Taking New Zealand’s Back Roads – Photo Essay

Story and Photos By Robert J. Brodey

Along the isolated southern coast of New Zealand, the wind sweeps up off Antarctica, bringing with it the kind of cold that cuts through layers of clothing and chills the bone’s marrow.  Here, the earth’s elements have the first and last say — on all matters.

Sheep station on New Zealand’s South Island. Photo by Robert J. Brodey

Beyond the rocky shores and windswept macrocapa trees that look like old ladies with their hairdos blowing, patch cloth parcels of farmland stretch far into the distance. The multitude of grazing sheep, at times, can easily be mistaken for dirty snow blanketing the rolling hills.

Things unfold slowly in these parts. Even the people seem to amble, stopping for an unhurried chat when the opportunity arises. During one such encounter, a 42 year old named Wayne states with knee-jerk reflexes that he’s a fifth generation New Zealander and that his ancestors arrived from Scotland in 1860 seeking bounty during the gold rush. His words are like survey stakes, affirming his right to be here. “We’ve always been close to the land, physically working for a living,” Wayne says, suggesting that city folk have lost touch with the earth, literally.

Among country New Zealanders, there is a realism about life’s cycles, and no one seems to shy away from the unromantic truth, be it the grisly killing of possums (admittedly a biological scourge on the islands), going hunting on their wedding day, or the very physical act of sheep sheering – where the labourers’ hands must clutch, grab, and manipulate these curly-haired creatures to maximize the yield of wool. In close quarters, the workers’ sweat becomes indistinguishable from the musty scent of the sheep’s fear.

This is life in rural New Zealand, away from the flashy bright lights and honking horns of its urban centres, along dusty back roads, where one fifth of its four million citizens live and work close to the land, hunting, tending livestock, picking grapes, and listening to the natural elements that, after all, always have the final word.

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