the farming community in the Wairarapa valley. A family that took me under their wing despite my constant niggles at their redneck ignorances, and despite the fact that I was a near enough useless farmhand at the beginning.
But I learnt a lot, and I learnt it quick. I was regularly chucked in the deep end with such a varied array of jobs I'd never done in my life with machines I had no idea how to work, but I somehow managed to blag my way through. No one panics in New Zealand.
The long days of mustering, drenching and sorting thousands of lambs were always made easier with the Kiwi sense of humour, and I never tired of it. I'd come back aching and bruised from having 50kg lambs crashing into my knees, or having to wrestle a couple from one pen to the next, but boy did I feel like I earned my gin at night. The only point in the day I dreaded when I was working sheep, was when the lorry turned up for loading. Lambs were pushed and shoved and packed tightly into small spaces, and noses, ears and eyes would stick out of the narrow windows... as though taking in the last of the green fields, and trying to make sense of the chaos. I'd always disappear in to the wool shed when the truck turned up, wrestling the big monster of guilt. Andy never questioned where I went, or why I never helped with the loading of the slaughter truck, he just knew.
"I have a conscience about it too Soph" he said in the car on the way home one day. "I don't like that part of the job any more than you do, and I've been doing it 15 years now."
I didn't really know what to do with that information, so I adjusted the blanket I had over the tiny orphan lamb falling asleep on my lap, and said nothing.
My orphan collection had grown to three by the time I left the farm. The last addition was a lamb that had been stranded in the river for 3 days, which we found while out on a horse trek. It had rained heavily overnight, and the freezing water now came up to my waist with a current ten times as strong as usual. "I've had enough of bloody sheep to last me a lifetime" I shouted back to Michelle in between chattering teeth. "Yeah, welcome to New Zealand!" she laughed. When lamb and I got back to shore, we tied its feet up and bundled it into a rucksack, which I put on my front. A cold wet nose poked out from my pregnant belly as I rode home, to be greeted by a groan from Ali as I squelched into the kitchen proudly presenting my new baby.
My days working sheep were broken up by chores in the paddocks, and helping the farm gear up for tourist season. There is a hike they offer that goes through a 1.3 million year old limestone gorge, and Coach took me along to help clear the track and make sure the ropes and ladders used for getting up and down the steep rock faces were all in good nick. Once down in the gorge, there is only a narrow slit of light, 60ft above you as wade through chest deep water. The stalactites and fossilized sea shells give the place a prehistoric energy, and I was in awe at how the forces of millions of years of nature had shaped this little underground world.
But, alas, apparently there is more to NZ than sheep and caves, and I'm heading to the South Island to find out if the myth is true. I've given up the luxury of staying in hostels for the freedom of having four wheels, which means that my car will also be my bed. Skint but free can't be a bad combo can it?