Our trip to SheepWorld in Warkworth got off to a slightly bad start when Miss Seven threw a tantrum about not being able to take her dog.
"But why do you want to take the dog when there are going to be other dogs there already?" I asked, trying in vain to reason with her. It was no good and she vowed not to smile during the entire visit.
I needn't have worried about her pity party raining on our parade because she started smiling the moment we turned into SheepWorld and saw pink sheep in the front paddock. From then on, she smiled broadly, laughed loudly and generally had the time of her life. We'd been meaning to visit for ages, having driven past the New Zealand sheep and wool centre on SH1 on many occasions. On the Saturday we picked, the sun was blazing uncharacteristically warmly and brightly so we seized the day and drove to Warkworth.
Our visit started with the one-hour live action show in the fully seated, all-weather barn where two dogs, border collie Boy and huntaway Sam, sat obediently on stage awaiting the start of proceedings. It's a shame our dog, who looks more like a sheepskin slipper than a dog, wasn't there to get some tips on behaviour.
Farmer John gave a brief introduction about the dogs and their importance to life on a working sheep farm. Then Boy did his stuff. We followed him out to the paddocks where, without one bark, he skilfully and quickly rounded up a flock of sheep. Sam then took over and herded the flock into the barn for the next act.
That was a sheep-shearing demonstration with a lively commentary from John, opportunities for audience participation and plenty of food for thought. John talked about the skill involved with shearing and the lifestyles of those who shear for a living. I could see Miss Seven ticking the numbers over in her head and talk of how in demand Kiwi sheep shearers are around the world certainly pipped her interest. It used to be that if you could type, you could get a job anywhere in the world; now it seems being able to shear sheep - up to 300 a day - can be a ticket to see the world as well.
She's a shy girl reluctant to stand up in front of groups of people, and I was surprised when she stepped forward and volunteered to help shear a sheep. Guided by John, she clipped off some wool which she was presented with to take home. Naturally her younger sister, Miss Three, had to have a go, too, and she also received a handful of wool. Love that lanolin scent. After the shearing, the audience got to bottle-feed baby lambs and goats.
Shows are held rain or shine at 11am and 2pm daily and I guarantee you'll learn something new about dogs, sheep, wool and farming in this country. One of SheepWorld's newest attractions is the multimedia presentation Wonderful Wool - from fleece to fashion, which answers all the questions you might have on sheep farming, harvesting wool, its multitude of uses and importance to our economy.
We then headed around the neat and tidy Farm and Nature Park which included a farmyard full of familiar rural favourites - cows, donkeys, pigs, goats, ducks, chicken and, of course, sheep - alongside animals that used to be considered more exotic but now demonstrate how farming in New Zealand is diversifying: alpacas, emu, possums, miniature horses and deer. There are also domestic pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, and birds like Indian ringnecked parakeets to befriend. Animal feed is available and the kids had a great time having their hands slobbered on by the animals.
For me, one of the highlights was the short and sweet 400-metre eco-discovery circuit which took us through native bush and wetlands. It's peaceful and packed with beautiful native trees. This trail leads to the adventure-terrain attraction, a landscape sculpture made from boulders, logs and ropes the kids can scramble up, down and across while the grown-ups kick back and picnic in the sun with a view across SheepWorld.
We didn't bring a picnic and opted instead to have lunch at the Farmers' Table Cafe with a blackboard menu and tempting cake selection. A bonus is the fenced playground where the kids can play.
With summer fast approaching, you may be entertaining friends and family from overseas. I'd highly recommend SheepWorld, and they'll be able to pick up some quality souvenirs in the EcoWool Pure New Zealand gift shop. We left with a soap and candle in the shape of a sheep, and a soft toy sheepdog.
Even if you're not looking to show off a slice of traditional farming life to visitors, SheepWorld is well worth a visit.
It's a genuinely family-friendly and interesting attraction which ticks all the boxes for a great day out for all the family, aged, in our case, from 3-73.
What more could you want? A holiday park? Well, there's one of those on site as well.
Watch the team of professional shearers, a rousie and presser - assisted by park staff - shear Ambury Regional Park's more than 400 sheep.
Saturday, November 17 (from 7am until approx 4.30pm), only if weather stays dry - phone (09) 301 0101 to check whether it is going ahead.
With breaks for meals, shearers can shear 20-40 sheep an hour; wool is then sorted and pressed by the wool handlers.