Walter Peak High Country Farm Tour from Queenstown
I didn’t expect to enjoy this tour. Like many of my generation, I’ve seen the whole ‘farm’ thing before. However, this is the first time I’ve been on the TSS Earnslaw, a beautifully restored steamboat leaving from Queenstown to Walter Peak Station. You’ll get gently serenaded by the pianist who you can just see behind Michael’s head- It’s a nice festive atmosphere and plenty of standard fare to eat onboard. Wonder if these two Asian visitors have placed bets on how quickly Michael can scoff down an egg sandwich?
While you’re on the TSS Earnslaw, have a browse over the engine room, it’ll make a great photo from the viewing platform and there’s also a separate viewing area for those interested in bygone days; photos of solemn people in big hats – hey life was hard in those days. The TSS Earnslaw docks at the Walter Peak Station wharf, where Lindsay and his dog Bess, are there to welcome us.
Our “Rural Host” (an absurd description in my opinon) is at the wharf to welcome us onto the Station. Lindsay is a ‘hard case’ kinda guy – lotsa laughs. He actually has some tourists believing that the spots on baby deers (bambi) can be bought for a price. He’s looks every inch the High Country farmer complete with oilskin hat and coat - love this guy to bits!
Ze grande walking tour of the farmyard begins! Lindsay bellows out a greeting to the animals who respond by racing towards us from all sides of their holding pens. Romney-Cross & Merino Sheep. very hairy and adorable Scottish Highlander cattle, Llamas etc. But for me, this magnificent rather bad-tempered Stag is my favourite. He’s currently looking for a female and I hope he finds her. We all get to feed the animals and shamefully I elbow a few kids out of the way to get my hand into the food tin first. Gee it’s nice to feel all these hungry mouths gently feeding from my hand (Michael had to get in line). Watch out for Bess the Huntaway farm dog, she’s an opportunist when there’s food around!
Lindsay’s banter is relentless. Although he provides interesting information, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction – be on ya guard for ‘porkies’. But the visitors are slowly catching on and we’re all beginning to laugh. It was hard work Lindsay, but you got there in the end. Big surprise await – we’re invited into the station’s beautiful old homestead for refreshments before the sheep demonstration begins. Yum! – divine cheese & onion scones still warm from the oven, scones and cinnamon buns with homemade jam and cream. Beautiful open fireplace. Now that’s a welcomed sight:
Time for Bess to show off. Folks you have to see this intelligent working dog in action – pure poetry as she leaps with one bound over the fence and disappears up a hill – no further prompting from Lindsay. After a minute or so we hear the frantic beat of hooves and in the horizon we see a small group of sheep being rounded up by Bess who keeps them in tight formation all the way. It only takes a bit of subtle body language from Lindsay for Bess to change her strategy.
Initially it’s a bit hard to see Bess, then suddenly she’s flying past us, obliviously to flashing cameras.
After more showing off, the sheep are penned and Bess is triumphant. Time for the shearing demonstration – great entertainment. Lindsay changes into overalls to prevent the lanolin from the sheep’s wool from getting on his clothes. He politiely invites a Romney sheep to come through the gate pen to be shorn. No big surprise when this proves to be ineffectual. Lindsay drags her out and she becomes as docile as a …lamb. The shearing begins:
This process is surprisingly quick and isn’t this magnificent pelt an awesome sight!
Now the bidding begins. Lindsay holds up a piece of sheep poo. “Let’s start the bidding at four dollars” he yells. He points to an unsuspecting woman in the front row and pretends to accept her non-existent bid. The dear lady looks embarrassed but her family think it’s hilarious. This’ll be a good one for the dinner party back home!
After the shearing we get to see the wool being spun in the shop next door. Wish I’d bought something here because in my humble opinion, you’ll be paying a lot more back in Queenstown. This tour is for everyone, especially those with kids. For a couple of hours, you don’t have to entertain your children. Leave this to Lindsay and his dog Bess, who incidentially has the last word!