I’ve been planning on posting about my time wwoofing in New Zealand for weeks but it’s taken me so long to write even this much, because quite frankly I’m lazy and have been playing video games instead – and working too to be fair, and I’m nowhere near finished. What I’m going to do is write this in parts and post each part as I finish it. I have now, finally, written about my first 2 months in New Zealand. I hope this might be helpful to others who are thinking about wwoofing, whether in New Zealand or wherever. If you have any questions just drop me a comment below.
My New Zealand adventure began in June 2016. I’d always wanted to visit New Zealand on a working holiday visa but was always too scared to go on my own. I had friends who had travelled alone and I was always very envious of them; flying across the world on your own was a foreign concept to me and I never thought I would have the guts to do it. I spent years waiting for someone to go travelling with. Last year it dawned on me that if I wanted to go travelling then I can’t spend my time waiting for someone to go with because that day may never come, and with the big 3-0 nearing ever closer it was now or never. My friend Luke and I had decided to go to Thailand. Originally, I had planned to teach English there, one of the many great ideas I have and never actually go through with. I paid for a TEFL course and completed the intensive weekend, which was incredibly enjoyable and I learnt a lot over that 20-hour course. It was during the online section of the course that I gave up on the idea of teaching English; not because I was defeated by the work but because the more I learnt about being a TEFL teacher the less I wanted to do it.
Off to Thailand we went on a 6-week piss-up. It was a hell of a lot of fun and I intend on going back one day. We spent 6 weeks eating, drinking and smoking more than I ever thought possible. The humidity was unbearable and as soon as I stepped out of my hotel I would literally be dripping with sweat but I think that contributed to us spending so much time in air-conditioned bars playing pool. I miss it. I had the best time in Thailand. I’ll have to make a separate post dedicated to Thailand. For now though, I shall discuss my experience wwoofing in New Zealand.
As you may or may not know WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. You can register as a host or a volunteer and as a volunteer you stay with host families and work 4-6 hours a day in exchange for accommodation and usually your food too. For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed my time wwoofing in New Zealand and I wouldn’t change any of it… but I wouldn’t do it again.
Luke and I said our goodbyes and I hopped on a plane back to Bangkok where I stayed for 2 nights before flying to Auckland. I was very apprehensive about going to New Zealand on my own. Thailand was different because I’d been with Luke but New Zealand was a whole other story. My first four days in New Zealand were spent in Remuera, Auckland. I stayed with my friend’s Aunt, which made my arrival a lot easier as I didn’t have to start wwoofing immediately and meant I had a few days to settle in and get comfortable. I spent a lot of time exploring Auckland and I absolutely love that city! It’s always busy and there’s a lot to see and do. I found everyone incredibly friendly and considering the rest of New Zealand call Aucklanders “JAFA’s” (Just Another Fucking Aucklander) I found everyone I spoke to incredibly nice and people made a lot of time for me. I do like the word JAFA though and found it rather hilarious how every time I mentioned how much I like Auckland to anyone outside of Auckland they would give me the strangest look and ask, “Why?!”.
I signed up to Tinder to try and meet some people since I was travelling alone. I actually met up with a guy in Auckland; let’s call him “John”. He was nice but a little awkward. We went for coffee and then we drove to Mount Eden – one of Auckland’s many dormant volcanoes with exceptional views across the city. We walked up the incredibly steep hill to watch the sunset. That walk, although not long, knackered me out; I needed to stop smoking. He dropped me back in Remuera and that was the last time I saw him. One thing I noticed while in New Zealand is that Kiwis are incredibly proud of their country, as they should be. While John and I were driving around Auckland he was giving me a guided tour of the city, and I found this with every person I met who’s car I ended up in. They would point out landmarks and locations and give me a brief history of that particular spot. Maybe people do this everywhere, I don’t know, but because this is the first time I’ve been in another country alone I found everyone I met wanted to give me a history lesson about their town. It made me realise that if I had a visitor in the UK, and if I drove (which I don’t) but if I did, I would not be able to give them such a detailed tour as I received in New Zealand. I was really impressed and very thankful of each tour I received.
My first wwoof host was just north of Auckland in Silverdale. I spent two weeks there and for a first time wwoofer having no idea what to expect I really enjoyed myself. It was on a lifestyle block with a very religious couple, which made me somewhat uncomfortable and that’s not because of anything they did (apart from they did drag me to church one day which was awful and I’ll never do it again) but just because I swear all the time and say “Oh my God” a lot and just don’t really know how to conduct myself around very religious people; and that’s totally my problem and not anyone else’s. My first couple of days there I wanted to leave. I think perhaps it was because I didn’t have much to talk about with my hosts – I can be very shy when I first meet people – and being in a strangers house felt odd. I stuck with it though and am so glad I did. I just needed to get over the initial weirdness of the situation – and it is a strange concept; you go and live with strangers, they feed you and give you a bed and you work for them. It’s a great thing to do but when you first begin it’s certainly an odd one.
I did feel as if my host was trying to convert me at times. One day, after dinner and a few glasses of wine, we started talking about religion and I mentioned that my Nan is catholic. My host was talking about the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. She was talking about how she doesn’t understand Catholicism and slagging it off but then praising being a protestant and how much better it is, which I wouldn’t disagree with to be honest, but I got the impression she wanted me to convert. She was asking me if I believed in God/would I ever consider religion/why don’t I believe in God/Is my Mum religious, etc. That made me slightly uneasy because it didn’t feel like an innocent chat; it felt as though she was trying to turn me to Christianity. She also made comments about homosexuality which I found unacceptable. I just want to say I have nothing against religion at all. You can believe in whatever you want as far as I’m concerned, but don’t push your views on me, don’t try and convert me, don’t knock on my front door and hand me leaflets; I take issue with that. Otherwise do what you want.
Anyway my work days consisted of feeding the animals in the morning, which I would do as soon as I woke up, usually around 7am. I would feed the ducks, chickens, doves and cattle. In the afternoons, I would feed the horses and the cows again. I really enjoyed this aspect of the work as I love looking after animals. Any animal care I can do makes me very happy. I’d then go back to the house and have breakfast and watch Ellen. My accommodation was very private which was great. They had converted the upstairs of their house into a private “wwoofers lounge”. There were two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a small living area with two sofas, a tv and dvd player. There were also some sliding doors which lead out to a small balcony. I would have breakfast upstairs, and often my lunch too, but would join my hosts for dinner. My hosts were dieting so they had taken me shopping and bought me what I wanted for breakfast and lunch. This actually worked out great for me as I liked having breakfast and lunch on my own as it meant I didn’t have to make small talk with my hosts. I find it difficult engaging in conversations with people who I have nothing in common with, and I’m sure they found it difficult too. As time went on and I spent more time with other hosts I certainly was able to open up a bit more and not be so introverted with those hosts with who I lacked common interests with.
At 10am I would go downstairs and find out what jobs I was to do that day. I did a lot of weeding!! So. Much. Weeding. Most of my time wwoofing in New Zealand was spent weeding I must say. If I never see another weed again I certainly won’t complain. As well as weeding I was also raking leaves, clearing branches, mulching, mowing, preparing and planting vegetables, and I made two bonfires which was a lot of fun! Who doesn’t love fire? My hosts daughter lived on the same plot of land a few meters away from the main house. It was school holidays so sometimes their granddaughter, who was 9, would come and “help” me in the garden. At first I thought she was really cute but as time went on I started to feel like a babysitter and so I found myself getting increasingly agitated by the constant presence of this kid. Bear in mind I am not a child-friendly person. I’ve always found children incredibly annoying. They smell; they’re sticky; they’re loud and ask too many questions. My tolerance for children has risen slightly since my travels and several of my friends now have children and I’ve actually realised they’re not all bad, but this kid in Silverdale really started grating on me. For example, after 3 or 4 hours in the garden I would venture inside to have some lunch and a cup of tea and just relax before heading outside again. This child would sneak up the stairs and jump out at me trying to scare me, which never work as I would hear her clomping up the stairs. A ninja she ain’t! She would sit down and exclaim that she was bored to which I’d reply, “Why don’t you go and play outside?” and she’d say, “when are you going back outside?” and I’d say, “when I’m ready” so she’d ask “when will that be?” and I’d say through gritted teeth, “when I’ve finished my tea”. She’d then look in my cup and moan, “ugh you’ve got loads left!”. Again I’d ask her why doesn’t she go outside or go and play with her brother or go and ask her grandparents to entertain her since I’m NOT HER FUCKING BABYSITTER! Okay, that last part I would say in my head. She then pulled out some toys and played with them for a few seconds before dumping them all over the floor and finally fucking off downstairs. I would then clean up after her which angered me more. The next day she came upstairs and we’d have a similar conversation. Considering this space upstairs was supposed to be my own private space where I could unwind I found it unacceptable that my hosts allowed her to come upstairs all the time to bug me. There was no discipline and this really pissed me off. One day she came up and started moaning that she was hungry. I didn’t really have much food so I asked her if she wanted an apple and I cut it into quarters, put it on a plate and gave her the apple. She pulled a puzzle from the shelf and wanted to do that. I was feeling nice so I attempted to entertain her. We poured all the puzzle pieces onto the table, spread them out and turned them all the right way around and began putting this puzzle together. After 15 minutes she said, “I’m bored! I don’t want to do this anymore” and she then got out another puzzle, leaving me to tidy up the last one. So we started a new one and again after a few minutes she got bored and left, once again leaving me to tidy up the mess she had made. This kid was annoying. Then next day she came upstairs again and was asking me loads of questions, exclaiming how she’s bored, so I just told her to go away. I’d had enough. I wasn’t there to babysit anyone. My lunch break was a time to relax from my jobs, have some me-time and not be looking after someone else’s kid. She didn’t come back again after that. Maybe I should have felt bad but I didn’t. My hosts in Silverdale treated me very well and it was a good way to start my wwoofing adventure, apart from the obvious annoyances that came with that job.
Below is an email I sent to my family and friends briefly summarising my first 2 weeks wwoofing…
Arrived in Silverdale last Monday and was picked up at the bus station by one of my hosts. Have almost finished my 2 weeks on the farm and have enjoyed it for the most part. My second day here they had me raking leaves from the driveway which took me about 3 hours! No joke. There were A LOT of leaves. I never want to look at another leaf again after that! I’ve been doing various jobs such as tidying the garden (they have a lot of crap!), building and lighting a bonfire (that was fun! Who doesn’t enjoy playing with fire?), weeding (so. much. weeding), hoeing, composting, mulching, mowing, etc etc. Every morning I go downstairs and feed the ducks, chickens, bantams and cows (which I really enjoy!) and then in the afternoon I feed the cows again and the horses (again, love this). Caring for the animals is my favourite bit. They also have 4 dogs (but they’re little dogs, not proper dogs) and 2 cats (who are great!).
My hosts are nice, albeit very religious! We drank a lot of wine last Saturday and played a boardgame and because I was quite drunk I stupidly agreed to go to church with them on Sunday night because the woman told me, “it’s more like a rock concert than church” and yknow, I was pissed and everything sounds like a great idea when I’m drunk!
So to church we went on Sunday. I can honestly say I’ve never wanted to kill myself more than last Sunday. A rock concert it was not! More like a really shit pop concert with teenagers on stage who can’t sing but thought they were great, singing about Jesus. Not for me. No thank you.
Anyway other than that I’m enjoying my time here. On Monday I’m going back to Auckland for 10 days and then on the 28th I’m going to Piha to house sit (I say house sit, I’m basically looking after a few animals because the hosts are going abroad) for a month. I’m doing that with 2 other wwoofers and I think I’ll get quite a bit of free time so I intend on exploring the west quite a bit (I’m going to visit Bethels beach… and that’s where a lot of Xena was filmed! Erin, stop rolling your eyes) so I’m looking forward to that. There’s some good hikes to be had around that area too so I want to do a couple of them.
After Piha I intend on going to the Bay of Islands for a while and then making my way South and hopefully get some more wwoofing jobs booked.
I was then booked into an Air B&B for 10 nights. It was a converted garage with 2 bunk beds and a small living area. The kitchen and bathroom were upstairs in the main house. I arrived and was shown around by the owner’s friend who was staying there while the owner was away. The first thing I noticed about the converted garage was that there were ants and cockroaches. Nope. I can’t be sleeping and eating where there are cockroaches crawling around. I was sharing the space with 3 long-term guests. A girl from France, and two guys – one from Auckland and the other one escapes me. Anyway, they were all working in/around Auckland and had been staying in the garage for a few months. It wasn’t a particularly clean space. Clothes everywhere, hadn’t been cleaned, COCKROACHES! I immediately knew I couldn’t stay here for 10 nights. I messaged the host explaining that I was going to leave early and would I get a refund for the remaining nights. In fairness, he was incredibly helpful and shocked that there were ants and cockroaches.
My second day in the converted garage was first spent opening a bank account and then looking for my next wwoof host who I wanted to find by the next day, so it was incredibly short notice and I was a little worried I wouldn’t find anyone, but I quickly realised that there are always hosts looking for wwoofers, even last minute ones. Before I left for New Zealand I was messaging hosts months in advance because I didn’t know how it all worked and how quickly people get booked. I was so naive. You will always find work as a wwoofer and if you build up your profile and get good feedback you will never have any problem finding last minute hosts. I posted on the ‘hotlist’, which is where you can place an advert saying when you’re available and which you location you’d like.
A family in Albany responded to my ad. Albany is the North Shore, so again north of Auckland. They were an English family of four – Mum (Tina), Dad (Alan), 12 year old boy (Jack) and 9 year old girl (Ellie). These guys were awesome! Yep, even the kids! I immediately felt like family and felt so comfortable around all of them. My accommodation was a cottage in their garden with everything one would need – bedroom, living room/kitchen, bathroom. It was perfect and I would end up coming back to them 3 more times before leaving New Zealand. They became my family away from home, which when you’re travelling alone and so far away from home was most welcome. The work I was doing for them was mainly clearing branches that they had chopped down. A little background information on their house – they bought the property from a man who had planted trees everywhere, and when I say everywhere I mean everywhere. They think he did it to entice native birds to the property, which is a nice motive but it wasn’t particularly great for this family who had bought the place. They chopped down loads of these trees so their house would actually have a view and my job was to move all of these chopped branches into a paddock which they would then turn into mulch once they hired the necessary mulching machine. I would buy my own breakfast and lunch but then in the evening I would join them at the house for dinner and copious amounts of wine and then we’d sit around, maybe watch a movie or listen to music and drink and chat. It was always a pleasure spending time with them. My first stint with them was 6 days and I would return three more times over the course of my time in New Zealand.
When it was time to leave, Alan and the kids dropped me in Henderson to meet my next host who lived on the west coast in Piha. I met my host, Pat, in a shopping mall in Henderson. She was an older lady with a big scarf wrapped around her neck. She was lovely and I immediately felt very comfortable around her. We drove to Piha and I met her husband, Matt. He was this old surfer dude who makes surf boards for a living. I also met their gorgeous dog, Roxy. After tea, biscuits and a tour around their property I was shown to my cabin which had two cosy bedrooms, a kitchen/lounge and then finally an outhouse. After picking me up Pat was supposed to be collecting two French guys from Henderson mall who would be helping me house-sit. They didn’t show. They were originally supposed to be in the cabin that I eventually ended up in, which I was very pleased about, as this particular cabin had Sky TV! Yay! Now I knooow, I’m in New Zealand, what the hell do I want with Sky TV? Bear in mind, this was the middle of winter. It rained a lot. It was very windy. Sky, Roxy the dog and white wine were often my only comforts on those rainy windy evenings. Pat let me settle in and I unpacked and spent my first night in Piha.
The next day Pat had heard from the French dudes. They’d mixed up their flight details and were to arrive today instead so could Pat please go and collect them. She wasn’t best pleased with this as the drive to Henderson isn’t a short one. Pat told them she couldn’t pick them up and they could either make their own way there or she could collect them the following day. They hitched into Piha and arrived that night. I met them the next morning. Cyprien and Thibault were two hairy French guys. Cyprien had long hair that he kept in a ponytail and Thibault was this slightly chubby, bearded chap who was a lot friendlier than his pal. Pat, Thibault, Cyprien and I had a chat over cups of tea and a plate of these little sausages with a red skin, and Pat then walked us around the property explaining the odd jobs that she’d like us to do while her and Matt were abroad. We had to feed the chickens everyday and feed Looloo, their big fluffy sheep every other day. She wanted her two veg patches weeded – which was on my list – and a couple of signs that had fallen down hung back up – that was the boys duty. Small odd jobs like that. We had a lot of spare time in Piha so I was more than happy to be working, when the weather allowed it. I didn’t spend much time with Cyprien and Thibault. The language barrier made it difficult and the time I did spend with them would involve them speaking in French a lot of the time, which made me uncomfortable. Roxy the dog was my only real friend in Piha. That isn’t as sad as it sounds!
One day Thibault and I hitched into Henderson because we needed to do some food shopping and buy wine, ofcourse. Cyprien was left in charge of keeping an eye on Roxy. Upon our return I went to my cabin to unpack my shopping and I got a text from Thibault asking if I’d seen Roxy. I left my cabin and went and found Cyprien and Thibault. I told them I hadn’t seen Roxy as I’d only just got back and I asked Cyprien when he last saw her, to which he said he hadn’t seen her for a couple of hours. FUCK! Then began the hunt for the missing dog. The property we were staying on is 7-acres and all seperated out into different sections; there were several cabins on the property, a communal kitchen, communal shower and several other spaces for camping – so we had quite a bit of searching to do. After a while, and with no sign of Roxy, Cyprien walked down to search the beach and Thibault and I walked up and down the road calling out to Roxy but to no avail. Thibault then went down to Piha beach also to help Cyprien look and I stayed at the property, freaking out that we’d lost Pat and Matt’s dog!! I wrote a text to Pat’s daughter who lives down the road asking if she had seen Roxy but before I could send it I received a Facebook message from Pat telling me Roxy had been found by a friend of theirs after she had turned up on said friends doorstep and Roxy was now at Pat’s daughters house and could I go and collect her. THANK GOD! My heart then relaxed and stopped trying to jump out of my throat. She’d been found! Hurrah! I explained to Pat what had happened and she was so nice about it and totally understood. We think what had happened was that because I had been the one looking after Roxy, she went looking for me after Thibault and I left. Since I was staying in the bigger cabin Roxy would stay in that cabin with me while Pat and Matt were away. I was feeding her, walking her and she slept in the same cabin as me. When I would shower Roxy would follow me and she’d lie outside the shower room waiting. She became very attached to me, which was fine as I like looking after animals. One thing I will say though is that after being the sole responsibility for this dog for 4 weeks it made me realise that I don’t want a dog because damn, they are so much responsibility. A cat, for sure, but a dog, no way! Not yet anyway. So, Roxy had been found. Thibault then came back and I explained that Roxy was just down the road and I was on my way to collect her. Cyprien, bless him, was still out looking for her. I think he felt really responsible. I won’t lie, I was pretty annoyed at Cyprien at the time but looking back, how was he to know that she’d disappear? We didn’t know that she’d do that. Crisis averted! I couldn’t have been more relieved.
I had a lovely time in Piha, albeit very lonely a lot of the time. The French guys and I hung out on a few occasions but most of the time in the evenings they did their thing and I would be hanging out in my cabin, with a bottle of wine and Roxy. I became very addicted to trashy tv; I started watching Dance Moms, Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills. During the day I would walk Roxy, sometimes have a mooch around in Piha itself and then hang out at the property doing any odd jobs that needed doing or just listening to music or whatever. I met up with another guy from Tinder and he picked me up and we drove to Bethells beach which was awesome as I’ve always wanted to visit there. I wanted to see the sand dunes and lake too but we took Roxy with us and I wanted to get her back so unfortunately we didn’t really have the time. I had planned to go back to Piha in the summer and see the dunes and the lake then but unfortunately I never went back. It’s definitely on my list to get back to New Zealand one day and do all the touristy things that I didn’t get around to this time. I had a list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do but because I was travelling on my own most of the time and I don’t drive I found it difficult, and very expensive, to visit the locations I wanted to. I’m also not one for sightseeing on my own so I depended a lot on other people to do things with. Due to me wwoofing most of the time as well, and I ended up wwoofing in mostly rural areas, it was hard to make my way to various places. Maybe this is me making excuses but I did find it tough at the time.
After my time in Piha I went back to the family in Albany for 2 more weeks before flying to Christchurch for another stint of house-sitting while the owners were away.
Part 2 coming soon…