Last week, I made my first ever visit to Mt Nicholas, a merino sheep station at the foot of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, and Icebreaker’s biggest supplier of merino wool. I was on a mission to brush up on my knowledge of the merino sheep, put my Icebreakers to the test in brisk high country conditions, and get a taste of life on a station that spans a spectacular 100,000 acres (many of them on a ninety degree angle).
Here’s what I knew about NZ merino sheep before my visit:
- They produce the finest, whitest, wool fibre in the world.
- Their coats insulate to keep them warm in winter; in summer they shed their wool to stave off the heat.
- They’re fluffy and white.
- They say ‘baa’.
Here’s what I know about NZ merino sheep now:
- Their eating habits are similar to that of a goat, preferring dry twigs and shrubs to the lush clover other sheep thrive on.
- At night they feel compelled to climb to the highest peak they can find. (Kind of like a meerkat, but perhaps a bit lower on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder spectrum.)
- The mountain peaks on which the Mt Nicholas sheep roam are so steep that the musterers and their dogs arrive for work via helicopter.
- They’re more petite than your average sheep.
- They’re also quite tasty.
But, it wasn’t all about the sheep. Or, the cows, pigs, hens or horses. Over my two-day stay, I discovered plenty of other things, including:
- It’s possible to raise two young children and 30,000 merino sheep simultaneously (just the former is ample for me).
- Deer and goats make great domestic pets – this is something Buck (deer) and Sally (goat) will attest to. Though, Jackson (dog) may beg to differ.
- A ‘crutcher’ is a person responsible for crutching sheep − removing wool from sheeps’ behinds − and is not to be confused with ‘a support to assist a lame or infirm person in walking’. Or anything else.
- New Zealand is home to some of the most awe-inspiring landscape in the world (and this is coming from an Australian…)
- Seven Icebreaker layers, including a trenchcoat, won’t weigh down your pack. GHDs, laptops, and phone chargers, on the other hand, will.
- Mountain running is not a sport I will ever consider taking up.
- Homegrown veges are delicious – even brussell sprouts!
- Some people don’t think twice about tucking into a venison pie after patting a pet deer. RIP Buck Senior?
- Electricity is something most of us take for granted (less so, people who generate their own).
- My workmate, Jo, is a competent truck driver, and not one to be deterred by the dark, a bumpy dirt road, or roaming animals (thanks for keeping my life intact, Jo!)
- Only one Icebreaker base layer is required (in conjunction with a sleeping bag) to keep a person toasty warm for a night in the shearing quarters, despite it being a measly 0 degrees outside.
- Sleeping bags are not conducive to sleeping, and should, accordingly, just be referred to as ‘bags’.
- Humans can survive without cafes.
- It’s possible to travel from Mt Nicholas to the airport − via water taxi and land taxi − within one hour.
- Under pressure, Queenstown taxi drivers are among the fastest in the world.
*No animals were harmed in the making of this trip. (I’m assuming the ones we ate died of old age.)
Jennifer Lane – Copywriter