There were heaps of sheep in New Zealand in 1882. Some got cooked, most got fleeced. Wool went offshore, meat didn’t. It just went off.
So thousands of old sheep were “knocked on the head and thrown over the precipice as a waste product.”
Then Argentina gave France the cold shoulder - sending two frozen meat shipments in the 1870’s. When the Aussies joined the ice age in 1880 we decided to have a go too.
The ship Dunedin was fitted with a huge steam-powered refrigerating machine to cool its cargo on the 98 day voyage to London and Totara Estate was picked to supply the sheep.
Well, there were 10,000 munching away on “the best growing land in New Zealand.”
It was decided “to erect a killing shed in which to slaughter sheep.” And that’s where you come in. Because the shed’s still standing.
Being there really is a birth-of-the-nation moment, especially when the audio-visual FX begin. Suddenly, you’re part of history. You can hear the sheep and pigs and see the butchers’ outlines as they talk.
When you get to Totara Estate, Paula and Keren will happily help with info before you explore the old gear, sheep breeds and buildings (you can even ‘test-drive’ an 1880’s bed in the bunkroom.)
Alternatively, book a guided tour with the Swaggers and enjoy good yarns, real billy tea and campfire scones. Either way, do it! This is where New Zealand hit the cookpot!
TOTARA ESTATE: State Highway 1.8 kms south of Oamaru
More info from the Oamaru i-SITE, Cnr Thames Highway and Itchen Street