One Thing Led to Another

We’ve spent the last three months on the South Island of New Zealand.  We arrived via one-way flights to visit friends with our bags packed for the wrong season.  One thing led to another and we ended up living on a farm birthing spring calves.

One of my favorite comedians, Brian Regan, says: “I hate the phrase, ‘One thing led to another.’ What kind of lazy writing is that? Isn't it your job as a writer to tell me how that made this happen? ‘Adolf Hitler was rejected as a young man in his application to art school. One thing led to another and the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the sovereign nation of Japan.”

Our route around the South Island of New Zealand.

Our route around the South Island of New Zealand.

I’ll do my best to do my job as a writer and tell you how one thing led to another. 

Emily details the first part of our journey in her post: Unexpected Road Trip.  Here’s the quick version: While we were house sitting in Hawaii, we realized—because the Southern Hemisphere was heading into winter—it was the cheapest time of year to fly to New Zealand.  We bought one-way tickets to Christchurch. 

Before we left Hawaii, we knew we’d want to stay a while in New Zealand, but no matter how welcoming our friends were, sharing a three bedroom house with four adults, seven kids and one bathroom could only last for so long.  We looked for nearby house sitting gigs online.  We found a small farm 13 miles north of our friends.  We Skyped with the owners.  They liked us a lot and we liked them.  We made a virtual handshake.  We would look after their two horses, eight sheep, chickens and dog.  With plane tickets and place to stay for our first six weeks (two weeks with friends and a four week house sit), we got on a plane. 

When we landed, we splurged and stayed in an AirBnb our first night.  The next day we shopped for used cars online and found a super cheap used minivan.  After a few trips to the ATM we’d withdrawn enough cash to pay for the car.  The next morning we drove our new-to-us minivan four hours south to visit our dear friends in Dunedin.

We had an amazing two weeks with the Wards and our other NYC friends, the Herricks, who also flew in to visit at the same time (so that made it 5 adults, 10 kids, 1 bathroom).  I wrote all about it in The Pocket Lint Theory and Update from New Zealand.

Yet it was time to move on to our house sit at Tayler Point.  We drove up and met the owners in person. They are AirBnb Superhosts but from time to time they visit their children in Europe.  They were headed overseas.

We learned how to take care of their beautiful animals and home, and enjoyed our time there immensely.  Our kids wanted to stay as long as possible and so did we, so we looked for another house sit.  We found a small home an hour south of Dunedin that needed house sitters for a week.  This home included one horse (a retired race horse named NASA), a bunch of egg laying chickens, a cat named Pip, and a dog named Bo.  Between House Sit 1 and House Sit 2, we would crash with our friends and hopefully do a little camping together.  We wanted to see the island and didn’t want to overstay our welcome with them. The South Island is cold and rainy in the winter so we thought an RV would be the best way to camp and see more.  Now all we had to do was find an RV. In the meantime, we took some fun day trips.

We also wanted to rock climb.  One early morning, between House Sit 1 and 2, Emily and I drove out to a nearby beautiful spot called Long Beach to scout the cliffs.  We didn’t bring rock climbing gear with us, but we’d joined the local “Tramping Club” at the nearby university.  For the price of membership ($20) and a refundable cash deposit ($50), we could check out climbing gear for free.  We had everything we needed to climb except rock climbing shoes.  While at the beach, I noticed an older gentleman by himself. He seemed to know what he was doing but he was alone.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “We’re here climbing for the first time.  Do you need a belayer?”

He didn’t.  He was setting up a fixed rope to do some solo climbing.  He could not have been nicer so we got to chatting.  He offered to set up a top rope for us and show us some of the better routes.  

I learned Dave Brash was seventy years old.  He rock climbed two to three times per week.  I wanted to be him when I grew up.

“By the way,” I said, “we’re hoping to do some road tripping around the island.  If you know anyone that owns an RV they might be willing to rent out, we’d be interested.”

He sort of smiled.  “I’ve got an RV.  I’d need to check with my wife, but I can let you know.”  Sweet!  Or as kiwis say, “Sweet as...”  As we walked back to our cars the sun set. Dave told us could probably help us get some rock climbing shoes.  What?!

We planned a road trip to Milford Sound with our friends, the Wards.  Turns out Dave lived just around the corner from them.  His wife said ‘yes’, he got the thumbs up from his insurance company and we rented their RV (campervan) for a few days.  

Milford Sound was stunning. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

For a sense of scale, find the cruise boat in this picture.

For a sense of scale, find the cruise boat in this picture.

Home from Milford Sound, we headed to Milton for House Sit 2.  It was a small home being renovated by its owners.  We built a fire every night to keep warm, collected the eggs and ate them for breakfast and to make cakes.  We snuggled down to get some work done.  We also needed to figure out our exit strategy back to NYC.  SJ wanted to move to New Zealand.  

A new kiwi friend, Ange, referred us for another house sit.  This one would be more ambitious than either of our previous two house sits. It would involve:

  • 8 horses

  • 5 donkeys

  • 30+ cows

  • 6 calves

  • 12 dogs 

  • 10 chickens

  • 5 cats

  • 6 goats

  • 1 rabbit

  • 1 pig

It might be easy to gloss over 12 dogs, but yep, that is twelve dogs, a barking dozen.

We agreed to House Sit 3, a 64-acre farm near the town of Timaru that would go through early September.  Between House Sits 2 and 3 we would have a two-week gap. We decided to rent Dave’s RV again and do a longer road trip around the entire South Island.  Once again, we thought we’d see some country while giving our friends some space to do all of their we-live-here routines.  SJ moved in with them while we road tripped.

We headed north through the port town of Timaru to the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs.  

From there we continued to Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park.

We drove up to the north end of the Island: Golden Bay and Farewell Spit.

We continued to Westport where we camped on a beach and went to church the following Sunday Morning.  And every now and then you have to empty out the holding tank in the RV. Sunday is a great day to get rid of all the crap in your life ; )

We continued down the west coast to a gathering of small houses known as Charleston.  We camped along a river bank and went rock climbing the next day.

Lily loves the Ocean.

Lily loves the Ocean.

We continued down the West Coast and cut back across the New Zealand alps via Haast Pass over to Queenstown where we skied for an afternoon and camped along the shore of Lake Wakatipu. 

Cliff climbing in Charleston

Cliff climbing in Charleston

The following morning we drove back to Dunedin and returned Dave’s RV.  We jumped back into our minivan and drove to Timaru where we commenced House Sit 3.

It was a big job. While we there five calves were born.  We’ve roved the hills on the ATV checking on the new moms and calves.  We had to put down one sick cow.  Emily wrote about it in Life, Death and Technology on a Farm.

We fed all the animals everyday except the horses and cows which were out to pasture.  It was a stretch for us but extremely satisfying.

We managed to sneak away for an afternoon to get in some climbing at the serene Elephant Rocks.

Bouldering in Elephant Rocks

Bouldering in Elephant Rocks

We arrived in New Zealand the week of the MidWinter Festival and marked the shortest day of the year. We left on the cusp of Spring, with calves and lambs being born everyday, grass pushing up through the soil, the sun arcing higher in the sky and daffodils opening their yellow petals. 

To recap:  We found some cheap flights to New Zealand.  One thing led to another and we ended up living on a farm birthing spring calves.  Truth be told, the cows do all of the work.  We mostly stand around with our mouths open, taking pictures and giving them some food afterward.  Even so, we’ve spent a whole winter in New Zealand.  Now we are back in the U.S.  

It’s a new season.  I’m curious how that will play out.  My in-laws picked us up at the airport.  One thing led to another and ___________________. 

How would you complete this sentence:  The first day of autumn arrived.  I was reading a blog post and decided to __________________.  One thing led to another and __________________________.

Life, Death and Technology on a Farm

Life, Death and Technology on a Farm

We found a cow lying in the mud. She couldn’t move. We couldn’t move her. Erik and I weren’t qualified to assess the situation. We’d only been cowhands for a week. This was our third farm sit in New Zealand (basically housesitting on a farm) and our first time caring for cows. The owner was in a charity horse race across the Gobi dessert in southern Mongolia. She was off-grid for at least 10 days. We needed back up.

Read More

Somebody Else's Ordinary

Somebody Else's Ordinary

by EMILY ORTON

Sometimes I feel like I’m in this Netflix series called Drama World.  It’s a spoof on K-drama (i.e. Korean dramas) where the main character keeps waking up in a new show.  The settings and situations are different but the cast is always the same.  In real life, my family is always together, but we keep waking up in different countries and different seasons.  Usually, it’s no big deal, but sometimes it’s trippy. (That’s a travel pun).

Read More

The Pocket Lint Theory & Update from New Zealand

The Pocket Lint Theory & Update from New Zealand

by ERIK ORTON

We’ve had some pretty epic experiences lately as we’ve transitioned from house sitting in Hawaii to farm sitting in New Zealand (pictures below). But the thing that’s been on my mind a lot is pocket lint.

When traveling internationally, little things can matter a lot. Some examples include: having cash in the native currency, having cell/data service, knowing the right word (“togs” = “swimsuit” in NZ).  I suppose it should come as no small surprise that I was really struggling when my phone wouldn’t charge. I rely on it a lot. I use it for maps, finding a grocery store, buying bus tickets, and communicating in real time, just to name a few. So when my phone stopped taking a charge, I was distressed.

Read More

True Experts

True Experts

by ERIK ORTON

I’ve learned that I like spending time with people who make me feel like things are possible.  This is especially true for things that feel complicated, intimidating or beyond my reach. 

Last week we went to Maui to see the island but mostly to spend time with new friends. They’d invited us over after a video chat a few weeks prior. They made complicated things sound simple.  

Read More

Is Fun for the Whole Family Even Possible?

Is Fun for the Whole Family Even Possible?

by EMILY ORTON

I held our first baby for the first time knowing nothing about her except that she was ours, she had soft brown hair, and she was healthy.  Then the nurses whisked her away for a bath. Erik sat at my bedside, elbows resting on his knees, hands together.  He looked me in the eyes. 

“You want to follow her and see her first bath?” I said.  

“What if she doesn’t like any of the things that we like?” He asked.  

“We’ll love her anyway,” I said.

Read More

You Can Do That?!

You Can Do That?!

by ERIK ORTON

I love it when I meet someone who challenges my assumptions.  

A friend of mine invented the computer code that makes online stock trading possible.  He thought broker-based trading was unfair so he did something about it.  You can do that?!   

A friend of mine bought a vintage barn and moved it across town to his backyard so he could cover his fixer upper sailboat (which he’d trucked 740 miles inland from San Diego to where he lived) while he refurbished the sailboat.   You can do that!?

Read More

Death and Taxes - Unexpected Insights this Tax Season

Death and Taxes - Unexpected Insights this Tax Season

by EMILY ORTON

Taxes have generated grief for millennia.  Jesus was born in a stable instead of at home with friends and family to help out because of tax season.   In a 1789 letter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

Read More