For those of you who don’t know, wwoof stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It is a worldwide organisation that, well, pairs willing workers with organic farms. The basic gist is this: you work (typically 4-6 hours a day, it varies depending on the farm) in exchange for food and lodging. It is pretty well known in New Zealand and is quite popular with the working holiday crowd, so Alana and I signed up for it before we got here. You pay something like $30 for a year long membership. That got us a profile on the New Zealand wwoof site that we can use to contact host farms that are looking for workers.
We messaged a couple places when we first got here, but none of them needed workers. About a month in we finally got in touch with a place that was willing to host us, so after our epic Mt. Doom hike we spent a couple days in Auckland to rest before heading up to Russell, a very small coastal town about three and a half hours north of Auckland.
We had been in contact with the host over the wwoof site and they had given us the address. We pulled up to a steep driveway and punched in a key code which opened the gate in front of us. We drove up over a hill and down to the farm where we would be staying. There we met Catrina, the farm manager, who was originally from Switzerland, but had sailed to New Zealand back in the 80’s. Yes you read that right. Sailed. On a boat. And here I though I was being adventurous, traveling the world and all that, but in New Zealand they take adventurous to another level.
Catrina showed us around the farm and gave us an idea of the kind of work we would be doing. There were several different kinds of accommodation on the farm. The farm served as a naturist resort (that means you don’t need to wear clothes) during the summer months. We would be staying in a barn-turned-apartment right in the middle of the property. It was very spacious. We had a full kitchen, living room, and an upstairs bedroom. We would be responsible for cooking all our own meals, but Catrina would keep our pantry very well stocked. In exchange for all this we would work six hours a day six days a week.
There were a variety of other accommodations that were rented out as well. There was a glamping tent (that’s a combination of glamorous and camping) that was all canvas walls, but had a nice bed and carpets and a good view of the water. Then there was the potting shed which was a very nice house with large windows on the ceiling (which Alana enjoyed cleaning). Instead of walls, all of the rooms were separated by plants growing up from a half wall. I thought it was a pretty cool idea and looked really nice.
Our work load was on the higher end of the wwoofing work scale, but as I said before, the accommodations were very nice. It was also just a minute from our front door down to a secluded beach where we could go swimming in our time off.
The next day we met Antonio, the farm owner. He was originally from Italy and had also sailed to New Zealand by boat (though not the first time he came here). Antonio further introduced us to some of the daily work that we would be responsible for around the farm. The farm was completely off the grid. All of the electricity came from a large battery that was connected to an array of solar panels up on a hill. If it wasn’t sunny and the battery got low there was a diesel powered generator that we would have to turn on to keep the battery level up.
In addition to checking the battery every day we also had to care for the animals. There were three donkeys named Giuseppe, Texas, and Mocha. Every morning we would feed them oats with mouth-watering apple cider vinegar mixed in, sweep out their stable and give them fresh hay, and shovel up all their poop to use as fertilizer for the veggie garden and trees.
There were also about 20 some chickens who we would feed and give water. The chickens were kept in their houses to lay eggs until about 11:30 when we would let them out to wander around. At dusk they would all return to their houses and we’d close the door for the night. A little scary at first in the secluded area, but we got used to the quiet dark and the flash of the donkeys’ eyes as we wandered out to say good night.
These three things were our daily chores that we were responsible for every day, but in addition to that there were other random jobs that we took care of. On rainy days we put labels on wine bottles and scooped honey into jars. Sometimes we would also do cleaning around the houses on the property.
When the weather was nice there was a large variety of work to be done. We cut logs for firewood, cleared overgrown paths on the property, trimmed hedges, picked olives at the olive orchard, put protective covers on the plants at the vineyard, and did some light lawn and garden care. There were enough jobs that we could pretty much do something different every day.
Of all the jobs we did, taking care of the animals was the most fun. The donkeys were pretty intimidating at first. My only image of a donkey was the little donkey from the Shrek movies, so I was surprised to find that they’re actually quite large. They all stood at least as tall as myself. Learning to interact with them was a lot of fun. According to Antonio, they have a concept of personal space kind of like we do. At first they were hesitant to approach us, but as the days went on and they got used to us feeding them every morning they got more friendly. They would wait by the gate every morning before breakfast, and they would come over and let us scratch them.
Towards the end of our stay we took them on a short walk so they could graze on the grass up near one of the rental houses. All they wanted to do was munch on leaves on the path up so we had to tug on them and use sticks to guide their attention in the direction we wanted them to walk (by pointing, not beating them).
We typically started between 8 and 8:30 in the morning, and we were usually finished by 3 in the afternoon. Once we were finished we were free to do what we liked. Some days we went swimming at the beach, though the water was getting pretty cold. But hey, when you’ve got easy access to an almost private beach you can’t not go for a swim. And yes it was a naturist beach, so we could just take off our clothes and run straight into the water. It was brisk but refreshing. Of course it was helpful having a hot shower available just up the hill from the beach.
Other days we went into town to use the wifi at the shop that sold the farm’s products (this was Alana’s preferred afternoon activity). I often stayed at the apartment reading or practicing tai chi on the patio. It turned out that Catrina taught tai chi classes in town, so we had a fun practice together one afternoon after work.
It was pretty uneventful compared to our previous month of constantly moving around, but it was a nice change of pace. We had such a good time that we ended up staying for a whole month! We met a lot of interesting people and learned some new things doing a variety of odd jobs around the farm.
P.S. Check out the farm and it’s products at watata.co.nz!