The Great Dairy Farm Experiment: an Oral History

As mentioned previously, we spent two weeks on a dairy farm that turned out not to be the setting for an IRL horror movie. Instead, it was a seaside operation with 850 cows, 7 horses, 2 cats, and a border collie mix named Cloud. It marked the first time Nate was on the clock for CLEARLINK and Veronica was working 10-hour days. Needless to say, our perspectives varied.


Green acres and blue skies all the way to the ocean.

Veronica: When we first reached out to the dairy farm, Nate and I were going to split the workload between us, so we’d only have to work 4-5 hours a day. By the time we reached Lowcliffe, Nate had agreed to work full time for CL and I had to make up for it on the farm.

Nate: Which, in decidedly unethical fashion, we neglected to tell our hosts until we were on their doorstep and it was a lot harder to turn us away. Like all the dwarves showing up in The Hobbit.

V: Yeah, we started to really freak out about getting turned away on the drive there. We pulled over to have a high-strung chat before we turned onto their street. It was like two criminals trying to get their story straight.

N: High-strung is putting it mildly.

V: Anyway… our host family handled it well, but they were somewhat skeptical that I could handle the work.

N: It didn’t help that you showed up to your first day of farm labor wearing pink tights and Nike Frees when Mrs. Dairy Farm had on mucking boots, a muddy brown jacket, and a denim baseball cap.


Veronica on Day 2 in her best approximation of farm wear.

V: I definitely toned it down the next day. But our first night there is when they got really nervous about who they were stuck with for the next two weeks. We barely stepped out of the car when we were invited to a Guy Fawkes celebratory bonfire down at the beach and thought, “Oh this is cool, such a great way to get to know everybody,” but we didn’t realize that it was a party for basically everyone in the surrounding area. We were just two more people at a huge event.

N: Our hosts didn’t have time to chat with us (they were throwing the party), and everyone else knew each other so it was kind of awkward. It would’ve gone better if the first conversation I had with everyone wasn’t declining alcohol. It simultaneously made us aloof and super weird. Every rejected offer, however polite, put an instant halt on further dialogue.

V: So we basically hung out with one of the dogs that a neighbor brought along until the bonfire—OH, the bonfire! It was enormous. A bunch of trees from their windbreak had blown over a few months back so there were two or three full trees for the fire on the beach. It was so big that it caught the grass up the coast on fire and they had to get a tractor to bury the flames. No pictures, sadly–we didn’t want to bring the SLR to our first introduction to the neighborhood.

N: Before the tractor got there we were trying to beat back the flames with sticks, which was completely useless in the face of a giant brushfire, but it got me out of conversation duty, which I was failing. I was happy to get my arm hairs burned off because it gave the guests and I something to bond over. It’s a lot easier to get to know someone when your common ground is facing down a wall of fiery destruction…

V: …that was barely a foot high and patchy. Don’t get me wrong, it was crazy how fast the fire spread, but let’s not pretend you’re a Smokejumper or anything.

N: Fine. Fine. So the party went reasonably well after we put out the brushfire, which leads us to actually working on the farm. Here’s where our perspectives diverge, because I sat on my butt in a recliner doing CLEARLINK stuff while you were…doing basically everything else. 

V: Their property was enormous so you needed a four wheeler to get anywhere. They wanted me to paint several fences around the place and then weed their garden, which sounded pretty easy at first.


The seaside paddocks are to the left. The dairy shed is hiding behind the giant hedge to the right.

N: But when she says garden, she means, “Two plus acres of random plants completely indistinguishable from the weeds.” Apparently it hadn’t been cared for in a couple years and our visit was perfect because we were too inexperienced to actually help with milking cows and the horses had the month off from work.


Meet Biscuit (left) and Cookie. Sadly, we’d only be spending a little bit of time with these two.

V: I thought it would only take me a couple days, but I barely finished it all before we had to go. It was great though, I liked being outside all day–working out in the sun and by the sea. It was really peaceful and gave you the space and quiet to just kind of putter around in thought.

N: I sometimes suspected when I’d come out to help I was interrupting her calm–now I know the truth!


Nate interrupting Veronica’s calm. The green carpet is weeds.

V: The painting was a little less enjoyable because it was tedious–they gave me a tiny brush to paint all the fences! It took me hours to paint the first one with it, so I eventually snuck into town (20 miles away) to the hardware store to buy myself a roller! Things went much more quickly after that.

N: Veeves was very protective of that roller. A Swiss farmhand came out to help and was completely baffled by the technology of the paint roller–it was kind of hilarious how excited she was about it. She had never used one, so at first was a little too vigorous with the whole thing and her face was completely splattered by the time she finished. The rollers sped the whole process along considerably though.


Veronica doting on her prized roller. Get the look: Trucker Hat by Nevis Bungy Jump; Sunglasses by Ray Ban; Earbuds by American Airlines; Faux Fur Jacket by Walmart; Stretch Pants by Vogo; Gumboots by Dublin

V: Definitely. Nate and I were cruising until we got sick off the raw milk. I remember going up to their dairy shed and watching how they milked the cows. They’re so adorable! They like getting milked so they come from their pasture to the shed all on their own once the gate is opened. They all want to be first so you can see them darting in front of each other. They walk onto this rotating circular platform where they’re hooked up by a dairy worker — some can recognize specific cows in the 850 by name! All the milk gets stored in a ginormous vat under the platform, which I assumed was where the milk gets pasteurized. I asked our host if that was the case and she laughed and said “No no. That’s done after the trucks come collect it from us!” 


The rotating stalls where milk is pumped but not pasteurized.

N: They weren’t too keen on pasteurization, “Boils off all the good bugs.”

V:  Turns out we’d been drinking raw milk at their house this whole time! As expected, we both came down with some lovely symptoms a couple days later.

N: We had The Mudbutt.

V: Gross!

N: They need to know, V. We had both been suffering “symptoms” for a few days when we–

V: You are not telling this part–

N: THEY NEED TO KNOW! Anyhow… we went out to put the final coat on a few of the fences by the calf paddock and decided to split up and finish the last couple spans. I was feeling so weak and horrible that as soon as Veronica walked out of sight, I immediately lay down on the ground and went to sleep.

V: Big Baby. I was sick too and still managed to finish my job. And yours!

N: I’m not proud of it, and was punished accordingly–SO, I lay down, but it’s too sunny outside so I roll over onto my belly and put the hood of my jacket up. When I wake up maybe 30 minutes later, it’s to the sound of flies and the smell of poop wafting through my hood. Due to my battle with mudbutt, I at first suspected self sabotage–but to my relief–I had just rolled over onto some cow pies and had smashed them all over my chest.


Nate scouting out which cow poop to sleep in next.

V: And that’s how we spent our last day at the dairy farm.

N: We’d shower and drive off to Picton after that. Let’s finish on a happier note, though. Anything stand out about The Great Dairy Farm Experiment?

V: Yeah, remember how we couldn’t understand a word Colin (the host family patriarch) said?

N: Hahaha, he was nice about it, though. The thick brogue combined with his quiet voice made nearly everything unintelligible. I fell back on the classic “smile and nod” approach, which he tolerated admirably.

V: He really cracked me up the rare time I did understand him, so it makes me think he would’ve been hilarious all the time if we could’ve just figured out the accent.

N: We also ate meat–almost exclusively meat–for every meal. At first I thought that was awesome: bacon all the time?! Finally! But after the fifth or sixth day your body starts to wonder why your arteries are half their original diameter. Turns out that’s what happens when you’re eating bacon bits as cereal.

V:  I never knew how much I’d miss vegetables and fruit until I didn’t see them for two weeks solid.

N: But still, MEAT FOR EVERY MEAL! It was good while it lasted (despite starting to think I had scurvy). What I liked best was Cloud. She’d jump on the four wheeler with you to zip around the farm and looked adorbs when she’d nap in her wheelbarrow.


A boy and his host’s dog.


A dog and her wheelbarrow.

V: I really enjoyed getting to know their two girls. It was super fun waterskiing with them at Lake Tekapo (in full wetsuits since the water is only 50 degrees) and hearing all about what’s cool and what’s not here in NZ. For instance, I learned that Lorde is “definitely not cool.” And they were super curious about cheerleading since they don’t have cheerleaders in NZ but see them on the Disney Channel all the time.


Waterskiing was totes cray with these 2! Disney Channel WHOOO!

N: Finally, some NZ words we’ve picked up along the way:

  • Togs=swimsuit
  • Eskimo=cooler
  • Hire=rent
  • Takeaway=to go
  • Ute=little truck, like a Tacoma or F-350
  • Truck=Semi
  • Tramping=Hiking
  • the Dairy=the corner grocery shop (confusing while on a dairy farm)
  • Jandals=flip flops
  • The wop wops=the boonies, the middle of nowhere
  • Gumboots=rain boots
  • Gumboot tea=black tea

V: That seems like a good place to stop. Next up, Martinborough! Thanks for reading!!

(Re)Setting the Stage

November 5, 2014,

As we pulled up to the deserted farmhouse that would be our home for the next two weeks we knew our worst fear (and everyone’s secret fear) had been realized:

We were starring in a horror movie.


Not our farm…but you can imagine what’d be like if it was. Right?

In keeping with the genre, our adventure thus far had been sunny. Indulgent even. Just long enough for anyone watching to build a rapport and see our contentment before the scatological sample hits the fan, as they say. We’d seen enough movies to know this was a likely possibility when we planned the trip—it was largely the reason we’d avoided deserted farmhouses in the past (as well as most of the southern US, children, eastern Europe, old fisherman, prom, janitors, secret societies, crypts, tastefully satanic rituals, anyone masked or wearing someone else’s skin, and devastatingly handsome diamond-faced vampires who’s very gaze threatens to turn you into a vapid teenage girl).

So, as a necessary precaution when planning our trip, I had vetted potential hosts against horror tropes before reaching out to them. Veronica tolerated the screening process:

What about them?”

No. If something is gonna eat my brains it’ll be a zombie. Not a ‘kiwi family looking to share our home with fun, outgoing individuals.’ That practically screams HANNIBAL LECTER.

What truly disturbed me as the giant stalks lining the drive rustled ominously was the utter lack of choice we had in the whole, “stuck in a horror” matter. Where was my free agency? Despite our best efforts here we were, parked in the dust outside of an empty house. Soon curiosity would get the best of us and we’d poke our heads in the (slightly ajar) front door. After a quick peek inside–and maybe calling out, “is anybody there”–Veronica and I would split up, sealing our fate.

We never got the chance.

Instead, a 10-year-old girl burst from those swaying plants and started making her way towards us like a tiny T-1000. She stopped a pace from us. I held my breath.

“Hello,” beamed Veronica while scolding me with a sidelong glance.

“Hi, I’m Amber. Mum’s out at the shed getting stuff for the Guy Fawkes party,” was the jaunty reply.

And thus did The Great Dairy Farm Experiment begin.

It wouldn’t be as terrifying as I imagined (quite the reverse), but there were still horrors among highlights. Veronica and I are excited to share them both with you over the next few days. I’d promise we’ll be better about posting once you’re all caught up, but given how quickly I went from zero to “oh no, this is exactly how I imagined it would happen” territory, stability is a concern.

Let’s just hide and wait instead.

The Bungy Jump

The moment I pressed “submit” to buy our Queenstown Nevis Bungy and Nevis Swing passes, I knew I had made a big mistake. I figured if we were going to do a bungy jump in NZ though, we might as do the highest one in the country. But I hate heights to the tune of cold sweats and panic attacks.

For weeks I did research and watched countless videos of people bungy jumping. I even watched failed attempts of ropes snapping and people coming out of their harnesses. Good for confidence right? I knew I shouldn’t…but I couldn’t help myself. I’m a planner, more of an obsessor really, and that should include plans for the worst.

That’s why I was surprised when I woke up this morning pretty calm.  Then I stayed calm the entire bus ride to our destination. I even kept my cool on the trolley that takes you out into the middle of the canyon. The full impact of my mistake didn’t dawn on me until I entered the platform — that’s when I lost it.


The calm before the full-fledged panic attack.

Here’s the thing. You jump out of a tiny box (with partial glass floors might I add) that’s suspended between wires in the middle of a canyon hundreds of feet up. What I hadn’t taken into consideration previously is that the platform would be swaying back and forth in the high winds and that we would have to wait our turn on said platform for half an hour. Not to mention it was 30 degrees outside and sleeting!

Nevis Platform

The platform.

The waterworks started immediately as I set foot on that tempest-tossed matchbox. In my frenzied state, the only thing I could manage to say to Nate was “why did I do this to us!? Why oh why did I sign us up for this?” I just knew we were all going to die, I was sure of it.

img_3774 (1)

Losing it.

After watching countless people freak out but eventually make the jump (thanks to the pressure of a long line of us waiting to do our own jump behind them), Nate went first. Not nervous at all–at least he didn’t look it–he lept off after saying a few choice words (probably not the ones you’d think).  “It’s great,” Nate said when he came up a couple minutes later. Real convincing.



“It’s great” -Nate

I was up next. I sat in the prepping chair and watched my kiwi assistant like a hawk as he fastened this and that on my harness and foot straps. Had he missed something? Was everything clipped? Is someone going to double check his work? WTH? WE’RE WALKING TO THE EDGE NOW?!? I’m going to die. And it’s all this guy’s fault. And Nate’s.


I don’t trust you, Kiwi.

I knew I had to jump at the end of the countdown or I’d never do it. 3….2….1….and I jumped. Screamed. And knew I was going to die. I flailed my arms like an unswaddled baby and started sobbing like one on the way down. The worst part was, I knew they were going to bring me back up to that godforsaken swaying platform. It was agonizing hanging in the canyon for 2 minutes as I slowly made my way back up there. It was the adventure that would never end.


The proof! I jumped! I actually did it.


Tears of joy?

Sure, fine. Looking back I’m glad we did it, but I’m not eager to do it again anytime soon! And the best lesson you can learn from our story is to never do a bungy when a cold front hits, with high winds, sleet, and rain. That was unfortunate.

Afterwards we did the Nevis canyon swing, which was still terrifying even though we had just bungy jumped. Same height as the bungy, but a swing on cables versus a stretchy cord, and we were able to go together tandem-style. We were given the choice to go facing forwards, backwards, or backwards upside down. Oh there’s a way to make this even scarier? Why of course we’ll do it backwards upside down then, which makes for some awkward pictures 🙂


Looking good!


We’re the tiny speck barreling towards the ground below.


Watch Veronica’s jump here.

Watch Nate’s jump here.

Watch our tandem canyon swing here.



Road signs never lie. Endless seals from this point forward.

Veronica has been stalling, so I’m breaking the story first: there were baby seals. Seal babes. Scooching, flopping, rolling, tumbling, flubs of fatty cuteness. Tears were shed, hearts warmed. Here’s why:





I promise this isn’t the same tube of fat in varying states of wetness.


Told you so.


Let’s close with a stealth shot of the elusive Veronica voyeur. Here she creeps on sleeping seals while breathing heavily.


Our aviation-themed fortune from Pei Wei in SLC. We hope it's right!

Our travel-themed fortune from Pei Wei

We’re off to greener pastures.

The greenest, in fact, from what we hear. And full of sheep. If the world were a map of Catan, New Zealand would be that endless swathe of grass inviting you to forgo the toils of stone mines, lumber camps, or brick kilns and instead just pet a few woolly ruminants  (or trade them two for one at the nearest port). In heed of that siren bleat, Veronica took a leave of absence at both the research clinic and her dental office. Slow to hear, I accepted a proposal to work remotely for CLEARLINK.

That’s how we found ourselves at LAX–that steaming pile of aviation–and (20 hours later) ended up wandering Sydney harbor like two Romero zombies. “Nothing is very impressive when you’re tired,” Napoleon once said, and we’re inclined to agree. Architectural delights merely thud against a jet lagged brain like so many bricks. For that reason, we’re excited to circle back around to this part of the world in January. It was unfair to expect too much of Sydney on a nine-hour layover.

In spite of the poor timing, we  were granted the unexpected pleasure of watching an Australia’s Next Top Model hopeful traipse off a window ledge onto an adoring crowd below. She was attached to cables, of course, and I imagine the intended effect was that of a vertical runway (judging by the pedesimilitude of her flailing legs and the banner she was air stomping). There were a number of aborted attempts at this feat, but once the contestant was told she’d be doing it “for fashion,” she bravely (and tearfully) let the industrial cable hold aloft her waifish frame. When our sartorial Marie Curie finally touched ground, she took a moment to gather herself before stalking down the traditional runway as God intended. Altogether it was a successful adventure in the urban outback, which happens to feel a lot like Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”



Which way is up again?