After New Years, we hitch hiked down Highway 1 past Oamaru to a tiny town named Herbert. We asked our driver to drop us off in the town center, and so we found ourselves in front of a lonely petrol station. We called Bruce and Marion and told them we were at the petrol station, and were relieved when they didn’t ask which one.
Marion drove us to the property and showed us around. There were two parts: the top and the bottom. The top was up at the road, and it had pastures, cows, gardens, sheds, the washing machine, Bruce’s converted shipping container work studio, chooks, beehives, and various materials tucked away. From the top there was a steep walking path that meandered down through a pine grove. At the bottom there was a small cottage overlooking a river, which cut through a rocky gorge. The river was fed by mountain springs and was clear and clean enough to drink.
Our first night with Bruce and Marion made me nervous. Claudia and I have been to a lot of WWOOF places that have left us feeling exploited. We don’t over commit to situations before we’ve been to them as a result of our past experiences. Bruce was making jokes about grueling WWOOFer jobs and was passionately telling us about their work routine. “We don’t adhere to the four hour a day agreement,” he said, “we work around the weather. Some days you may work for seven or eight hours.” It all made me wince. WWOOF NZ is mostly working on folks’ backyard gardens–not production oriented, not so intense. More of a helping hand than an apprenticeship.
But Bruce would dispel all my fears in a magnificent way. We climbed up to the top after breakfast the next day and checked in with him. Bruce spent the whole morning talking to us about their property, their vision with the land, the local ecology, his career path, politics, kids these days, you name it. He bought us ice creams cones and then brought us to the beach. He drove us into the hills to show us the surrounding area. By the time we got back it was lunch time. We scarfed down tons of veggies and spent the afternoon mucking about in the peninsula garden.
As it turned out, the weather was very decent for the 10 days we were there, and we ended up averaging around six hours of work a day. But the exchange felt fair. We were really well fed, and we learned a good amount. Aside from the typical WWOOF sort of work that we did (feeding calves, planting trees, weeding and planting and mulching, clearing gorse and broom, fencing, building raised beds, harvesting berries), Marion spent a morning with us suited up and checking out the bee hives. Claudia especially enjoyed learning about bee keeping; I am happy leaving it to her. Marion also set aside time to show us home wine making, and each evening we sampled another tasty brew.
Between hiking, hitch hiking, and living out of our backpacks, we can get a little worn out. We
purposefully plan WWOOF stays between explorations to give us time to rest and recover. It hasn’t always turned out that WWOOFing has been rejuvenating, but this time it was just what the doctor ordered. We had a great, peaceful time at Marion and Bruce’s property. They are doing a great job keeping the relationship between WWOOF host and WWOOFer healthy, and have raised our spirits for the times ahead.