Queenstown came into being as the center of gold mining in New Zealand. Those who made their fortunes in the mines, invested their profits in large sheep stations. In the days before roads and gas powered vehicles it was hard to transport sheep long distances. Since Queenstown was on the large Lake Wakatipu, boats were used for this task, but it wasn’t until 1912 when the government commissioned the giant TS Earnslaw 1200 sheep could be moved at a time. The ship was built in Dunedin, the pieces numbered and taken apart, brought here on smaller vessels and reassembled. A giant undertaking for the times.
These days no one is moving many sheep around here and if they do they use trucks. What is being moved today is tourists. Queenstown, with its idyllic setting on the lake beneath The Remarkables, a jagged toothed mountain range, is the locus for tourists for miles around. Many adventure and adrenaline laden sports take place here. People are hurling themselves off bridges on bungee cords, levitating out of the water on jet boats, careening down mountain sides on warm weather luges, white water rafting, river surfing, gliding, sky diving, etc. etc.
Four geezers from the Midwest need to ease into these activities gently. We started by boarding the old TS Earnslaw, still burning coal and steaming around the lake to a BBQ lunch at a sheep station. The boat and the old station house are lovingly preserved and a picturesque spot for tourists as well as the swim suit models who were doing a shoot here pretending that the temperatures were warmer than 60º.
The station held an interesting demonstration on sheep herding and shearing. One well trained dog can move 1,000 sheep at a time. They never bark but their physical proximity and cold stare keep the sheep in line. Even when the sheep had their backs to the dog, they knew that he was there and moved in unison according to his wishes. He in turn was controlled by a series of whistles and yells from the man in charge. It was an awesome operation. In the old days the sheep were trimmed with giant scissors, but these electric shears are used and the shearer said that it is a lot like us getting a haircut. The sheep he trimmed obviously did not enjoy being held in odd positions and controlled by the man with the buzzing tools, but it was fairly cooperative and trim and cool when all that long wool was finally removed. Sheep are sheared twice a year and each wad of wood only brings about $5. The sheep also give birth twice a year, but it obviously is not a lucrative activity at the moment. We wonder why lamb is so expensive when we try to buy it at home.