The Benefits of Being a Woofer! (willing worker on organic farms)
I had three days in Wellington to explore. To be a tourist. It proved to be an interesting experience in that I really didn’t enjoy it. I walked around exploring all of the tourist spots and wondering what it must be like to be a Kiwi, to live in all this beauty. I wanted meaningful conversation.
Rupert picked me up at the train station in Carterton and we arrived at the organic flower farm in less than 10 minutes. This was my next volunteer experience - I was a “woofer.” I walked into the middle of the first “You Pick Flowers” event Heidi had held and by the looks of the number of cars in the field, it was a success!
Heidi and her daughter Lola were working under a tent adorned with bunting and surrounded by an abundance of bright flowers: Dahlias the size of saucers, snap dragons, roses, sunflowers, sweet peas and and an array of more flowers that I couldn’t name. 15 year old red headed Lola was directing traffic. I could tell immediately she had worked under a strong mom!
But the thing that took my breath away was the view. The farm is on the foothills of the Tartarua Mountain range and the rolling hills folded one into another. Stunning doesn’t describe it. The wind whips over the mountains and fiercely makes its way across the open meadows; it was a hot windy sunny first day.
Traveling this way has opened doors in so many ways...
Once the event was over and tucked away, we all piled in the car in our togs (bathing suit). Heidi, Rupert, Lola, Leo, Pirate the friendly dog and I headed to the local swimming hole. They all chimed in to describe a beautiful stream that opened up into a wide deep spot just perfect for swimming, and after a 20 minute windy car ride up the mountain, Rupert pulled over to a wide spot in the road. I watched Pirate belly crawl under the fence and then the others climb through the wires and disappear down a narrow dirt path. I quickly pushed myself through the fence and found blackberry bushes that scratched my legs as I reached for the perfect warmed ripe fruit.
After a short scramble we came to the edge of the Mangatarere River. The swimming hole was rocky, clean, cold and complete with a rope swing positioned to drop you right over the deepest, widest spot. Dinner was a barbecue (grill) of fresh vegetables from the garden. What a first day...
I edged off to bed to the 1890s cottage house that they originally lived in before moving and restoring another house that was 100km away onto their farm. The cottage is now used for AirBnB guests, so I had my own private little cottage. The roosters start crowing each morning at 5am and their fresh eggs laid await in the cupboard.
I met Heidi at 8:30am each morning and headed to the flower beds where we dug up and replanted heaps of plants, pulled up drip lines that needed to be relaid and watered the plants in their new homes. I asked questions about plants and her goals, and Heidi shared her dreams of creating a glass house where her chef friends created vegan and vegetarian dinners on outside ovens. She hoped to turn her food forest into a backdrop for weddings using antique windows to create walls along the paths.
Our afternoon explorations were amazing. We did a local bush walk in the National Park, drove through quaint small towns, went to a festival celebrating the treaty with the Maori people, stopped for ice cream, dropped in for coffee with a seamstress who has sewn wedding gowns for royalty in the UK, visited other stunning flower gardens and picked from their beds, and one afternoon found us tramping through an old olive grove. As we meandered across the grove we closed gates to keep the sheep in and ended up at a hedgerow of eucalyptus trees. We took long cuttings of eucalyptus to be used at a wedding. Heidi told me about her friends that had bought this property which held an olive grove, a small vineyard and sheep. I asked her if they had any experience in farming and she said, “No. We Kiwi’s like to just give it a go!”
Each night we sat around the dinner table talking about this beautiful country. I probably would never have known, if not for these conversations, that before the country was settled there were no predators. None. Even today when you walk in the bush you have nothing to fear, which is so different from Australia where we were told that it has every hazard known to man including a man eating spider. I just made that last part up, but the insects and snakes in the outbacks are tough creatures. Not so here in New Zealand. NO snakes in New Zealand, and there were only birds and three mammals on the islands (the mammals were bats) before humans brought other animals. Up until the late 1800’s the Mona bird existed, which was a dinosaur size bird because it had no predators. The Kiwi bird is more mammal like than bird like and has evolved to take on the characteristics of an ant eater. Love this kind of stuff!
Rupert explained the rules and nuances of cricket in great detail. It’s not an Olympic sport, though it was once in the 1900 Olympics. What an game. Tea breaks, lunch breaks and one full game could last for five days. Yup. You read that right....
Heidi ran an arts festival for ten years and burned out (sounds familiar....). She’s planted her flowers a year ago and began her next career. Rupert is in management for the power company and makes the 1.5 hour train ride to Wellington every day. They collect the rain water from the farm which they treat and use for their drinking and bathing water, and the bore (well) services the flower garden and me in the cottage! They call a cooler a chilly bin and bangs are fringe.
A hard working family.
We picked flowers for a wedding under the setting sun on my last evening. I was surrounded by buzzing bees, the beauty of the flowers, the fragrances and the views. What a week.
Through the eyes of new friends. Gratitude.