Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017
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Counting sheep

Get wild and wooly on a sheep-shearing farm stay in New Zealand

Akaroa Harbour, about a half-hour flight from Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, is the only place on the planet where visitors can swim with the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins. The diminutive Hector's dolphins share these pristine waters with penguins, cormorants, gannets, seals and the occasional albatross.

There are an estimated 7000 endangered Hector’s dolphins that grow to be just 1.2 metres. A maximum of 10 swimmers is allowed in the water at a time, though touching the sprightly creatures is not permitted.

Black Cat Cruises (blackcat.co.nz), located on Akaroa’s main wharf, offers Swimming with Dolphins and Habour Nature Cruises. For swims, all equipment (wet or dry suit, snorkel and mask) is provided, you just bring your swimsuit and towel. A portion of the $90 fee for the three-hour excursion goes towards dolphin research and education.

For close encounters of another kind, head high up on the cliffs outside of town to Paua Bay (pauabay.com), where owners Sue and Murray Johns offer farm stays for city slickers who want to learn a bit about animal husbandry. They raise cattle, deer and some of New Zealand’s four million sheep. Murray, a tall slim Kiwi with a perpetual tan, deftly shears a sheep in minutes.

“A day of sheep shearing is as tough physically as running a couple of marathons,” Murray says as he maneuvers the reluctant animal into various positions. A Bachelor of Agricultural Science, Murray employs advanced techniques, such as x-raying pregnant ewes to anticipate how many lambs they will produce, which allows him to project future grass and fencing requirements.

But raising sheep isn’t as lucrative as it once was, so Sue and Murray came up with the farm stays idea about 20 years ago to augment their income. Farm stays at Paua Bay cost about $150 per night for two, including a bedroom with ensuite bath and breakfast. Dinner costs $28 per person and includes a glass of wine or beer.

Greener pastures

The Johns family first settled in Akaroa in 1837. Murray is justifiably proud of the fact that Paua Bay will remain in the family when his son, Willie, takes over. Just as Murray inherited the farm from his father he also learned the art of sheep dog mustering from him.

Guests are welcome to pull on gumboots and venture into the fields, where Murray shouts a series of commands to an eager border collie named Blue who rounds up a herd of woolly grazers. No doggy treats are necessary to reward a job well done.

“Blue is a happy workaholic,” says Murray giving him a pat on the head.

Apart from extra income, it’s obvious that the Johns enjoy sharing their bit of heaven on earth with guests. They are terrific hosts: he's a gregarious raconteur and she's an accomplished cook and gardener with a wry sense of humour.

Farm stays include dinner in the homey kitchen with gleaming plank floors, beamed ceiling and a brick fireplace where two cats nap contentedly. Guests might enjoy Paua Bay’s own Black Angus steaks accompanied by freshly baked bread and fruits and vegetables from Sue’s organic garden.

Helping out with the farm chores isn’t obligatory. Some guests prefer to hike down to the private beach, take a dip in the pool or just relax with a good book and a sky-high view from the verandah. There’s even an old-fashioned outdoor bathtub where you can soak under the stars. Whatever you choose to do you will probably agree with the Johns’ philosophy: “You will come as a stranger and leave as a friend.”

French twist

Akaroa is a rare place in New Zealand, one where French heritage can be glimpsed. Back in the 1830s, both the British and French competed to lay claim to Akaroa, which was then a whaling station. The Brits eventually won and planted their Union Jack, but the early French settlers left their mark on the town. Many of the streets, Rue Jolie for example, have French names.

Climb up the hill to 68 Rue Balguerie and you’ll discover The Giant's House (linton.co.nz) where artist and owner, Josie Martin has created a fairytale-like garden full of towering whimsical mosaics. She was obviously inspired by Barcelona's famous Güell Park masterminded by Antoni Gaudí. In Martin's garden, visitors are invited to enjoy the sculptures and grounds, along with a cup of tea. Some guests choose to stay on in her colourful bed and breakfast, where whimsical rooms start at $189 for a twin with shared bath, to $265 for a double with a private bath and its own conservatory.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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