Life on a Farm in "Up, Up . . . Up."
The drive from Nelson to Mahua Sound, which is the location of my farm stay, was supposed to be approximately "15 km" from Havelock. Havelock is yet another little "blink" hamlet nestled at the pass between a bit of nowhere and somewhere just to the left of nowhere. Again, supposedly just a few km from Picton, it is the bend that connects the main highway to the scenic hwy. It is also supposedly one of the biggest mussel producing areas in the world, believe it or not, which I now have a much better understanding of after spending a few days in the Sounds. The day I left I was able to explore the shoreline a bit as the tide was out, but the rain wasn't, and I saw hundreds of wild mussels littered all over the rocky shore. This happens alot in the Sounds apparently and one just has to mosey on down to the water's edge to gather up a feast of shellfish for dinner.
I've come to the conclusion that local Kiwis aren't intentionally lying when they tell you how long they think it is to a particular destination. They just don't care how long it takes them to get somewhere, or they're so familiar with the stomach-turning drive that they no longer notice it, so it stands to reason for them that they don't care how long it takes for YOU to get somewhere. No worries, as they say over, and over . . . and over. I don't think Kiwis have a high rate of heart attack - they generally don't worry about anything!
So, the 1 1/2 hour drive to Mahua Sound from Nelson took the better part of 3 hours. In the rain. I had a narrow window to make it there before dark, hence dropping Margaret off a bit early (almost 2 hours early by our standards, but in Kiwi time, it was just a snapshot in her day), and I pulled down the long, narrow, gravelly drive just before it got really, really dark (hi-beams a rockin)! This after stopping no less than 5 separate times and calling my hostesses to make sure I haven't missed it and/or was going the right way. Their directions were good, but the "just up the road" part was, shall we say . . . just a bit OFF! By the 5th call, we decided to break NZ laws and have her stay on the phone w/me as I navigated yet another mountain "saddle," and a whole lot more of UP!
The driveway was more gravel-dipped tire tracks than anything else. The sign I was looking for turned out to be a small white piece of board with neatly hand-printed letters that read "Sherrington Grange." You could see the house lights blinking through the massive trees, and a few tell-tale sheep on the side of the drive, but that's about it. I think the goats were more startled than I was. They were huddled together in the area that was supposed to be my parking spot and looked highly offended at my headlights. The loud noise they made in protest made it clear that they were not pleased. My hostess came out in bare feet tucked into flip-flops, a short-sleeved shirt and denim skirt and welcomed me to the farm. "Never mind the goats, now, just park it right there," she said with a thick, country Kiwi accent and a very large Kiwi smile. I mention her attire because I have the heat in the car on high, 3 layers of clothing and my L.L. Bean jacket zipped up to my chin. The car says 9c outside, with a cold, driving rain. She was still smiling. You gotta love the Kiwi approach to life.
So we both grabbed my bags, navigated a herd of goats, 2 large ducks and one very excited overweight laborador to get through the door and into the house. I walked into another world then, but it was neverheless a warm and inviting one. She asked me if I'd like some warm tea as she heralded me through the open expansive room that seemed part family room and part office, down a narrow corridor to the last room on the left. It was a medium-sized bedroom with a double bed against the wall, and an antique sewing machine tucked into the corner. There were 2 end tables on each side of the bed with a modest lamp set atop them. That's it. Oh, and a hand-made binder with general information about the cost of meals (NZ $35 each), cheese-making classes (NZ $70 for 2 hours or $110 for 4 hours) and other necessities that one would need while ensconced in the middle of the mountainous sounds, considering the nearest town is over 1 1/2 hours away. Hmmm. I think I'll take the meal, thank you.
After I get my stuff settled into the room, I head back into the kitchen area where a hot pot of tea is now waiting, along with an errant duck that has apparently managed to squeek its way into the room when no one was looking. After a little drama in trying to capture one flapping water fowl being chased by a gleeful dog, and then heralding it, minus the dog, back into wetness, we settle into the "what's your story" chat that inevitably happens with the arrival of each guest. I tell them, Mom and daughter Harper who are running the farm, about life in Florida and my Kiwi experiences thus far (including no love lost for Dorkland), and they in turn fill me in a little about cheesemaking in the Marlborough Sounds. Interestingly enough, Mom Harper has the same take on Dorkland (i.e., Auckland) that I do and shares some of the locals' angst about the Asian takeover of Auckland that's been occuring over the past 6-7 years or so. We share an "aha" moment then and bridge just a little the intangible cultural gap over our mutual dislike for the new Dorkland.
Dinner was supposed to be happening at 5:00, but it was almost 6:00 then with no indication that it would be served anytime soon. Lisa, the daughter who is now pretty much in charge of all farm decisions, indicates that they are waiting for their other guests who should be around shortly. At 6:30 the long-awaited lights finally shone down the drive heralding the arrival of Peter and Ingrid, the couple who is sharing my farmstay at Sherrington Grange. Ingrid is German-born and speaks very gutteral English. Peter is a Kiwi born and bred in Christchurch, but they both now live full time in Nelson. At just before 7:00 we all sit down to a meal of roast beef, mashed potoates and wine -- local New Zealand wine from one of the local vineyards. Yum. After a quick explanation from Lisa that the beef we were eating was none other the farm's randy bull who apparently had the nerve to get fiesty this past spring after breeding and take out the farm's generator, tractor engine and a couple of out-buildings. I found myself being grateful that she shared that story over dessert, which was warm gingerbread served with pear compote and warm cream! Delicious. I almost forget that we had just eaten little Cassie's father. Welcome to the farm, Francie.
Life on a farm ends early and starts early, so the lights pretty much went out at 9:00 p.m. I, of course, laid in bed listening to the steady thunder of the rain beating on the roof tiles while I tried to read. I gave up around 10:00 and when my eyes opened on their own violition at about 7:00 a.m., I just went with the moment. I listened to the rain beat steadily still on the roof and the windows. Still raining. Hard. I pulled open the thick curtains to bleating faces pushed up against the glass. I jumped at least 2 feet straight up. Goats. They were all gathered on the deck that surrounds the house, which I found out later was fairly normal when it was raining. They don't like the feel of the mud in their hooves, apparently, so they convene on the deck when it gets too wet for their delicate feet. Who knew? So, I was greeted by two long-horned females with big brown eyes and wet fur and seranaded by their bleating at 7:00 a.m. Welcome to the farm.
After a quick shower, I was joined in the large dining room (I found out later that the table can comfortablly seat 30, believe it or not) by the other two guests and our hostess, Lisa. A spread of homemade yogurt, muesli, freshly-baked bisquits, honey and a variety of other delicacies laid before us. Yum. It was still raining, however, and continued for much of the day. I tried twice to sneak out between showers and do a little exploring of the farm, and got soaked both times. I finally gave up. After changing clothes for the 2nd time, I popped open the iPad with the Kindle app and got comfortable on the family sofa with my barking blanket, Benjamin. I'm not sure who was happier -- me or him!
We had decided earlier to start the cheese-makiing lesson at 2:00, so at 3:00 -- right on Kiwi schedule -- the kitchen came to life and milk started warming on the stove. Fresh milk of course - I was on a dairy farm no less. The secret to making cheese, it seems, is all in the temperature. You can use store-bought milk just as well as you can use Bessie's, but the difference is what temperature you bring it to and when you put in the "culture" or the component that will make it curdle. We made Parmesan first, which takes much longer and a lot more finesse, and then Ricotta while we waited for the Parmesan to "cool." I will never in my lifetime buy Ricotta cheese again. It was so simple and easy to make, it's a crime to pay for it! All you need is a good candy thermometer, milk and some good white vinegar, and Ricotta is born! Parmesan is a bit more picky and will take alot more stirring, coddling and watching and about 4 months of sitting in a cool dark place before you'll want to shave it across your spaghetti. Ingrid and I took the class together. It was nice to have an equally-inept partner to work with in the world of cheesemaking; we both ended up with a nice round ball of Parmesan cheese to show for our efforts though. There is apparently a tradition in cheese-making to name your cheese. It can be male or female, but i'm told that they are most often male. Ingrid named hers some romantic European name that everyone oohed and aaahed over and I don't dare to even try to spell. I named mine Ralph! So fitting for an American, don't you think? Hopefully, U.S. customs will let Ralph into the states, but I'll check first so he doesn't end up in the trash can. If he's banned, Margaret will end up with a houseguest for 4 months until she eats him [sorry Ralph].
And such was my farmstay. Great food, dial-up Internet connectivity when the generator was working or an animal hadn't pushed it over, and charming Kiwi hospitality. I loved the Sounds but was ready for an Interent cafe and warm cup of Cappicino yesterday (Tuesday, May 15th). Apparently, you can't take the city out of the girl, no matter how you package it. Plugged back in and happy now, but I did enjoy the little peek into the world of pastures, fresh milk and goat-voyeurism. Welcome back to the city, Francie.