New Zealand's merino sheep make the best long johns
I'd discovered the wonders of merino wool a few years back when I shopped at the Auckland airport en route to Melbourne in Australia, and I intended to buy more of it when I went back last November. It was the beginning of springtime in the southern hemisphere so I figured I be able to buy it at end-of-winter sales - a perfect time for saving money and coping with an Ohio winter.
This visit I discovered an Icebreaker shop with an entire wardrobe of merino wool wonders at the same airport, which had been modernized considerably since my 2003 visit.
Merino wool is made from a certain hardy sheep breeds, one of the many types raised for wool and meat throughout New Zealand. The Baa code's web trail led me to Castle Ridge farm on the South Island, where I wouldn't be able to visit on this trip. But the website revealed this 8,000 acre family owned farm has 10,000 merino sheep in addition to 300 Angus cattle. My Icebreaker long johns are soft and not itchy at all and used as an under layer, they've kept me warm enough to use just jackets, sweaters and shawls through the entire winter.
On this New Zealand visit I learned that the clever kiwis are combining merino yarn with that of a pest, the bushy tailed possum, to make an even more luxurious fiber garment. It's a great solution since these tree dwelling possums eat their weight and more in vegetation and have no enemies except man on this island nation. Unless controlled they stand to wipe out much of New Zealand's crops. The possums there are nothing like ours and have big bushy tails much like our raccoons. The merino-possum garments I found were well outside my price range, however.
|Many Maori men work as sheep shearing crews, traveling among New Zealand farms when sheep need to be sheared. It takes them about four minutes or less to shear a sheep and the creatures actually seem to enjoy the experience.|
Like most Americans, I'd heard that sheep far outnumber people in New Zealand, so before I took this trip I arranged a visit to a sheep farm - one that also takes guests. I later learned that the sheep population has declined despite the great garments and delicious New Zealand lamb exported from the country. Sheep may have declined, but they still outnumber people with a ratio of seven to one and are seen peacefully grazing everywhere. In my next Kiwi Kronicles installment for The News-Herald's Travel section I'll take you onto the floor where sheep are shorn, out to a pasture where sheep dogs control the herd and into the lodging and dining areas of the most amazing sheep farm on this earth, at least in my opinion.