Volunteer On An Organic Farm In New Zealand

Looking for a unique cultural experience in New Zealand? Try World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a program of volunteer help on an organic farm in exchange for room and board. This is a perfect opportunity for those on a budget and people who are interested in learning about local family life and organic farming. Here is a personal story about a couple’s experience WWOOFing in New Zealand.

The sand flies found our limbs, but we are alive and well as official WWOOFers in the Motueka Valley on the south side island of New Zealand. We arrived at dusk and met our gracious hosts Heather and Dave. The property is 14 hectares and has a sizable vegetable garden, a variety of fruit, nut and native trees (all organic) as well as a small farm with a few cows and ducks and a Bed & Breakfast operation. We have our own tiny but private accommodation in a campervan.

The first morning we awoke at 8:15am to do our daily 4 hours work in exchange for daily meals and a place to sleep. Harvesting hazelnuts off the ground was our first task. There we were on our hands and knees, underneath the trees carefully avoiding the occasional cow patty for the first hour asking ourselves “what in the heck have we gotten ourselves into?” An hour later Heather came to get us and I was put to work weeding and pruning. Thankfully I had rubber gloves up to my elbows as blackberry and gorse are very sharp weeds! Meanwhile, Andy was digging a trench for the pond to drain out. It was hot and we were sweating, but it felt good and satisfying somehow to do manual labor. A river runs right on the other side of the road so we jumped in for a nice, cold swim when we were done. Needless to say, I worked up quite an appetite and mowed a gigantic lunch afterward and spent the afternoon finishing my book.

That evening, their daughter Brooke and her fiance Ant came into town. Ant is a forest ecologist and is studying the area around Hawke’s Bay and I have enjoyed hearing about the Department of Conservation, forest ecology, Maori history and the effects on the environment in New Zealand. Everything they do is self-sufficient, Earth and energy conscious and ecologically friendly. New Zealanders are generally down to earth, natural looking and unpretentious – how refreshing!

The next morning we had our hands right in the dried cow dung and hazelnuts without a care, laughing how the day before we were so meticulous trying not to touch it. The kids from next door created a makeshift water slide next to us on the sheets of garbage bag material laid out to kill some weeds in this one area. I shoveled dirt to help mend the pond the rest of the morning and my arms still hurt. It’s been humbling so far to say the least. That afternoon, we went for another swim in the river with their neighbors who also have a WWOOFer (from Germany) and enjoyed chatting and skipping rocks. We borrowed mountain bikes and took a nice hour-long ride along the river on the highway here in the river valley with beautiful mountains on either side with spectacular views. Visually it reminds me very much of Southern Oregon around the Ashland/Medford region as I suppose it’s approximately the same latitude. Afterward, we had about 15 people over for a homemade pizza party. Dave and Heather have a real stone pizza oven that Dave began heating up around lunchtime and make-your-own pizzas were done within about 2-3 minutes. We had a blast with their friends and neighbors, drinking home brewed beer and sharing stories.

Everything is so fresh and delicious here. Today I was not looking forward to another morning of digging in the dirt so over breakfast I aptly phrased the question, “Heather, might I have the opportunity to work in the kitchen today and learn a few things from you?” She makes jams, jellies, sauces, homemade pasta, homemade bread, soups – you name it. And everything is fresh right from the garden. She obliged and I went to work and made a vegetable lasagne with homemade pasta and everything from the garden. We spent the afternoon at a couple of wineries nearby and brought home a reserve chardonnay from Sunset Cliffs, an organic winery. The lady serving us at the winery is from the Czech Republic who came to visit NZ and never left. I can see why.

The best part of the experience for me in the WWOOFing world so far is the cultural aspect. Heather, Dave, Brooke and Ant have invited us in and treated us just like members of the family. These folks have had WWOOFers for 15 years! It really is a symbiotic lifestyle here, with physical labor here on the property from us while they take care of our room and board.

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