Sections of the trail across farmland are provided at the generosity of the landowners. Please respect this so that access can continue for those who come after you. Here are some guidelines to keeping both farmers and yourself happy:
- Stick to the marked route. Farmers have given consent for walkers to cross their land on the defined path, not to wander all over their properties. It may look like empty land, but think of it as you would your own backyard.
- Don’t disturb farm animals. If sheep start running away from you, slow down or stop. Animals carrying heavy coats of wool in particular can get stressed from running. And panicked cattle can knock down fences, which isn’t going to make you popular.
- Give way to farm operations such as vehicles and the moving of animals. If a flock of sheep or herd of cattle are being driven towards you, stand still to one side so the animals can keep moving freely past you.
- Don’t bring dogs onto farmland. That’s just a no-no.
- Don’t camp without permission. You probably wouldn’t like people moving into your yard and setting up a tent without asking.
- Streams flowing through farmland are generally not safe to drink from. Think of all that sheep or cow poo.
Take care climbing over fences not to cause damage. In most cases on the trail there are stiles over fences, or gates, but where there are not, here are a few tips: Take your pack off and drop it over the other side or hand it to your companion. Climbing over with a weight on your back puts you in a very unstable position. Try and climb over at a corner, as the timber bracing means you don’t have to put your foot on a wire. Otherwise, climb over only at posts that are driven into the ground. This will put less strain on the fence wires, and gives you something solid to hold onto. The farmer will not be happy to see gaps in the fence line made by people stretching the wires. Finally, watch out for barbed wire running along the top. You don’t want a tear in the crotch of your trousers, or worse.
With the increase in dairy farming these are more and more prevalent, especially in the North Island. Watch for insulators holding wires to the posts, especially the top wire, telling you the fence may be electrified. At permanent fence lines there will usually be a stile for walkers to climb over and the electric wires will have an insulating piece of black hose over them. Climb carefully over those that don’t! A zap on the crotch could be nasty.
Farmers may also run what look like strips of tape supported by single stakes with plastic tops right across the trail. Your best bet may be to crawl under this. After getting electrocuted on my head (really unpleasant) because I wasn’t crawling low enough, I now take off my pack and roll under. At gate spots with no gate they may use two wires or tapes, as in the photo below. Best here to throw your poles over, grab the top insulated handle and pull against the spring to disconnect it. Step over the lower one and reconnect the upper. You may have to do a little dance of swapping hands and turning around but it can be done one-handed. Or you may prefer to unhook both wires. As with the one-handed manoeuvre, it is probably best to face down the length of the handle and cross with your back to the fence post where they are normally attached.
If they are open leave them open; if they are closed, close them after you. They are in that state to let animals move between paddocks, or to prevent their movement. Think of how much time it would take to round up all the sheep and put them back in the original paddock if you left a gate open. In the unlikely event that you need to climb a gate, always climb at the hinge end. Or on the gate post. Climbing on the latch end puts a lot of stress on a gate.
Sheep will always move away from you, so the only thing to be concerned about is starting a stampede where animals get stressed, lambs get separated from their mothers, or some get injured. And you definitely want to have heavily pregnant ewes running, but you are unlikely to be hiking at that time of year and the farms will often be closed for lambing in such situations. Cattle, however, are a whole different ball game, as they are a lot heavier than you and tend to be curious. It can be a freaky experience entering a paddock and having 100 or more young beasts trotting up to you in a mob. Stay calm and face them. They don’t mean any harm, but they can knock you over and you definitely don’t want one standing on your foot. Remember that you have your walking poles. You can make yourself appear bigger, and thus something to be wary of, by holding them out either side. If you have a cloth tied to the ends that increases the effect. As a last resort you can whack an animal on the body with a pole. But check out this guide for farmers about handling cattle. The illustration about cattle body language via head position is interesting.
Header photo: Mt Linton Station, Southland