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Foul Weather


Central Otago Rail Trail

The Central Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand. Photo by David Lansing.

Tuesday morning, all damp and cloudy and it looks like rain, which would not be a good thing since we’re cycling to Ophir today, about 50km away. The thing is, there’s no way I can cycle with the gear I have, which is no gear at all. I’m depending on Nev to set me right. “I’ll have a man bring you gear straight off in the morning,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Well, it’s morning and I don’t have any wet weather gear and there’s no way I’m cycling 50km over the Wedderburn pass in just my cycling shirt and a light weight sweater. Foolish I’m not.

Then about an hour past dawn, as we’re gathering in front of the red barn, adjusting seats and saddle bags and whatnot, a silver van pulls up. A sleepy middle-aged man, looking like he’s just rolled out of bed and slipped on a jersey ten minutes ago, pops out of the van and holding a twine-tied package over his head says, “Someone here need foul weather gear?”

Nev has come through with a well-used rain jacket, heavy and warm, wool hat, gloves, waterproof pants. Zipping up, I look ridiculous. Like a fisherman braving the waves off the coast of Alaska. But I won’t be wet today. And that’s good enough.

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New Zealand pavlova

A sort of deconstructed pavlova at the Wedderburn Tavern. Photo by David Lansing.

I’m not a dessert guy but I know Justin and Casey (who I call the Juseys) love their sweets so after our dinner at the Wedderburn Tavern, I suggested we get a couple of pavlovas for the table.

Surprisingly, the Juseys had never heard of pavlova. “It’s a meringue cake with berries,” I said. “Sort of the Australian equivalent of British trifle.”

Well, this really set Adriena off. “First of all, pavlova comes from New Zealand, not Australia,” she said with a huff. “And it’s nothing like trifle.”

Okay, here we go: the big who-made-pavlova-first debate. It’s like trying to determine whether pisco was first made in Chile or Peru.

Ten years ago, of course, we would have gone round and around arguing about pavlova’s provenance but now all you have to do is pull out your smart phone and do a little cursory research.

So here’s what I found: According to Wikipedia (certainly not the definitive source but acceptable in a tavern argument), pavlova “is believed to have been created in honour of the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. The nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years, but formal research indicated New Zealand as the source.”

Point to Adriena (although if I was being peckish I could have pointed out that the Wikipedia entry was probably written by a Kiwi).

Another article claims that pavlova was created by Bert Sachse, a chef at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth, Australia. And a restaurant critic for a Sydney newspaper writes that it is unlikely that a definitive answer about pavlova’s origins would ever be found. “People have been doing meringue with cream for a long time, I don’t think Australia or New Zealand were the first to think of doing that.”

Good point. And since the Brits have been making trifle since at least 1596, I say we need to give them proper credit. What do you think?

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Wedderburn Cottages

Stuart Duncan whistles his instructions to his dog, Tis, to bring the sheep down from the hills. Photos by David Lansing.

So this morning, shortly after dawn, I hear a long whistle somewhere out on the ranch. And then another long whistle, this one slightly different in tone—like two long whistles followed by two shorts. Sort of like a whistling Morse code.

Which, I discover when I pull on some pants and a jacket, is pretty much what it is. Stuart is leaning against the fence, hands deep in his pockets on this cold morning, whistling at his dog, high up in the hills, bringing the sheep down so Stuart can move them to another pasture.

Stuart has a whole repertoire of whistles. One means “turn left” and another “turn right.” There’s “move them up the hill” and “move them down” and there’s “stop right there.” A man and his dog.

The dog’s name is Tisdale; Stuart calls him Tis. Stuart says he pretty smart but he’s had smarter. And dumber. “This one here,” Stuart says, nodding at Tis as he herds the sheep directly towards us, “tries hard but sometimes he doesn’t get it right. I whistle right and he goes left. I think maybe he’s a little dyslexic. Can a dog be dyslexic?” Stuart laughs at the very idea and I do too.

It’s something to see though. A dog out there in the hills commanding a couple hundred sheep, all based on the whistles his master gives him.

It takes all of maybe twenty minutes to bring in the sheep from the high hills, herd them through a gate, across the road, and in to another pasture. Fast work. When Stuart locks up the gate he gives another high whistle and this time Tis comes running, hurdles the high fence, and jumps in to the back of Stuart’s flatbed truck. And his payoff for all this? A scratch behind the ears. And then the two of them are off.


The amazing Tis. Photo by David Lansing.

A man and his dog. Photo by David Lansing.

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Bikes at Wedderburn Cottages, New Zealand

Our bikes await us on a morning that was below freezing at the Wedderburn Cottages in New Zealand. Photo by David Lansing.

The deafening silence all around woke me a little before five this morning. In the darkness I listened for a sound. Anything—a bird, the wind, a dog’s bark. Nothing. I can’t tell you how happy that silence made me feel. Usually when I wake up this early I’ll stay in bed pretending I might fall back asleep but this morning I got up, padded lightly on the cold wood floor, and checked to see what the coffee situation was.

Yesterday afternoon when we’d checked in to our cottages in Wedderburn, Lorraine, who owns the sheep ranch and lodging we’re staying in, said she’d packed us a little breakfast in our rooms. In the mini-fridge was some yogurt, a box of Weet-Bix, two slices of bread, and some Marmite. A proper Kiwi breakfast. There was also a baggie of coffee and a French press. I boiled some water.

Wedderburn may only be 540m above sea level, but it’s the highest point on the Central Otago Rail Trail. While the water was boiling, I opened my cottage door a crack and stuck my head out. Brisk. Definitely brisk. Lorraine had warned us that it was expected to get to –10 over night. And here we were on a biking holiday.

Once I’d made my coffee and a piece of toast with Marmite on it, I crawled back in to bed. I don’t know why I was so pleased with myself but I was. The dark morning, the cold cottage, being out in the wop wops surrounded by thousands of sheep, and here I was sitting up in bed munching on my toast, sipping my coffee, and feeling as content as I’ve ever felt in my life. Go figure. One of the serendipitous joys of travel.

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Wedderburn cottages

The gloaming over the sheep ranch at Wedderburn in Central Otago. Photo by David Lansing.


We’re in Wedderburn, 15 kilometres northwest of Ranfurly, which doesn’t really tell you anything, does it?  Well, we’re out in the wop wops. That’s what Kiwis call the middle of nowhere. If there was one piece of information I could provide to give you a better understanding of Wedderburn it would be this: Wedder is a medieval word from Northumbria (what is now England) that means “castrated sheep.”


I’m not sure why I think it is important to know that Wedderburn means castrated sheep but it is. So we’re in the wop wops in a place named after a medieval word meaning  Castrated Sheep and it is damn cold. Are you getting the picture? No? How about this: There is nothing here but muted green rolling hills which are speckled with white wooly balls that turn out to be sheep. There’s a farm on one side of the road, which is where we’re staying tonight, and a tavern on the other, which was built in 1885, and that’s it.


I am sleeping in a small cottage on the sheep ranch and it is so cold (close to freezing) that the first thing I did was turn on the bathroom heater hoping it might help take the chill off my room. Then I poured myself a shot of bourbon from my flask and sat on the edge of my bed, sipping my bourbon and staring out the window at the purple and orange gloaming over the darkening hills and the red barn across the way.


There’s no noise here except for the distant bark of an unseen dog. It’s not until you’re at a place like Wedderburn that you remember what silence sounds like. It’s startling.


I pour myself another finger of bourbon. It is almost dark now. I hear the crunch of feet on gravel but I don’t see anyone. The dog has stopped barking. It’s about time to change my clothes and head on over to the Wedderburn Tavern for dinner. Soon. But not just yet.



Photo by David Lansing.




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