the eccentric Banks Peninsula it seems like the result of a geological fun moment.
A high central massif filled with small undulating hills gives way, at the lower ends, to countless indentations in the landscape, inlets and bays that the Pacific Ocean has long taken over.
Two volcanoes Lyttelton and Akaroa reached 1500 m of altitude there, but a strong erosion, led by the same seismic activity that recently shook Christchurch and the surrounding region, broke and smoothed them over time.
But, strangely enough, there is little volcanic in the scene. There is almost no solidified lava or basaltic rock, covered by a perfect mat of grass that extends along the slopes and even invades the dusty sands.
The Fascinating Sheep Domain of Banks Peninsula
Rustic fences broken, here and there, by wooden gates, follow the narrow roads that introduce us to one of the truly bucolic environments on the face of the Earth. And, curve after curve, pasture after pasture, reveals more and more specimens of the New Zealand sheep fauna.
Small herd grazes on a slope of the Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch.
The estate maps of the province of Canterbury prove the predominance of the original sheep farms. If the spectrum is extended to the rainy kiwi nation, little changes.
James Cook pioneered bringing sheep to New Zealand lands during the maritime expeditions he led between 1773 and 1777. The species did not establish itself at that time, but history changed when four enterprising colonists imported 1600 specimens from the Australia to Wellington and distributed more than half across the south of the North Island.
It continued to correct itself after William and John Deans introduced the first merinos (original Aragon sheep) to the plains of Canterbury, long before the species gave way to lighter and more adaptable ones to soaked soils or simply more profitable, such as English Leicester, Lincoln, Romney Marsh, Cheviot and Border Leicester, later crossed.
And Johny Jones achieved, in Otago, in the south-east of the South Island, the first unmistakable success. This investor enriched his Waikouaiti whaling station with 2000 sheep installed on land leased to Maori tribes.
In this way, it ensured a more diversified diet for men of the sea and began to export wool that would heat up the local economy.
Homestead employee Walter Peak exemplifies a shearing.
The Expansion of Sheep Breeding across New Zealand
The expansion of sheep farming in the North Island was initially held back by the fact that the Maori indigenous peoples own most of the land and because these are subsumed in a dense forest.
The south came forward, but as settlers managed to obtain more grass from the natives above the Cook Strait, the North Island aligned with the south and New Zealand entered the twentieth century in full prosperity.
From 1882 onwards, the frozen meat industry developed and provided homestead owners with new opportunities. In the recovery period of the 2nd World War, Britain absorbed all of New Zealand's wool and meat production.
And, before and during the Korean War, the US sought quantities of the product never imagined by kiwifruit growers. Until 1961, wool represented a third of the country's exports and its shipments combined with those of frozen meat made sheep farming the most important rural activity until 1987.
From then on, different alternatives enticed the owners of sheep farms that we are finding throughout the country.
In Queenstown, in the sublime region of the southern lakes, as in every corner of the nation, the advent of tourism helped to blur the rules of the game and, in certain privileged places, inspired less laborious but highly profitable solutions.
Homeowner Walter Peak displays a ram stalk.
Queenstown: the TSS Earnslaw, towards the Walter Peak Estate
For years on end, the TSS Earnslaw steamship was the only reliable and practical means of transport operating on vast Lake Wakatipu. At the time, it carried eight hundred passengers while clouds of smoke from its chimney painted the sky black.
The Walter Peak homestead, located on the edge of the lake opposite the Queenstown, depended in part on the vessel. Today, its livestock activities are just enough to attract tourists, but the relationship with the boat remains.
Visitors from Walter Peak Estate await the TSS Earnslaw boat back to Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
Rain or shine, the “Lady of the Lake” (as it was also called) sets sail from Queenstown loaded with urban curious people who admire the lake and surrounding snowy mountains and tread the grounds of the property eager for rural discovery.
You are welcomed in an elegant central mansion and pampered with tea and scones. A resident humorist foreman then introduces them to Walter Peak Farm and the virtues of local sheepdogs. Finally, he demonstrates the secrets of shearing an unlucky sheep: "The lord with the metal hair back there wouldn't laugh at the creature I'm treating you next!"
New Zealand's Constant Sheep Up and Down
But it was much more influential political and economic variables that made and oscillate the number of New Zealand sheep.
In 1973, Great Britain joined the EU and submitted to the protectionism of the Old World, starting to absorb less production from the antipodes. Also in the 70s, there was the first oil price shock that inflated the cost of transport.
Sheep from Queenstown's Walter Peak Homestead await shearing.
Meanwhile, a myriad of new natural and synthetic materials have replaced wool in the making of clothing and other props.
Forced government subsidies kept the industry afloat, and despite the market's difficulties, the number of animals peaked at 70.301.461 head in 1982. Three years later, the government inaugurated a free market policy and abruptly withdrew all animals. support for producers who began to mislead.
Merino sheep, one of the most popular types in New Zealand.
Already in the 2000s, some wool that was still purchased by Australia, Europe and United States started to be sent raw to the China, to be wound into a ball at low cost. Even so, in two decades, New Zealand sheep have halved.
“It won't be long, buddy…” lies the modern kiwi cowboy from the top of his yellow quad. Like any native, we think it's normal to be stuck for fifteen minutes on a road waiting for the cattle to cross, but now, as it hardly happened, there are also herds of cows, not just herds, those responsible.
The response of the farms to the crisis implied a drastic shift to the production of dairy products (from cows) that quickly surpassed the sheep income, driven by the action of the country's largest company, Fonterra, which controls almost a third of the sector's international trade.
Hundreds of sheep completely occupy a verdant slope of the southern island of New Zealand.
New Zealand is still the largest exporter of sheepmeat and strong wool in the world. And only the eighth milk producer in the world. But the sheep count continues to fall.