Merinos, Mercedes and meatballs: A 30th birthday adventure

Ticking off a milestone birthday at Lake Heron Station in New Zealand

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If you had asked me ten years ago where I would imagine I’d be celebrating my 30th birthday, playing in the mud on a sheep farm in New Zealand would not likely have made the list.

Nope, definitely not.

I suppose my last birthday of note was the big old 21, an important coming of age moment in America, where you go from playing beerpong in frat houses basements in secret to being able to buy a cranberry vodka in a bar loudly in public.

Like the best 21st birthdays, I don’t remember much, and reflecting back on it now, I almost yearn for that time of my life where I was only worried about term papers, boyfriends and what I would do when I graduate.

I’m sure turning 30 couldn’t have been further from my mind.

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

Long gone are the wild nights, so far gone in fact I can’t even remember the last time I wore heels ever, and now my idea of a great night out is good home-cooking with close friends and a lot of Pinot Noir. Also, I am wearing sweatpants.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

It wasn’t really even on my radar that I was turning 30 in May this year, and only as the date inched closer I began to think, I should celebrate this one and do something special.

So I gathered my best girlfriends up, crammed the back of my new Mercedes X-Class pickup with wine, cakes, cheese, books, and a lot of elaborate spreads, and we headed out to Lake Heron Station, one of my favorite haunts in New Zealand.

The modern history of the South Island is very much intertwined with farming, and if you’ve heard anything about New Zealand, likely it’s related to either the Lord of the Rings or sheep, both of which have a close tie to Lake Heron.

The vast and sprawling region of Canterbury covers large swathes of the South Island all the way up into the very heart of the Southern Alps and its story is tied with sheep farming, which still holds strong in many areas. Lake Heron is no exception.

An old sheep farm (station) that covers 75 square miles of stunning wilderness, Lake Heron Station begins by a beautiful little lake in a tussock-covered valley surrounded by stunning mountains that leads up into the Alps and even onto glaciers. Here merino sheep reign supreme in harsh conditions, growing the wool we love so much.

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

And Edoras from the Lord of the Rings was filmed in the next valley over.

The Todhunter family has farmed here for a 100 years, and have a beautifully restored historic cottage visitors can rent, along with an old-but-new New Hut up the valley for the more intrepid travelers. When I first visited the New Hut back in the summer, I knew this would be the place where I’d like to spend my 30th.

This was my happy place.

I couldn’t wait to return with friends for a special occasion.

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

In New Zealand, May is generally not the favorite month to visit. Perhaps the equivalent of November in the Northern Hemisphere, its marked by cold, wet short days, as the seasons shift from autumn to winter. Generally before the snow arrives, it’s definitely the quiet season, and to get out to the New Hut on the farm at this time of year, you need a hearty 4WD.

Readers, meet my new baby. The X-Class.

Mercedes-Benz in New Zealand and Australia has just launched their very first pickup, or ute, which we say here, and kindly leant it to me for my birthday month. Jokes on them to see if I ever give it back!

I quickly drove it down from Auckland with the idea that Lake Heron would be the perfect place to put this new ride to the test. It wouldn’t stay shiny and new for long if I had anything to do with it.

Turning 30
Turning 30

From the homestead at Lake Heron it’s a 10 kilometer long walk, bike ride, or drive out to the New Hut. With all the recent rain we’ve had this May, I knew we were in for a mudfest, and we weren’t disappointed.

I grew up driving 4WD SUV’s in the States, doing donuts in Walmart parking lots as a teenager, but those days have been replaced but much more responsible and practical behaviors on the wild New Zealand roads. Perhaps it was the fear of becoming a boring old lady at 30, but something hit me on this trip, and while I knew I was given a precious charge of a brand new Mercedes to look after, it didn’t stop us from doing burnouts on the gravel and driving it straight into mud pits within a few hours of arriving at Lake Heron.

Who says utes are just for guys?

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

The New Hut is off the grid but has a gas stove, lights, hot water and sleeps up to 13 people in big cozy king single bunk beds with all the trimmings. It has double glazed windows and insulation (I don’t even have that!) and a big fire. There is a long-drop toilet out the back and has hot water for a shower. No wifi and no reception, just what the doctor ordered.

This is the kind of place for turning 30.

This is a fancy hut by New Zealand standards, and a far cry from the rickety backcountry huts we’re used to on tramping missions.

While I’m abysmal in the kitchen, my kiwi bestie was there who traveled with me to Mongolia a few years ago, and who is a talented chef and saved us all.

The New Hut is a great base for people looking for all kinds of outdoor adventures (even scenic flights – it has its own airstrip), but let me just put a case forward that it is also the perfect place to just hide away for a few days and eat good food, have good conversations and drink lots of wine.

I’m all about being an advocate for chilled out holidays.

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

It was the best couple of days away from the hustle and bustle of real life, and I was so happy I could finally share a place that means so much to me with some of my closes friends.

We only wore sweatpants and comfy sweaters, drank heaps of hot tea, read books and nibbled fabulous cheese platters, reflecting on life and giving me insider tips for my thirties.

With Chef E at the helm, we also didn’t go hungry, and I distinctly remember falling asleep in the biggest food coma after an enormous meal of homemade lamb meatballs and spaghetti topped up with a few bottles of red and a Pinot Noir chocolate cake. Does it get any better than that? Don’t think so.

Life is good.

Turning 30

Turning 30

Turning 30

So how do I feel about turning 30, you ask? Or didn’t you? I’ll tell you anyways.

At first when I had the whole “oh shit this is actually happening” epiphany, I freaked out for a bit. So many of my friends seem to be more settled than me, with mortgages, husbands and a baby or two. I haven’t even been on a date in months, and if I’m not careful I can easily slip into that dangerous mental state of comparing myself to other people, a conversation you have with yourself that never ends well.

This year I’ve been working on being nicer to myself, being proud of what I’ve done instead feeling like I didn’t do enough, and just enjoying being in the moment.

And you know what? Without any cynicism (seriously), I can happily say I’m really excited to be 30 and see what’s in store for me next!

Ever celebrated a milestone birthday somewhere cool? Are you a fan of fun road trips? Share!

Turning 30

Turning 30

Many thanks to Lake Heron for hosting me for my birthday and to Mercedes-Benz for hooking me up with the sweet X-Class, like always I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me. 

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48 Comments on “Merinos, Mercedes and meatballs: A 30th birthday adventure

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  1. This is amazing, and I love the sheep pics! I’m still a couple years away from 30, but I plan to leave town as well. Thinking some French Polynesia mixed with a little Hawaii. I’m a bit of a sucker for beaches 🙂

    Happy birthday, and may this decade be even better than the last!

  2. Happy birthday! I went to New Zealand on my first ever solo trip for my 30th, and it was the most amazing experience of my life! Such an incredible place to celebrate a milestone birthday.

  3. Was saving up for a trip to NZ with my sister for my 30th next May…but hit a mistake fare and got to ring in 29 there instead! Just got back from 2 weeks there, but my birthday weekend was my favorite part. Hooker Valley on Friday, heli-tour around Aoraki and the glaciers on Saturday, and a chilly Sunrise hike up Roy’s Peak that Sunday! Might be pretty hard to top

  4. Happiest of birthdays! Looks amazing – my dream birthday! I love sheep and mountains and sometimes a little mud, so I’m equally happy for you and jealous of you. Enjoy 30 🙂

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