At the briefing in Geraldine the evening before the trip, we met up with two other couples that we travelled with last year and learnt that most of our fellow travellers on these well-organised tours are previous clients. Robbie warned that dust was likely to be an issue due to the recent prolonged dry spell, and suggested that when on the dusty roads our convoy spread out a bit to minimise any nuisance.
Next morning it’s no time before we’re up into the mountains through Orari Gorge Station, past some of the oldest farm buildings in the country and the first of many musterers’ huts that we see during the trip. To our right, Mt Peel at 1743 metres soars above us as we head towards Blue Mountain Station, and we start to get an idea of just how much largely unseen land there is in these mountains.
Robbie keeps us informed with facts and figures as we drive, mentioning that recently the market for ultra-fine (sub-17 micron) wool has dropped, as apparently the leisure garment market prefers 22–23 micron wool for its products; top merino store lambs fetched $160 in the sale at the beginning of March, and even the poorest fetched $94. He adds that Angus are the cattle breed of choice regionally.
We reach Fairlie where, at the Red Stag restaurant, we’re entertained by a strong-minded Samoyed named Benson. Meanwhile the men move as one towards the Ford F150 ‘Daddy Raptor’ when its bonnet is lifted, before we all head inside for a scrumptious lunch.
Then it’s into the Mackenzie Basin. Most people know that the Mackenzie country is named after the sheep rustler James Mackenzie, but recent publicity about cattle rustling in Northland leaves me without much admiration for the guy, although I have some sympathy for the dog that paid the ultimate price for its part in the escapades.