When I imagined a sheep farm stay, I was thinking of an older white clapboard house with shutters next to the red barn overlooking the pasture. The farmer and his wife resembling American Gothic. How far from reality could that be?
The house is down a pretty road about 2 blocks off the main highway two hours south of Aukland. The houses on the block were built in the 80’s, each on about 1-2 acres. As we pulled up our home stay, we noted the circular driveway and beautiful rose bushes. What we couldn’t initially see was the swimming pool and tennis court. Our suite of three bedrooms and sitting area was in the back portion of the house, with sliding doors out to the garden and pool.
Our hosts, Gayle and Bill MacMillian, were also not what we would have expected. Gayle is a descendant of some of the earliest English settlers in New Zealand. She grew up on a farm, but trained as an opera singer. She continues to teach music (piano) as well as maintainss her garden and hosts the bed and breakfast guests, in addition to sheep and cattle farming. Bill was formerly a meat industry executive who returned to the land, but also does real estate sales and leads the local rotary.
A highlight of our visit to this mid-North Island community of Cambridge, which has the feel of an English country town, was the afternoon on the farm, a couple of miles from the MacMillian home. We watched Bill (inexpertly by his own admission) wrestle a sheep to the floor and shear the fleece and rode around the rolling hilly pastures with Gayle on the all-terrain vehicle. Rebecca and Emily (and the sheep dog) rode in a little cart on the back. Gayle impressed us with all they had done in the 5 years, including fencing, putting in a water system, storing silage, and raising hundreds of sheep (for lambs) and a few dozen cattle (for beef). Views are stunning from the hilltops overlooking the streams with mountains in the distance.
Another adventure in this part of the country was the visit to the glow worm caves. The worms live on the roof of the caves over the river the continues to cut into the limestone. To attract insects to its hanging sticky threads, each glow worm larva emits a little light. Silently passing through the dark cave in a row boat, we were awed by the thousands of little lights just above our heads. The stalactites and stalagmites in the caves were amazing too.
On our third day, we opted to skip the hour drive to Rototura to see more of the local sites. A local horse show, mostly entertaining for Emily and poking in stores in Tirau started our day. In the late afternoon, Rebecca and I ventured to the nearby lake for tandem sea kayaking. After an hour, we had it pretty well figured out, which was fortunate as the return trip was into the wind.