Kiwi Thanksgiving

Last week I wrote a post about some fond travel memories that were the result of being in the right place at the right time. A friend of mine politely pointed out that I’d left out the best one –Thanksgiving on a sheep ranch in New Zealand. I’m now going to give that particularly extraordinary experience its due on the Interweb.

First some background. I was on a two week guided trip of the South Island of New Zealand. We spent most of our trip outside of urban areas, and most nights we stayed somewhere remote and our guides made our meals. When I signed up for the trip, the itinerary noted a two night stay on a sheep ranch “under the stars” and required us to bring a sleeping bag. I later got word that bedding would now be provided at the ranch, but I still couldn’t shake the visual of having to sleep in a barn for two nights with a bunch of sheep, so I wasn’t really looking forward to that stop on the trip.

Early in the trip it was apparent that whenever we were in civilization, we needed to stock up on snacks, booze, sunscreen, bug spray – you know, the necessities. By the time we got to Queenstown, some of us in the group decided that while we wouldn’t be having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in New Zealand, we wanted to have some reminders of home. We went to the grocery store to buy things like pumpkin soup (couldn’t really go to Costco and buy a giant pumpkin pie), cranberry sauce and wine. We wanted to be extra clever, so we kept these things in our luggage and didn’t let our guides know about them.

We arrived at the sheep ranch, called Braemar Station, on Wednesday afternoon of Thanksgiving week (which was really still Tuesday back home if you want to get technical). We told our guides about our hidden stash of Thanksgiving food, and in turn our guides told us they had a Thanksgiving dinner planned for us for that night.

Once we arrived at our lodging (a house where the sheep shearers stay – NOT a barn), this was our view. Throughout the trip we drove by numerous examples of sheep and other livestock having the best real estate in the country, and this was the best we saw.

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We took in the views and hundreds of pictures of sheep while the guides prepared dinner.

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After enduring a cold and rainy first half of the trip, this day felt like summer (remember, opposite seasons in the Southern Hemisphere), so we set the picnic tables outside for dinner.

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Before dinner we celebrated the 49th wedding anniversary of a couple on our trip, popping champagne (or whatever the appropriate name for Kiwi-sparkling wine is) to commemorate the occasion.

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Then it was time for the main event, and our guides had managed to recreate a full-blown Thanksgiving feast in the middle of nowhere. Sure we had our pumpkin soup and cranberry sauce (which I think in accordance with tradition, no one actually ate), but we also had turkey, potatoes, veggies and homemade pumpkin pie.

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We sat outside for a long time, enjoying the food, enjoying the company of our surrogate travel family, enjoying views of the sun setting behind Mt. Cook and silhouettes of sheep on rolling emerald hills.

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When I think back on that day, it’s hard to believe it was real – maybe that’s why I left it out of my original post? – but every Thanksgiving I think about it and spend at least a little bit of time plotting how I can get back to that place on the last Thursday (or Wednesday) of November.

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