Misadventure in Dunedin

Pat and I are traveling separately for the moment to allow him to attend an earth building workshop in Nelson. I hitched down to Dunedin from Oamaru, where he will meet me in another week or so.

My stay in Dunedin seemed like it was shaping up to be an easy, restful time exploring the city and spending time at the yoga studio. It started well enough. Marian dropped me off on Highway 1 on Sunday morning and the second car that passed me stopped to pick me up. Charlie from Australia was heading to Dunedin for an agricultural teachers’ conference. We chatted the whole way there, and he was kind enough to drop me right at the “Top Choice” B&B that I had arranged a work-stay with. They have a small backpackers behind the main house, and I anticipated five hours of work for room and board, as per our prior correspondence.


As Pat said, some WWOOF places, or helpx sites, etc., can be fairly exploitative. We have become sensitive to that situation, and I especially become very protective of my time and energy when it looks like we’re getting a bad deal. Hosts can sometimes take advantage of free labor. And that’s precisely the arrangement I walked into.

I arrived around 10:30am and was immediately put to work. I threw my bag down and picked up a vacuum cleaner, spending the rest I the morning changing rooms in the B&B. We were allotted fifteen minutes for lunch, during which I was taught proper phone answering technique. I was then given a list of cleaning chores and left alone to run the B&B while my two hosts went swimming. Of course, I knew nothing about the place or it’s policies, so I couldn’t really answer the constant stream of questions from guests, but I did manage to check in three arrivals and get a young couple into a room in the backpackers. When my hosts returned, nearly an hour and a half late, I was excused to clean out my room, which was filthy, before reporting back at 6:00pm. My hosts require an additional two hours of work in the evening around dinner, including fifteen minutes for eating. I skipped dessert and ran to hide in my room for fear of being made to do the night shift.

All my alarm bells were going off. The two young Germans who were WWOOFing here had confided in me that they would only be staying a week, that their room was always cold, that they were sure our hosts still didn’t know their names. I was already brainstorming alternatives.

The next day I had the morning off, and, although my hosts asked if I could work “just for an hour or so” before my full afternoon shift, I said no and walked to town for a yoga class. Body and breath refreshed, I returned to the B&B for lunch. I was informed I didn’t have to start until 2:00pm because they hadn’t organized any chores for me to do, but I would be expected to work until 9:00pm. My hosts said the last hour and a half “wasn’t really work,” just answering phones and running the B&B.

Midway through my shift, my hosts asked me how I was liking it so far. I told them the workload was more than what was represented in their emails. “Oh, you just have to be flexible,” they said. “Just do it our way and I think you’ll see.” 

I barely made it through another evening of WWOOFers doing dishes and ironing sheets while the hosts looked at cat pictures and played word games on the computer. With a massive headache, I retreated.

Today I booked myself a bed at a hostel. It’s over budget, but I’m thinking of it as an investment in my sanity, definitely worth it if I am to enjoy this next week in Dunedin. I’m making my grand escape tomorrow, and I can’t wait.


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