It's a couple of years since we made it to the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek near Hamilton and as it coincided with Bruce's birthday, I decided we should go as an extra treat for him on top of his annual socks and undies replenishment.
The first Fieldays hurdle is finding a room. It's the only time of year that Hamilton is a popular destination, and the only rooms left were fairly pricey. I found one with a spa bath and far more fancy extras than necessary but decided as it was for just one night we could cope.
The next challenge is beating Auckland's traffic. It's no fun driving across the city at the best of times but substantially less enjoyable in rush-hour traffic. Leaving at 4am seemed the best idea, as Bruce could snooze as I drove and we would be over the bridge by 5.30am. This meant the boys had to find their own way to school, but elder son thoughtfully organised his girlfriend's grandmother to pick them up. I'm not sure how excited she felt about going several kilometres out of her way at that hour of the morning.
Amazingly, we sailed through Auckland without issue. The number of cars zooming along the motorway did make me wonder what those people do when they arrive at work so early ... I guess you could fill in an hour at the gym and have breakfast but then what?
Thankfully, not my problem — the traffic was one reason why we left Auckland a couple of decades ago and it hasn't improved since. One of the delights of farming is no commuting at all.
We were caught in slow traffic for the last couple of kilometres to Mystery Creek but moved along steadily and there were plenty of parking wardens directing the flow. We found ourselves in the higher reaches of Orange carpark, so Bruce suggested we catch a bus down. I thought surely that was a bit lazy given we'd been sitting in the car for hours, but then realised much of a slog it was to the gates and agreed the bus was a brilliant idea.
Fieldays is a feast for the eyes — all the giant machinery, dinky inventions, free food and, of course, the people. Disappointingly there aren't as many animals on show as there used to be — I guess Mycoplasma bovis has put paid to any cattle displays but the only live animals we spotted were a couple of grumpy angora goats and some adorable Valais blacknose sheep. But the array of two-legged animals kept me entertained. After a couple of hours strenuous eating, talking to salespeople and inspecting machinery, Bruce needed a wee nap. He joined some old people on a bench and snoozed while I inspected the passing parade of young and old, and the smorgasboard of fashion choices. There was a definite preference for Swanndri, denim and redbands, but a few bucked the trend — and I must say leopardskin gumboots are quite a statement.
The food and wine tasting pavilion seethed with people as they elbowed towards stalls, attempting to get their hands on everything edible and drinkable. We joined the throng enthusiastically and scoffed everything from goat's milk gouda to venison salami, non-alcoholic gin to hot chocolate made with Jersey cow milk; emerging from the tent slightly battered with our sole purchase, a bottle of cherry juice.
As we inspected every centimetre and our third, possibly fifth, effluent spreader of the day I realised the crowds were thinning and it was time to head home. As we made our way out the gates Bruce commented on what an inexpensive day it had been. I guess it was if you didn't count the two quad roll bars, the enormous calf-feed trailer and the fancy new effluent spreader we'd just bought, but I have to say my average trip to town is considerably cheaper.
Our first inkling that leaving the Fieldays might not be a dream run was when the bus driver dumped his passengers off halfway up the hill, saying it was absolute gridlock higher up. The scene greeting us in the carpark was grim and in the time it took us to find our car — "It's over this way!" "No, I'm sure it was in line with that building." "No, here it is — see, I'm right again!" (that last from Bruce, he really is a trial to live with) — the queued cars didn't move.
We joined the fray, consoling ourselves that we weren't in a rush. An accident on the main road caused the jam, and even people who tried to leave early were swamped in traffic. The helpful parking people from the morning had disappeared, and traffic management was of the every man (and woman) for themselves variety. It took an hour and a half to leave the carpark, and a further hour to reach Hamilton. As we inched along, I could see lines of headlights still queuing — some people had tried to leave earlier in the day but had just ended up swamped in traffic.
Luckily we did have water with us, and did not have children but we hadn't brought a toilet along and as the journey lengthened the need grew increasingly desperate and I was wishing we'd packed a bucket for such an occasion — it was a relief, in more ways than one, to finally pull up at our lovely motel.
Clockwise from main, police tractor on patrol; gridlock in the top carpark at leaving time at Fieldays; Bruce tries hot chocolate made with jersey cows' milk; Bruce takes a nap after a morning of Fieldays excitement.