Favourites: Volunteering on Farms in New Zealand

Weeding the garden was never this fun!

In 2008, I travelled to New Zealand with two of my best friends: Anne and my bright red backpack (which as of yet remains unnamed). Apart from exploring the natural wonders of Aotearoa and hostel-hopping our way through the country, we had also signed up to do some volunteering on farms for three reasons:

a) It would save us money we would otherwise spend on travelling/coffee/wild water rafting;
b) We were secretly hoping to indulge ourselves in some sheep cuddling and goatlet petting; and
c) We felt like getting our green thumbs dirty and release our inner hippies!

Through WWOOF ('World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms') we managed to get our hands on a booklet listing all organic businesses in New Zealand. Flipping through the pages was already an experience in itself: we spent hours looking at farms and descriptions, carefully selecting the ones we thought would suit our interests most. After months of deliberation, off we went...

Farm 1: The Farm That Wasn't A Farm
Our first 'farm', an organic cafe on a tropical peninsula, immediately sparked our enthusiasm. We hit it off with the owners right away and our tasks were far from dull: we served food and beverages to customers, assisted in preparing vegetarian dishes and were responsible for the maintenance of the blossoming art garden. The cafe was situated on a secluded inlet of a bay, which meant you could always find us on the beach after working hours. Soft golden sand embraced by lush green hills and white, wooden houses: it was truly magical.

Maramaratotara Bay (try to pronounce it) ©Maaike

Farm 2: The Farm That Came Straight From Heaven
Imagine colourful birds and grassy hills, darted with flowering bushes and stately trees swaying in the wind: to me, this Arcadian worldview became a reality when I set foot on farm no. 2. Although we had to weed the garden and take care of the herb plants rather than communicating with nymphs or playing the lute, we enjoyed every second of our stay here. Before work, we would retreat to the quiet nooks and crannies in the garden or play with the donkeys. And whenever the sun would set behind the steep hills, we did a little stargazing from underneath the solar shower. Wow... just wow.

Okuti Garden, one of my favourite spots in NZ ©Maaike 

Farm 3: The Olive Farm Without Olive Trees
The third farm was a little unusual. Bought by a Welsh couple a year before we arrived, the land was characterised by hundreds of dying olive trees that had not survived the harsh winter. I don't know which I found the saddest: the couple – stuck with dozens of bottles of horribly tasting olive oil – or the graveyard of shrunken trees withering away. Our tasks: pulling out monstruous weeds with incredibly deep root systems that were slowly overtaking the Land of Olive Trees for good. We nevertheless had a great time: our hosts made the most mouth-watering cookies I have ever tasted (leave a comment if you want the recipe!) and we had our own little house with a plasma tv and double beds. Sheer luxury, for two backpackers living on a shoestring budget.

We made a little collage of the nice weeds we managed to pull out during our stay! ©Maaike

Farm 4: The Farm Where We Had to Rescue Sheep
I don't even know where to start when describing this farm. I think the majority of my anecdotes can be traced back to this place, where I had a very unusual yet pleasant stay. To be quite frank, I felt like quite the Saint here: our task was to search for sheep stuck in thorn bushes on richly vegetated sloping hills and cut them loose. After finishing this noble task, I'd collect honey of the hive in a hooded suit with holes. The day would end with a dive into the waterfall pool and, afterwards, a hearty vegan meal – inside the house with walls made of mattresses (don't even ask). A unique experience to say the least.

Sunset at Farm #4 ©Maaike

Farm 5: The Alpaca Farm Where We Witnessed Sheep-Shearing
At long last, we had found the furry animals we were looking for: alpacas! These giraffe-like creatures were a little anxious of our attempts to pet them, which meant we had to resort to cuddling sheep instead. I can't recall how we spent our days on this farm, but we did witness a private sheep-shearing show. And, as you perhaps know, a photo says more than a thousand words...

Poor little thing... ©Maaike

If you ever have the opportunity to work on a farm through WWOOF: do it. It really gave me an idea of what kind of life I aspire to live... And some good stories to tell around the dinner table!

For more information, visit WWOOF International or read my Dutch article that was published on Nadelunch.com last year. Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment!

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