A window on the South Island
At the far end of the field a small black and white dog gathered up six reluctant sheep and herded them slowly toward his master. Each time a sheep broke away the dog out-flanked it and, with head lowered, stared it down. Working quietly and methodically the dog forced the six sheep into a small paddock and the herdsman shut the gate.
The crowd of two hundred-odd spectators clapped and headed obediently back to the parking lot. Unlike the sheep, who were identified by ear tags, we wore instead, tags bearing the names of our various tours. An indelible stamp on the back of a hand confirmed our admission to the show and each of us had been told to remember our bus number. We took our seats. The Coach Captain counted us and shut the door.
Our tags read "Kirra Tours" and this was a scheduled stop on day 11 of an excursion billed as the "15-day New Zealand Explorer." Feeling more like sheep than explorers we settled back in our comfortable coach seats and watched another swath of New Zealand landscape slip past the window as we headed for the next scheduled stop.
For Betty and me this was a brand new experience. In all our years of travelling this was our very first "sightseeing tour," a trip where everything was planned and all we had to do was follow the pack no fuss, no glitches, no adventure.
After the initial frustration of having no control, of being spectators rather than participants, we decided to relax and enjoy the trip for what it was a quick and easy way see a lot of new country. And in fairness to Kirra Tours it is hard to imagine a better planned and executed bus tour first rate coaches, safe personable drivers with well informed commentary, comfortable accommodation, excellent food, and a selection of side-trips to interesting, though often crowded, tourist spots.
It was 32 hours from Vancouver to a room at the Pavilions Hotel, where we slept off the initial jet-lag. Thankful that we had arrived a day early we spent the afternoon exploring Christchurch, a prosperous city with the reputation of being more British than Britain itself. A footpath along the Avon River is lined with giant English oaks planted there by early settlers as reminders of home. A group of boys is playing cricket in Hagley Park and the Gothic stone buildings beside their playing field could easily be mistaken for those of Eton or Oxford.
The next day we were introduced to Reece, the driver of our tour bus, and we headed south across the Canterbury Plains. Lying in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps this lowland between the Pacific coast and the mountain foothills is the driest and flattest area in New Zealand. The once barren outwash plains of scrub and tussock grass have been reclaimed by irrigation and are now the hub of South Island agriculture. The landscape is dotted with sheep, and every few miles a deer farm venison for a lucrative Asian market. Reece explains that farming in N.Z. is no longer a lifestyle. It has become a highly centralized and technical industry.