G’bye, 2013 — Hello, 2014!

Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. But the Auckland summer for 2013-14 has turned out to be kind of uninspiringly blah (where last summer and winter were amazing and I was out photographing all the time), plus I’ve been distracted by our latest flurry of property hunting. It’s been over three years since we first landed in New Zealand, and while the plan was to quickly find a plot of land and build our dream house, the “quickly” part didn’t quite pan out the way we’d hoped.

However, I can announce (with much happiness and great relief) that the property search has finally concluded and we’re now the proud stewards of a lovely chunk of rolling farmland in the south island, nestled quietly in the Otago region, or more specifically, the Queenstown-Lakes district.

So one chapter ends and a new one begins.

My partner is talking about growing wheat in the lower flat portion of the property for making his own vodka, which means (of course) I’ll have to oversea some barley and corn production, too, so that I can make my own whisky. Because that’s what you do when you get older, right? You build a house in the country, get a dog and spend evenings by the outdoor fire pit, roasting fresh ears of corn and drinking home-brewed whisky while marvelling ceaselessly at the dazzling night sky.

At least, that’s what Bill Nighy says, and who wants to argue with Bill Nighy?

I guess this means we’re now members of the 21st century gentlemen farmers club. Though if that turns out to be true, we’re certainly going to need a lot of help. I may have grown up in seriously rural Michigan farm country, but I never actually lived or worked on a farm; yet the idea of living on wind-swept acres where I’m perpetually scraping sheep sh*t and mud off my boots doesn’t bother me as much as it might have twenty years ago.

You see? It’s that Bill Nighy “house in the country” thing rearing its welcome head.

Regarding the dog part: We have yet to settle on what kind of dog to get. We initially thought an Australian Cattle Dog would be a good choice for rolling farmland, but we won’t have any sheep or cattle to herd, so I’m afraid he’d eventually get incredibly bored if he’s not allowed to do what he’s been bred over generations to do. Not to mention that the land is bursting with rabbits since no one’s been living or working on it for years and the little furry critters have had an uncontested run of the place.

Never a good thing where rabbits are concerned.

Which means we’ll need a ridiculously affectionate doggy companion that also enjoys aggressively chasing rabbits around until they all just give up and move to more peaceful pastures. Maybe a Brittany?

Yeah, there are ponds and ducks and irrigation channels and rabbits and lots and lots of space to run. I think a Brittany might be just about perfect.

*ADDED: Getting ready to ring in the New Year. One bottle of champagne, check. One big batch of German Chocolate Cookies, check.

We contacted Jordan Rondel at The Caker and asked if she could whip-up a batch of these cookies in time for New Year’s Eve — she happily obliged, and by god they’re awesome! It’s like biting into . . . well, a cookie version of a delectable slice of German Chocolate Cake. She even included a small tub of extra frosting.

We’re in sweet Germanic heaven.


  • http://blog.daryn.net daryn

    Congrats & Happy New Year. We just spent Christmas in Queenstown & Wanaka. The landscapes were gorgeous and the wine surprisingly drinkable.

  • FiveoaksBouquet

    Congrats on finding that gorgeous terrain! Nathan, i like the way you call yourselves “stewards.” It bespeaks a respectful and responsible way of describing our relationship to the earth.

    Looking forward to seeing photos of the future (lucky) dog. Having watched the Westminster dog show a few times, one part I enjoyed particularly was learning about the “job” of each breed and how they love to carry out their mission. I’m sure you will find the right canine companion for the work ahead!

    • http://www.nathanbranch.com/ Nathan Branch

      Hi Five — I’m now beginning to wonder just what will happen to this gorgeous piece of land after we’re gone. We have no children to leave it to, so we’ll have to figure out a way to keep it healthy and thriving long after we’re no longer able to see things through.

      And what a terrific idea — watching the Westminster dog shows! I can only get so much info about the different breeds from reading about them in books and online, so watching a dog show, where their strengths are clearly delineated, makes a lot of sense.

      And since we have a lot of land to run around on, I imagine we’ll eventually wind up with two dogs, which will allow each one of us to pick the breed that best suits our own individual personality. But it’ll be a nail-biting coin toss over who gets his top dog choice first. :)

      • FiveoaksBouquet

        The dog show is coming up in February. In the meantime, consider the Puli…

        • http://www.nathanbranch.com/ Nathan Branch

          February! I have to make sure I don’t miss it. Thanks for the heads-up.

          • FiveoaksBouquet

            Past shows are also available on dvd, if you want to be able to study and review certain dogs/breeds and listen to their “cv” at your own pace.

            • http://www.nathanbranch.com/ Nathan Branch

              I’m going to see if I can find any of the shows available via digital streaming (which is doubtful, but if not, then I’ll certainly go the DVD route). But your comments have at least sent me on a fruitful chase through different books on the breeds I’m interested in, rather than rely solely on internet sites — though there’s nothing wrong with internet sites!

              Lots of valuable information floating around.

  • Marcia Taylor

    Congrats on the new property!! Happy New Year!!

    • http://www.nathanbranch.com/ Nathan Branch

      Thanks, Marcia! I have a dream that one day, just as we’re firing up the backyard grill in our newly built home, we’ll hear a car horn honking in the driveway and discover that you’ve pulled up just in time for dinner. :)

      • Marcia Taylor

        It will come true someday!! i promise. ;-)

        • http://www.nathanbranch.com/ Nathan Branch

          Until then, I’m going to regularly practice my yelp of surprised delight so that I get it *just right* for the occasion.

  • Liz

    Nathan … what fun to see you again! Happy New Year! What a spectacular home you have found! Truly, truly lovely. It is nice to have learned that I grew up on a Gentleman’s Farm. Small, at 98 acres in Vermont, we didn’t raise horses but simply kept our own. We had a riding ring and lots of jumps for steeple chasing and stadium jumping, a swamp and what we called The Prairie. And all gone now – sold in 2005.

    You must! You absolutely must get an Australian Cattle Dog. We have mutts for we are rescue people. I rescued Patty from the mean streets of East Saint Louis. She just happens to possess a lot of Australian Cattle Dog blood. Sweet, affectionate, loving tenacious, physically strong and one of the smartest dogs going. Get one. You will walk that lovely land with her/him daily.

    • http://www.nathanbranch.com/ Nathan Branch

      Hi Liz —

      The Australian Cattle Dog is indeed nudging ahead in the “What happy four-legged-animal will we invite into our lives?” sweepstakes. I do veer off into other avenues for brief compare-and-contrast sessions, but better sense always takes hold of me and steers me back to the ACD.

      It just feels right, for various reasons: land size, climate, temperament, health, intelligence, longevity, companionship. So yeah, the ACD winning hands-down in our household opinion poll might not be an overstatement.

      Growing up on 98 acres of land in Vermont sounds like a really nice childhood. I’m hoping I can replicate something like that (with dogs, fruit trees and a terrific bbq pit), but for my inner child now that my actual childhood is an increasingly receding memory.