Week Six – Rotorua, Wellington, Picton and Nelson

We made it to Rotorua, and marveled at the hot springs in the area. The entire town smells of sulfur- in fact, it’s nickname is the “Sulfur City” – and there are hot pools everywhere. We spent some time out of our hostel exploring the huge park in the rain and was shocked to find the amount of mud pools and other geothermal activity in the park alone.

A bridge over a geothermal lake in Rotorua.

A bridge over a geothermal lake in Rotorua.

After checking out the city, we booked a great deal for black-water rafting in Waitomo. New Zealand is a country of adrenaline junkies, and it’s almost necessary for anyone taking a trip here to do one crazy blood-pumping activity, whether it be sky-diving, bungee jumping, and the like. We chose to focus our money on this uniquely New Zealand experience- rafting in a cave, including abseiling down a rock face, tubing, caving through tight squeezes, rock climbing out and turning off our lamps and seeing thousands of lights like the night sky illuminate the cave ceiling as we saw glow worms. It was an incredible experience, and we were really stoked to explore the caves and ecology around Waitomo.

Ally and I in wetsuits and harnesses, ready to go black-water rafting!

Ally and I in wetsuits and harnesses, ready to go black-water rafting!

After spending time in Waitomo, we had to make it to Wellington, the capital city, to catch a ferry to the South Island. Although we didn’t get too much time to explore the city, we enjoyed what we saw quite a bit: the architecture and parks in the city are beautiful, and the history of the capital is expressed readily while adapting with a more modern city atmosphere. We explored the gorgeous skyscrapers and sculptures before catching a ferry for the 3 hour trip across the Cook Straight to the Northern tip of the South Island.

An alleyway in Wellington, showing the beauty of the skyline.

An alleyway in Wellington, showing the beauty of the skyline.

Landing in Picton, the drop off point from the ferry, we had made it to the South Island. The beauty here was different- not the temperate rainforests and tropical beaches we were used to, but rugged rivers, glaciers, and snow-capped mountains that reminded us of home. It is much more rural- 3 million people live in the North Island, while only 1 million live in the South Island. We felt this difference in Picton, which had a classic small-town feel.

A monument in Picton recognizing those from the town who lost their lives in wars fought by the country.

A monument in Picton recognizing those from the town who lost their lives in wars fought by the country.

We finally tried to see a little of the South Island before we had to get back to Auckland. We had a much harder time hitch hiking, possibly because of the smaller population and possibly because of the more conservative mindset in the South. However, after a full day, we made it to Nelson, the largest town in the Northern part of the South Island. We got a room above a pub, and the next day found some of the attractions of the area, like the spot of the first rugby match in the country, the center of New Zealand (in a surveyor sense) and the breweries in the area.

Enjoying the view from the summit of one of Nelson's surrounding hills.

Enjoying the view from the summit of one of Nelson’s surrounding hills.

We now will explore Nelson for a couple more days before trying to hitch back to Auckland in our last week here. We hope to make the most of this last week, seeing more of Wellington, the Marlborough Sounds, and hopefully Lake Taupo. It isn’t too late to take in more of this beautiful country. We have loved every ment of it and don’t want the last leg of the journey to be slow!

Leaving the Marlborough Sounds that protect the South Island, by ferry for Wellington.

Leaving the Marlborough Sounds that protect the South Island, by ferry for Wellington.

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Week Five – Leaving the Rei for Auckland, Whakamarama, and Rotorua

After experiencing Saturday Market, and hiking around Whau Valley on Sunday, we continued our work in Whangarei  orchid farming. Chrissy showed us some great sights and helped us along with our jobs. We were even lucky enough to go “musseling” before we left, and enjoyed a traditional meal of steamed mussels we had collected, Brie, passion fruit and beer. It was a great way to leave beautiful Whau Valley.

Our host, Chrissy, packaging some orchid stems for delivery.

Our host, Chrissy, packaging some orchid stems for delivery.

Matapouri, known throughout New Zealand as "The Best Beach in the World". This is near we collected our meal of mussels.

Matapouri, known throughout New Zealand as “The Best Beach in the World”. This is near we collected our meal of mussels.

We then left the Rei and went back into Auckland to get a replacement passport. We had some time to explore more of the city. We got some Auckland food, and checked out the art museum, which featured post-modern exhibits as well as cultural art movement interpretations of the Maori struggle. It was a really great place to check out, especially as it was free! We also did a bit of sightseeing at the skyscrapers and their architecture around downtown Auckland.

"Mountain III" by Buster Black, in the art museum in Auckland

“Mountain III” by Buster Black, in the art museum in Auckland

The Art Museum in Auckland

The Art Museum in Auckland

We then hitch-hikes to our next farming gig in Whakamarama, a small town just outside New Zealand’s largest port city, Tauranga. We only stayed here for a couple days, but the beauty of this place was incredible. Our host, Tracey, runs an incredible lifestyle block with some waterfalls as a backyard, growing passion fruit, potatoes, chives, apples, peaches, leeks, and all sorts of spices, as well as chickens and some sheep, some of which had lambs while we were there! We got to go into the city and climb “the Mount”, a big tourist trip on the area and one of the more popular sights in the country.

Hanging out at the back yard waterfall in Whakamarama

Hanging out at the back yard waterfall in Whakamarama

View from the summit of Mount Mainganui

View from the summit of Mount Mainganui

 

This has all been very spontaneous, and very draining, but we’re happy to be seeing more of the country as we move south. We will move into Rotorua, and next week, go black-water rafting, and if our luck holds, make it to the South Island. The food and culture here fluctuates between very English and refined to dirty and wold with adventure, which is our preference. The weather is getting colder as we move south, and we’re very excited to see more.

Sunset in Whakamarama, our last day.

Sunset in Whakamarama, our last day.

Week Four – Orchid Farming in Whau Valley

Although we were worried about hitch-hiking out of the small town of Rawene, of only 300, we caught a ride early in the day. After shopping for some gum boots in Kaikohe (everyone has gum boots in New Zealand – it’s more or less necessary if you’re going to do even the smallest amount of work outside), we arrived at our next destination – Whangarei. This is the only city in the Northland region of New Zealand, and has the same amount, if a different kind, of beauty as the rest of the country. We had quite a bit of free time, so after wandering around the town, we found a hostel near the fabled waterfalls. A brief walk from our room took us the falls.

Alexandria and I at the falls in Whangarei.

Alexandria and I at the falls in Whangarei.

After the falls, Ally and I went for the walk in A.H. Reed forest, which allowed us to go over rope bridges from the river after the fall and see an incredible kauri tree forest. The kauri trees are specific to New Zealand and grow to be giants, offering a very unique forest ecosystem to the North Island. It was really awesome being able to see shots like these not a block away from convenience stores and cafes.

View from the canopy of a kauri jungle river.

View from the canopy of a kauri jungle river.

After we got the chance to see a bit of Whangarei, our next host, Chrissy picked us up. Chrissy lives just outside of Whangarei with her husband Mark and her son Jason in a small and beautiful suburb called Whau Valley. She always takes on WWOOFers, as she always has plenty of work to do – she’s and orchid farmer.

With four hothouses next to her living quarters, and another two larger ones in the close by residence of Maunu, the team always has something to do. With thousands of orchid plants, 100 chickens, and some plants (broccoli, beets, lettuce, baby carrots, etc.), there are many points that need special care. But as WWOOFers, we worked with orchids. It is the harvest season for them here, and Chrissy boxes them up and ships them out in huge loads commercially for weddings, birthdays, and any other occasion that calls for them. We cut them, trimmed them, got rid of snails and other pests that feed on them, and “yo-yoed”, consisting of tying them to a trellis system above the plants below. It’s tedious, yet not stressful work, and interesting to work with such beautiful and long-lasting flowers.

A few of the many beautiful variety of orchids Chrissy's hothouses have to offer!

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A few of the many beautiful variety of orchids Chrissy’s hothouses have to offer!

The work is great, and Chrissy makes a good living off of selling these flowers and other amenities from her lifestyle block. One chance she gets to sell these wares is at the Saturday Growers Market in Whangarei. We got up at the crack of dawn to sell some goods at the market – particularly, orchid posies and stems, eggs, beet roots, and passion fruit.

Our stall at the Growers Market on Saturday.

Our stall at the Growers Market on Saturday.

The growers market was really awesome, and illustrated something more about New Zealand culture – the sense of community here that is half nicety, half necessity. The local food movement in the states is widely considered a fashion that’s “in” and more of a statement than an economic way of commerce, but in New Zealand, opportunities to buy produce from farmers around your area is not only cheaper than options of shipped produce in supermarkets, but also sometimes the only place to find the things you need. We bought two different kinds of hand-made cheese from the stall next to us, tamarillos, bread, home-made pesto, and samosa and crepes from some food stalls.

A view of the Saturday Market.

A view of the Saturday Market.

It was a really rewarding experience, and enlightened us to how close-knit community is in even the bigger cities, all over New Zealand. (Ally and I saw two people we knew that Mark and Chrissy didn’t… and we don’t know many people here at all!) Pretty stoked on staying here and contributing to that community, which is something we wouldn’t have been able to do if we weren’t working on farms. We’re excited to see more of the community as we spend a little bit more of next week in “the Rei”. Then it’s off to Auckland, and after that, Tauranga.

Week Three- Sustainability and Frugality in Rawene

In Paihia, I was unlucky enough to get my pack stolen. Foolish of me, although there wasn’t much I could do to avoid it, and during the time, the North Island was experiencing a huge amount of rainfall and flooding, so it was very difficult to cope with it. I was quite depressed until I arrived in Rawene and met with our new hosts, Mike and Janine in beautiful Rawene. This town of 300 is on the east side of Northland, on the large Hokianga Harbor.

Farmland at our place in Rawene, near some mangrove forests on the Hokianga Harbor.

Farmland at our place in Rawene, near some mangrove forests on the Hokianga Harbor.

 

Mike and Janine are retired, and enjoy a lifestyle block in Rawene. This is Kiwi’s name for a self-sustainable living grounds and property, and Janine and Mike definitely have fit this description. They have many gardens growing carrots, onions, kumara, potatoes, rosemary, cilantro, and an orchard growing apples, oranges, lemons, limes, feijoas, apricots, a huge amount of grapes… almost everything you can think of. Additionally, they had chickens (called “chooks” here) for eggs, worm farms for making compost, black and grey water recycling, and are getting ready to install 16 solar panels. The wet, temperate climate allows them to do this, and we had many foggy mornings, and beautiful afternoon showers.

A foggy morning in Rawene.

A foggy morning in Rawene.

A high-pressure system moving in through the afternoon, with a rainbow on the horizon.

A high-pressure system moving in through the afternoon, with a rainbow on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got the chance to see a lot of the scenes around Rawene. Mike took us to where the Hokianga Harbor opened into the Tasman Sea, and we saw the North Head, which had massive sand dunes, and the South Head, with beautiful white-sand beaches. This places has a huge amount of history behind it, as it was the first spot when Hone Heke, the first Maori settler, landed when he came to the island. Effectively, people had lived at this fertile part of the island the longest, and although there was a large amount of poverty, it was rich in Maori culture. We went there to fish Kahawi, hopefully to provide us with some dinner. Eventually, we settled with mullet.

Trying to catch dinner at the opening of the Hokianga Harbor into the Tasman Sea.

Trying to catch dinner at the opening of the Hokianga Harbor into the Tasman Sea.

Traditional Maori totems in Rawene, celebrating the marriage of a Maori woman with a Pakeha man.

Traditional Maori totems in Rawene, celebrating the marriage of a Maori woman with a Pakeha man.

In all, we really enjoyed our stay. Janine and Mike are active members of the Green Party, and we had great conversations about conservation, sustainability, and the warming global climate. It’s hard to disagree that peace and sustainability are hand-in-hand, as well as that it’s essential that our species evolves to a point where we can live without ruining the environment around us; Mike and Janine argued that, to counteract this, it’s necessary to improve it. We left happy to have been, and more green than ever, and I personally have learned how important it is to live with less.

Nothing like eating a meal of food you grew yourself. A classic green, Kiwi meal.

Nothing like eating a meal of food you grew yourself. A classic green, Kiwi meal.

 

Week Two- Working in Kerikeri

We arrived in Kerikeri by bus from Auckland around noon. Kerikeri lies north of Auckland within the county of Northland, and is a fairly big town in the region, as a large agricultural site (like many towns in New Zealand, particularly for kiwi fruit) as well as having a rich cultural heritage. We were working at the home of Judie, our host who picked us up from the bus depot. When we arrived at her house, we were happy with the setting. It didn’t seem like a bad place to be working outside at all.

Our workspace in Kerikeri.

Our workspace in Kerikeri.

Our work here was really varied, and we didn’t quite get the work experience we expected; but with only 4.5 hours of work each day, we got a place to sleep and some really delicious food. Our jobs were varied from washing cars to sweeping floors, but it did focus quite a lot on housework. Ally and I spent a day moving a huge pile of dirt over a section of the lawn. After that, she was doing quite a bit of housework (grudgingly) while I worked on digging in a dirt staircase down the hill in Judie’s backyard. I had a little experience doing this kind of work in the Nevada Conservation Corps, and the setting was quite nice; I’m pretty proud of the dirt staircase, as rudimentary as it is.

Moving dirt to make a staircase. 84 stairs total.

Moving dirt to make a staircase. 84 stairs total.

After our work days, we got the chance to walk some paths and see some of the few attractions in the Kerikeri area. One of them in paritcular illustrates the historical importance of the area- Rena’s village, which is an attraction that only cost us $5 NZD and was a replica of what a Northland Maori village would have looked like centuries ago. It included replicas of Maori tools, weapons, and houses. We learned some about “tapu”, which is akin to taboo in the States, what plants were tradiontally used by Maori people for medicine, food, and supplies, and some important Maori historical figures. One was Tareha, a powerful Ngati Rehia leader, who lived in the seventeenth century. Reports said he was a huge man, over 7 ft. tall and over 600 lbs., who had a large degree of “tapu” and unquestionable influence as a cheif for his people… so much so that in 1849 the famous Maori leader Hone Heke retrieved his bones and moved them from Kerikeri to a more traditional location.

An artist's rendition of Tareha.

An artist’s rendition of Tareha.

We also got the chance to go down the road to the Stone Store, which is the oldest stone structure on the North Island of New Zealand. This building originally functioned as a trading post for the “Pakeha” on the island, which is the Maori and generally accepted term for white citizens. It sits on the tidal Kerikeri river and is a popular tourist attraction.

The Stone Store on the Kerikeri river, at sunset.

The Stone Store on the Kerikeri river, at sunset.

All in all, I was glad that we got the chance to stay a week in Kerikeri and see what it had to offer. Staying with Judie and her husband, Steve, reminded us greatly how traditional some kiwis are to their English roots, often dining on tea and crumpets for lunch, and meat, potatoes, and squash for dinner, all the while maintaing “proper etiquette”. This was contrasted with the rich Maori presence in the area (often ignored by some locals, or degraded on) and we were thankful to be in a spot where we were able to step back into this history. We move next to Paihia and Rawene for our next farming experience.

Sunset on our last day in Kerikeri.

Sunset on our last day in Kerikeri.

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Week One – Exploring Auckland, Waiheke Island, Waihi, and Whangamata

When we touched down, little sleep and tropical weather added to the ambiance of the experience… it didn’t seem like we could be on the other side of the Earth, in such a place that was simultaneously quite regular and unbelievably foreign. We had arrived in New Zealand, and we set into Auckland.

Auckland

When we arrived in this city, the largest in the country, we started by exploring the downtown area through staying at various hostels in the area. As New Zealand is a popular destination for adventure seekers, Auckland has a large number of travellers in it, and it’s culture is very diverse. It is know as the “City of Sails”, and the view from the loft in the hostel explains why – Auckland is the main port in the Hauraki Gulf which surrounds the city, and ships of all kinds are seen in the bay.

 

Food here is as varied as the culture. Our dining in Auckland has illuminated a number of aspects of the country- many of the finer restaurants host British cuisine, such as meat pies, minced meat and fish ‘n’ chips, which makes Kiwis seem to still be very connected to its British colonial ties. Yet as it is in the South Pacific, with an incredible temperate tropical weather, the food options are also very tell tale of this area. Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, and Indian food are all incredibly plentiful and much less expensive than other options. (Food, and mostly everything else in New Zealand, is quite expensive.) Although we tried to be thrifty, it was impossible to say no to some dishes:

Chicken Bao Bun made at a Chinese food stall. So dope.

Chicken Bao Bun made at a Chinese food stall. So dope.

Pho, as always, is a cheap classic, even in Auckland.

Pho, as always, is a cheap classic, even in Auckland.

In general, we tried to eat as cheaply as possible, which is a popular option in hostel living. New Zealand seems more inclined to provide for smaller communities economically, and thus cities like Auckland seem to suffer from ails that many cities face – great class disparity, crime (particularly burglary), and the threat of disease. Hostels illuminated many of these ails, yet also were a beautiful place to explore the city. In one of our dorms, we had an incredible discussion involving people from England, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Argentina, and, of course, the States. It was a good introduction to a nation filled with internationals and was very thrifty.

Dinner time in the Hostel

Dinner time in the Hostel

On Wednesday, we took one of the many ferries leaving Auckland to Waiheke Island for $35, which took 45 minutes from the mainland. Once we arrived there, we took in the beautiful coastline, which included native forest and beautiful, exotic native bird species. We walked a hike to Onerua Cove, which was quite stunning, and saw so much wildlife and beauty. We were also able to see Little Onerua Cove and Church Bay. The whole trip reminded us that we were in fact in the tropical South Pacific, and that the beaches here are often voted the best in the world. We could certainly jump in the water… even in winter. We also got to see some classic aspects of Maori culture, which is the people native to the island, whose name for New Zealand is “Aotearoa”.

A Maori "hahi" - a place for designated Maori worship and dance.

A Maori “hahi” – a place for designated Maori worship and dance.

Onerua Cove on Waiheke Island

After spending so much time in Auckland, we wanted to get out of the city. Everyone, locals and internationals alike, told us to get out of Auckland and visit the countryside which New Zealand is so famous for. We picked up from a Canadian couple that hitch-hiking was easy for them and they had no trouble… so we decided to give it a try, with our all-to-heavy packs, making our way to an Auckland motorway, we attempted hitching a ride, with success.

As long as you ignore weird looks, hitching is an easy gig.

As long as you ignore weird looks, hitching is an easy gig.

The first driver to pick us up out of Auckland was a beef farmer named Dave, driving his beat up van with his son Daniel. Through his easy-going hospitality and our miscommunication, we ended up at his farm outside a town called Waihi. It was very beautiful- the drive to the farm had stunning waterfalls- and the farm itself looked like the Shire from Lord of the Rings… rolling green hills, dark forests of cabbage tree, eucalyptus (called “blue-gum” here), and light pine, with brooks everywhere. He fed us sushi and soup to the point of bursting, offered a warm bed, and all the amenities we could ever ask for. Daniel led us through the farm, showing us creeks with freshwater eels, talking about the cows, and taking us up to the “Forest of Life” while speaking of monsters and the Shadow World. It was all so mystical, something straight out of a Miyazaki movie. That night we ate well again, drank Lion Red beer to the point of buzzing, and afterwards enjoyed each others company over a game of rugby on the “tele”. The best night so far.

Dave's Farm. Not a bad place to stumble onto.

Dave’s Farm. Not a bad place to stumble onto.

In the morning we ate and Dave showed us a little around Waihi, and old mining town, then dropped us off and we tried hitching again. We waited until two sisters picked us up around noon, and although they couldn’t take us as far north as we wished, a ride is a ride, and they took us to the beach they were vacationing at. The town was called Whagamata.

The beauty at Whangamata

The beauty at Whangamata

Incredible, for sure. The beaches looked beautiful with lush, white-sand islands just offshore, and an incredible “tidal river”, which is something like a very narrow bay which stretches along the forested mainlaind where the town lies, providing a quick jump into the ocean no matter where you are in the town.

After exploring and catching three different rides, we arrived back in Auckland. The next day we packed up our materials and caught a bus to Kerikeri in the north, to go through our first WWOOFing experience. WWOOF stands for World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers, and the organizations hooks travellers with farmers so that labor can be exchanged for food and board. We’re very excited to see the Northland of New Zealand for cheap.