World Famous in New Zealand: Real Dog Company, Ranfurly
WHERE/WHAT IS IT?
In Central Otago's Maniototo, between Ranfurly and Naseby, is the Real Dog Company where Nigel and Rose Voice pursue their passion of training and racing sled dogs. Their Alaskan malamutes are furry, friendly and eager, and like nothing better than to be hitched up to a sled and power off taking you through the surrounding forest and countryside, whatever time of year it is.
You'd have to go to Alaska to get this experience, otherwise: tuck up on a sled with seven dogs in front of you, and Nigel behind urging them on – not that they need any urging. And even though you'll only be doing about 8kmh, it'll feel much faster so close to the ground as you skim along the forest trails. You get a kennel tour, too, and a chance to cuddle with the dogs. There's nothing cuter than a malamute pup, guaranteed. If you're a dog owner yourself, in their workshop Nigel and Rose stitch collars, leads and all sorts of useful gear.
Don't confuse these dogs with Siberian huskies, which the Voices regard with deep scorn as "horrible, out of control, aloof, disobedient". They will explain in great detail how the Alaskan malamutes (and their three Canadian eskimo dogs) are infinitely superior in every way.
ON THE WAY/NEAR BY
If it's hot (or even if it's not) pop over to Naseby to try your hand at curling in their indoor rink: there's a lot more skill to sliding that big round rock along the ice than you might think – but, thanks to the nifty pushing sticks available, on the other hand you don't need great strength. Check out Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead near Oturehua – this is where the fence wire strainer was invented, and the cattle stop, water trough windmill, boot scraper… It's a working museum and the original homestead has some unique touches too. Ranfurly has a cute museum, the Centennial Milk Bar, which celebrates the town's Art Deco heritage (there's a festival in February). You're close to the famous Otago Rail Trail – try a day tour with Shebikeshebikes if the classic five-day journey is too much cycling for you. Or pop over to the historic gold-mining town of Ophir for a wander and a bite to eat – and St Bathans is nearby too, with its glorious, if unimaginatively named, Blue Lake.
It costs $85 per person for a couple, $120 for one, for a three-hour workshop and kennel tour, and the ride. They also offer kennel tours alone; or you can go for an hour's hike with a dog carrying your gear, for $70 per person.
BEST TIME TO GO
They have sleds with both wheels and runners, so snow isn't necessary – but the dogs' coats are so thick that they'll overheat if it's too warm. The temperature needs to be below 17 degrees for an outing. Just ring beforehand, to check: 0275044352.