A young Welsh shearer's patience travelling halfway around the world to work and spending Christmas and New Year's Eve in quarantine has been rewarded with a personal-best just days into the job and shearing almost every day.
Rhidian Edwards, from Corwen, North Wales, is one of seven newly arrived Welsh shearers working for Napier contractor Brendan Mahony, among up to 60 shearers to be exempted to enter New Zealand as "critical workers" to make up for a shortage of shearers at the peak of the season.
But New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association vice-president Carolyn Clegg, of Te Anau, revealed a shortage of places in managed isolation meant fewer than 30 had been approved. No more spaces were available until late March – long after the shearers are needed.
Shearing is one of four industries exempted and Clegg says that although Government departments have been helpful, there have been multiple issues from approval of the contractors and the individuals, to coinciding travel around closed routes such as Singapore with quarantine spaces available.
The Welsh shearers were among more than 5000 people in quarantine at any one time over the festive season, spread across 32 hotels being used for managed isolation in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch.
But for the Covid-19 crisis the shearers would have been working in New Zealand by early December and Mahony says that over the course of a "normal" season he would employ up to 20 from overseas, mainly the UK.
Edwards, in his second season shearing for Mahony, was quarantined in Christchurch, along with fellow Welsh shearers Meirion Evans, also now a regular in New Zealand, and Ioan Evans, a younger shearer in his first season Downunder.
They started early last week, followed by four others as they also exited quarantine, Edwards highlighting his eagerness to get to work by getting his first 400 in a day, shearing 408 lambs in eight hours at Tarawera Station on January 6.
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"I was knackered," he said the next day, and added: "My last shear was lambs in August. We were very lucky in quarantine, plenty of exercise space and good food.
"We had a few beers on Christmas Day which passed the time," he said. "But New Year's Eve was a bit depressing as we got out the following morning, and seeing everyone else having a good time on social media.
"We were lucky that the three of us could share a room so could pick each other up as there were long days and two weeks is a very long time," he said. "We're very glad we came, though, as there are full days and plenty of sheep to shear."
The critical worker scheme hasn't helped larger-scale Dannevirke contractor Paewai Mullins Shearing who has been unable to access overseas workers. Boss Aria Mullins said she would usually have 15-20 during the season and added: "I need them".
Some sheep numbers in New Zealand have also been down as a consequence of the drought last year.