From kiwi fruit to crocodiles, mangoes to Merinos, red deer to root crops, over the last six months I’ve visited every kind of farm imaginable.
It all began one average day in September hopping on and off planes for three days, having elbow wars with strangers on packed flights and visiting every continent or so it seemed. At 2pm on a chilly spring afternoon my friend Lorna and I finally landed in Christchurch, New Zealand to start the adventure I had been dreaming of since I was 18.
After finding our accommodation, which happened to be in the ‘red light district’ of the city, and walking round for an hour in the dark, freezing cold desperate for some vitamins after a what felt like a week of aeroplane food, the adventure did not necessarily get off to the best start.
But instead of moping, knowing that tomorrow would be a better day, we did some weird over tired laugh at what a disaster that day had been and booked our bus for the next morning which would take us down to Dunedin where our new employer would meet us.
Leaving Christchurch at last and never to return (or so I hoped) I finally got to see what the country had to offer and all feelings of doubt from yesterday’s experiences very suddenly dispersed.
With a landscape immersed in livestock and farm machinery it was clear to see that agriculture is the foundation of this country. How refreshing it was to find a place that values where it’s food comes from.
Two hours in after we reached the first stop on our journey, I was convinced that was the most livestock I’d probably seen in my whole life. A brash statement I know but one I stick by. I was in heaven.
Driving through the Canterbury Plains the extent of the importance of agriculture was clear. Instead of B&Q warehouses I saw tractor dealerships on every corner. Bill boards normally littered with benign adverts for the latest chick flick found in the UK are replaced with adverts of Ag chems. We were truly in our element.
Being more of a crop girl, Lorna excitedly pointed out the vast irrigation systems, something neither of had seen on that scale. I felt glad she was with me. Not many of my friends would get excited by irrigation.
My first job, on a 3000 head sheep station in New Zealand, small in the grand scheme of things, was starkly different to anything I’ve done in the UK.
Unlike at home, lambing in New Zealand is often considered as a quiet time of year. Due to the hilly landscapes and often inaccessible areas ewes are left to their own devices and whatever will live will live. And whatever dies, well.
Upon arrival at the farm, bombarding the owner, Ross, with questions, as he filled me in I began to think farming in New Zealand sounded pretty easy. No pests, few diseases and not much in the way of weeds other than gorse and thistles, which I was acutely blamed for the entire duration of my stay.
But the longer I stayed the longer I learnt that it was not without its challenges.
Increasing red tape has seen to that, and the latest uproar was over legislation demanding no land over a certain degree of slope is to be cultivated. Something which could have a huge impact on a predominantly hilly and agricultural based landscape.
Government is also stepping up to improve water quality in the country which I am told is surprisingly poor, and farmers are the ones who must take first action.
An observation hard to ignore was the wealth of the farmers that I visited. There seemed to be a trend- white, young and wealthy. I could see why so many pommy young farmers saw this country as the land of milk and honey and never returned to British soil. Every person I had the pleasure of meeting seemed to have a holiday home, a brand new truck, or a boat, some all three.
They seemed to be doing well for themselves. But, like any farmer, good luck trying to get them to admit to it. One guy I happened to mention this to, a deer farmer selling his red stag velvets for up to $1000 a pop, told me: “Complain when it’s bad, keep schtum when its good- especially sheep farmers..”
Apart from his not so subtle dig at sheep farmers he was right, and that’s something farmers tend to do worldwide. A shame really, and certainly not the right way to encourage new blood.
But, whatever Kiwis are doing, they seem to be doing it right. Supermarkets are filled with seasonal local produce, and you’ll be hard pressed to find something imported. Food prices are high, but I heard no complaints. Farming without subsidies is working for them.
Their technology is innovative. Not one farm I visited did I look at practices and think they were old fashioned. Few were run by older generations, but in their place were young, enthusiastic and forward thinking young adults keen to try something different, each with their own unique ideas, and more importantly, a positive approach.
Before I embarked on my voyage I was told ‘its like England forty years ago’. Now I don’t know what England was like even thirty years ago, but the more people I spoke to the more I could see New Zealand going the same way we are, and not in a good way. Increasing red tape, environmental constraints combined with consumer perceptions all played a direct role.
Next up was Australia, who the Kiwis had adamantly insisted would disappoint me after three months in their country. But I’m afraid to say, disappoint (bar a few days of bad weather) it did not.
After arriving in a stifling hot Sydney reaching heavenly temperatures of 38c, now happily reunited with my boyfriend we spent a few days sightseeing and enjoying the local cuisine of barbecued kangaroo. It did feel a little wrong to eat their national symbol but with a bit of garlic and chilli, it was delicious.
Following advice from the masses we decided to head to Victoria in search of some kind of job, I wanted livestock, he wanted crops, an ongoing predicament. After throwing away all our warm clothes in New Zealand, we were shocked to be greeted in Melbourne by temperatures of 14c. It was warmer in New Zealand!
This was a classic example of me doing no research, and merely booking a plane ticket somewhere. So do your research kids, Australia’s not always baking hot it turns out. Feeling cold, jobless and a bit cheesed off with Melbourne, we immediately booked ourselves flights to the hottest place we could find- Tropical Far North Queensland. And tropical it most certainly was. Everything about this place felt magic. The warm, wet climate, the brightly coloured birds and butterflies, the exotic plants in every field from sugar cane to pomegranates to avocados, not to mention the crystal beaches and constant bring sunshine.
After a few days exploring, and ticking the Great Barrier Reef off our bucket list, we found a job on a cattle station in the Atherton Tablelands near a town called Mareeba, boasting 300 sunshine days every year, ideal right?
Into the wild we went finally arriving at a 30,000 acre cattle station. Something unimaginable for us, but fairly average in the Aussie game.
A million miles, or at least a couple of thousand, from the farmers I’d met in New Zealand, the owner greeted us bare foot, a tan to rival any essex girl, quickly going in to detail about why Donald Trump should rule the world. He might have even been chewing a piece of grass.
Again, this kind of farming is like something I’d never seen before. Talking to fellow station hands, they told me of cattle that would die of old age having never seen a human, and how handling comes just once a year when the lorry comes to collect anything ready for market.
Later, at a rodeo in Byron Bay we learned of the games station hands played to pass the time, leaping on to unbroken colts and chasing bull calves on horse back. It sounds crazy, and even more so when your nearest hospital is a seven hour drive.
But, again these farmers were every part innovative in their own way, learning the secrets to a successful business where resources, especially rain are sparse, concocting their own organic fertilisers, breeding cattle calm enough to endure the annual cattle crush without killing anyone or thing.
Now as I sit back and reminisce over these amazing months, tan faded, Outback farm boots long disposed of, I can think back to everything I learned. I took the rough with the smooth from finding myself laying concrete one day, reassuring myself that I will certainly never make it as a tradie, nor ever want to, to galloping after cattle on a somewhat ferocious little pony at full speed through the Queensland outback, giving me bruises in the most unimaginable places.
Many moments have been totally surreal, many unforgettable, and every single one invaluable.
And if you want to know how the 2016 Christchurch earthquake felt, your guess is as good as mine because I slept the whole way through.
Canada, Europe or maybe I can see myself fighting deadly snakes in Costa Rica, who knows where my next agventure might take me, but I can assure you, its already in the pipeline.