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People, Places, Stuff

New Zealand Sheep Show

I don’t sleep easily at night. Not because I have a guilty conscience, but because odd, unconnected travel memories keep coming to mind as soon as I close my eyes. By and large, these aren’t recollections of unforgettable, red-letter sites on the order of the Great Wall of China and St. Peter’s in Rome. They are sudden, serendipitous flashbacks to nutty things I’ve seen and done in my travels like getting my haircut in Beijing and having my hiking boots stolen on a trek through Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains.
One night recently I was all at once in the audience at the Agrodome in Rotorua, New Zealand, known for its geothermic hot springs. I knew I wasn’t dreaming because I’d been to the lakeside town before while taking a marvelous 6-day train tour of the North Island on KiwiRail. And, kitschy though it sounds, no one who goes to Rotorua can afford to miss the Agrodome’s Sheep Show.
I almost did. I mean, I like wool sweaters. But sheep? Besides, I’d already seen plenty of the beasts crossing the luxuriant grasslands of New Zealand by train.
Fortunately, the show was included in a Rotorua bus tour that was part of the KiwiRail package. Lots of things were. Traveling in New Zealand is a good deal, the way it was in the U.S. 50 years ago.
From the moment the curtain rose at the Agrodome I was hooked. There were live demonstrations of sheering, milking and feeding. Nimble, intelligent sheep dogs were put through their paces, commanded by a whistle. Then the rams came on, one at a time like Miss America contestants, each taking its appointed place on stage. There were Merinos, Drysdales, Romneys, not to mention an English Leicester named Winston who bore a striking resemblance to Harpo Marx.
Sheep were introduced to New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773. By 1980 there were about 70 million of them there, though the population is now more like 40 million: one sheep for every 12 Kiwis, to put it in context.
But since seeing the Sheep Show, I think of them as individuals. I think of Winston’s goggle-eyes, horizontal ears and woolly coat, somewhat bedraggled at the hem. And at a restaurant I’d rather put a steak knife through my heart than order a lamb chop.
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