Thursday, March 13, 2008

Off to the Wairarapa - Again

How do we get through?

The Dogs go to work

The Farmer and his Sheep Dogs

The Wairarapa region of the North Island is northeast of Wellington, entailing a rather rigorous drive over a very narrow, winding two lane pass. We seem to be destined to enjoy the region frequently, having passed through on our way from Napier to Wellington, and our return to Masterton on the train for the Golden Shears. The train avoids the pass with a very efficient long tunnel under the mountain range that splits the North Island. The drive from Wellington is about an hour and a half.

The reason for our return is that we had completely missed the wine region of the Wairarapa. It is centered in the town of Martinborough. The whole valley which contains Martinbourgh, Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, and Featherston is a beautiful area very reminiscent of Central Washington and Northern California. The area has rolling dry hills, lots of agriculture, lakes, and vistas of the mountain range.

When you leave Highway #2 the roads are rural, very little traffic, and the kind that Mary Ann really likes to guide me to. The wineries of Martinborough are all very small and “estate” designated. They however have a very aggressive marketing program with many of them offering daily tasting. We had coffee in the little 130 year old village and visited the shops and wine center.

We then headed off on some very back roads to Masterton. Next we had a delightful experience. Orange cones started appearing on the center line with the word stock printed on them. Then around a corner we were confronted with about 200 sheep being driven on the road by a farmer on a four wheeler with his three sheep dogs. We followed for several minutes (we had no choice as the sheep covered the highway from shoulder to shoulder) and were able to enjoy watching these amazing dogs herd the sheep. Wow, are they ever fast and keep the sheep moving and prevent any wandering. The farmer knew we were enjoying the experience, as Mary Ann was out walking through the sheep droppings, while taking photos and thus he was in no rush to arrange our passage. Finally a local truck from the opposite direction just started driving through, causing the sheep to part. The farmer took pity on us and sent the dogs out to move all the sheep into one lane. I don’t know what the instructions to the dogs were, but it was amazing to watch. Check out the photos above.

On arrival in Masterton (again) we spent some time exploring the downtown and had lunch at the Ten O’clock Cookie Bakery and CafĂ©. Now this place is the 2008 winner of the Hot Cross Bun national competition. We have found as we come closer to Easter that one of the traditions is hot cross buns. Naturally we had to buy a six-pack (?) and I discovered that Mary Ann doesn’t like the raisins, so she picks them out. Her children will be delighted to hear she is human, after those growing up lessons about not picking out parts of your food. They are excellent buns, with or without raisins.

Back in Wellington, I had decided that it was time to experience kebabs. I know, how could I have gone so long ignoring this staple of life, even after having traveled to Turkey. So off we go to dinner at Abra-kebab-ra. Cute huh? We had lamb kebabs, which were very good, and laughed at our fellow diners, sitting in the faux Turkish tent, who had opted for the hot chili sauce. They had to use their napkins wiping all the sweat off their faces.

Quirky Driving Note: This is actually a good driving note. Frequently when advising drivers of the speed limit, the large sign will have the speed, such as 100 kph, written in a circle, and then to the right side it says: This is not a target, drive to the conditions.

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