Oh Deer! (and much more)

Frank was obsessed with some red deer we had seen. We couldn’t remember exactly where or when we saw them but Frank was determined to see them again. He found a YouTube video on a Kitenui Deer Farm near Taupo. Could this be the place? We drove there. It wasn’t. We saw no deer from the road. We drove down the long, wooded, gravel driveway and were approached by an older gentleman on a four wheeler. Frank explained what he was looking for and asked if the area was public. The man replied no, that he owned the land. Fully expecting him to direct us off the property, he introduced himself (Murray) and graciously invited us to pull over and he would show us some deer!

It turned out that Murray had a lot more to show us than just a few deer. We spent the next couple hours exploring some of his 500(!) acres of land, which included his art studio, an event space, some unique old airplanes (he even has an airstrip), his home and beautiful gardens (where we met his lovely wife Barbara), and finally, more animals than we ever could have imagined!

In Murray’s studio, we viewed his black and white oil paintings of the different deer species which inhabit New Zealand, as well as a few of his incredible life-size concrete and bronze animal sculptures. Several of the sculptures are exhibited in cities around New Zealand, including Taupo and another city we will be visiting (Te Anau).

We toured a rustic building where weddings and corporate events are held. The dining area is decorated with many rifles and is illuminated with little Christmas lights, which gives the space a more intimate and old fashioned feel. The Antler Room has hundreds of (you guessed it!) antlers. Did you know that deer shed their antlers and then grow a new set? Murray is fascinated by American Indians and is an American movie buff. He shared with us that Burt Reynold’s had dined there!

We climbed in Murray’s truck and were treated to a safari! Down the dirt road, in and out of gates, we viewed several types of deer. Some of them were more timid than others but a couple came right up to us! There was one herd of small gray deer, which were being quarantined prior to being shipped off to South Africa. In addition to deer, Murray has two American bison and a zebra! Frank and I had a lot of questions and Murray was a wealth of knowledge. We asked him if he had to worry about predators.

Did you know that New Zealand has barely any native mammals or reptiles? Although they have many unique native fish, insects, birds, lizards and frogs (no snakes!), the country’s only native mammals are bats, whales and seals! All other species — i.e. sheep, cattle, deer — were introduced. Farmers like Murray never have to worry about predatory coyotes, bears or bobcats!

Our “tour” closed with a stroll around Murray and Barbara’s beautifully blooming “backyard” garden. Murray explained that they had purchased the acreage more than 30 years ago. At the time, there wasn’t a tree on it and no one wanted it. Now it’s filled with life — trees, plants, animals, even two of their nine grandchildren have homes on the property. Murray and Barbara have transformed it into a truly incredible place. We were so touched he took the time to share it with a couple of strangers who wandered in off the road!

Below are a few photos from Kitenui Deer Farm and from our drives around the North Island…

Soaring at 15,000 feet

Dozens and dozens of colorful parachutes dot the skies of Taupo every day. “Would you ever want to do that?” Frank asked. “Never,” I laughed. We both agreed, however, that if you were to skydive, you couldn’t find a more beautiful place to jump than here.

This morning, we heard a small plane and looked at each other. “Are you sure?” Frank smiled, “I don’t want you going home with any regrets.” “OK, why not?” I answered. Before I could change my mind, we made a reservation and drove to the airport.

I suited up, met my fellow jumpers, watched the safety video and was introduced to Ryan, the young guy I would be “attached to.” Frank took a few pictures. All good.

Let me say, I am deathly afraid of heights. I hate tall escalators, open staircases, glass-bottomed skyscraper viewing areas and being close to any edge looking down. But I never get nervous flying — and I wasn’t nervous as I boarded or   as the plane took flight. It didn’t faze me as the “12,000-feet” couples jumped off. The plane climbed higher, my partner and I slid forward. We took our place at the edge of the open door. I was directed to look up and smile for the exit camera. SH*&%, WHAT WAS I THINKING?!

Too late. We flipped out of the plane into free fall! It was cold, my cheeks were flapping. Ryan tapped me on the shoulder. “What did that mean again?” Oh yeah, I can let go of the straps. I did and spread my arms. I was flying! The camera guy flew by – Thumbs up! Smile!

Just as I started to loosen up a little, we were propelled upward as the parachute engaged. The float down was magical — the lake, the mountains — so beautiful! I got a little queasy when Ryan switched directions but surprisingly, the height never affected me. We gently swayed back and forth and before I knew it, we landed.

Although skydiving wasn’t on my bucket list, I am so glad I did it. Next time I’m asked if I want to try something new, I hope I’m not too afraid to say “Why not?!”

The Search for Mount Frank

Kia Ora New Zealand!

Kia Ora or hello New Zealand! We arrived here late Thursday night. The bags are unpacked, the phones and internet are connected (as you can see), and we’ve located the grocery store, a church and a place for Frank to swim.

Our home for the month is the charming “Little Black Bach” (pronounced “batch”). Bachs are small holiday homes. This one is in Wharewaka, a small suburb overlooking Lake Taupo — a whole different world after the hustle and bustle of Melbourne!

Lake Taupo is in the middle of the North Island. It is New Zealand’s largest lake — 120 miles around, and was formed by debris descending and creating a hole after one of the earth’s most intense volcanic eruptions! We can see the lake from our place and can walk to the edge in about 3 minutes. The nearest city is Taupo, which is ten minutes away by car. It has a population of 23,000 people and pretty much everything we need.