Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bay Subtropicals

It is a rainy day here in Golden Bay as I type out this entry by the fire (that I built) with a cup of hot coffee nearby.  I say "type out" because the house doesn't have wireless yet, so I'll post this probably tomorrow.  It is hard to work on the farm when it's rainy, but I've been helping out as much as I can indoors, and fetching firewood (in my new red raincoat from a Motueka thrift shop!) to keep the fire going. 
Koru, NZ symbol for new life- at Abel Tasman
A couple days before I left Motueka, Krys and I spent an 
afternoon walking at Abel Tasman National Park, which is a wonderful place with beautiful beaches and forest trails. 
A little overview for the following: WOOF stands for Workers On Organic Farms, and the basic deal is that you get accommodation and food in return for 4 1/2 hours of work per day.  Laurie's friend Debbie (she's Canadian) has lived in New Zealand for about 30 years and owned Bay Subtropicals, an organic citrus farm, for the past 6.  Her main crops are mandarins and avocados, but she also sells oranges, limes and lemonades (a delightful sweet lemon). 
At the beginning, I was worried I would need time to settle in to the routine here in order to be helpful, which is why I was planning on 2 weeks here.  After a few days, this was a running joke, as it was pretty easy for even inexperienced me to get heaps done. 
willow critter

I came in on the bus from Motueka Friday night, and Saturday I tagged along with Helena (another WOOFer) and Debbie to a willow sculpting class.  I was a bit daunted by this new medium, but I managed to make a critter that everyone found funny and some other bits that I could take home (I laid the critter to rest in the woods as he was structurally challenged and way too big to pack).  But some people there made some really beautiful stuff.

Sunday I mainly worked in the garden, weeding and pulling up the bean plants.  Deb's daughter Amy came over with her kids, Oscar (7) and Poppy (5), who are just the cutest.  They were fascinated by my Kindle, and Poppy convinced me to give her a piggy back ride around the house.
Then Monday was probably my hardest job.  Deb had felled a tree, and rented a wood chopper to make it into firewood.  I had the daunting task of stacking all of the wood as Amy's partner Bruce chopped it up.  But I did it!  Another WOOFer came that day, a Dutch girl called Gee.  She is only 18 but traveling New Zealand by herself!  At first I was a little skeptical of her, but we had a lot of fun hanging out and I grew quite fond of her.
my giant firewood stack!

On Tuesday, Gee and I helped Deb's greenhouse tenant (coincidentally,  a Dutch guy called Gee!) move out his strawberries.  It was a long and dirty day, but it was nice to have company.  Tenant Gee also had a WOOFer, a girl named Natalie from Belgium, who was fun to work with.
Gee, Helena and I spent Wednesday morning grading mandarins, picking out the "seconds" (ones that are too small, too green or too abused to be sold) and packing 72 crates of 25kg each for two orders being picked up midday. 
I felt the grading to be too much responsibility, so I mostly stuck to packing the crates.
Helena and Gee grading mandarins

Helena is quite good at it.  She owned a feminist bookstore in the 80s and worked in the computer industry in Australia, but has more recently taken some permaculture classes, worked in nurseries and other farms, and has become quite the horticulturalist.  She is hoping to settle down soon so that she can start her own garden.  Fun fact about Helena: she is a fruitarian!  Well, mostly.  She only eats raw foods, and so much of her diet is citrus that her dentist told her she needs to cut down for her enamel's sake.

Anyway, that afternoon Gee and I cycled down to the beach and then into Takaka.  It was a fun trip to break up the week, and I really enjoyed sitting on the beach and taking photographs of Takaka.  Then for dinner, Deb fired up her pizza oven and we had delicious fresh pizza.  It was (shockingly) Gee's first attempt at pizza making.  She was astounded that Deb and I had never heard of putting tuna on pizza, as that is her favorite in Holland.
Thursday Gee left for Motueka to try and get a paid job picking apples.  I trimmed the strawberry plants, which Deb will plant in the Greenhouse, shoveled cow poop (I felt like the poopsmith) for the strawberry bed, and clipped blight from a block of citrus trees.  Then I went with Helena to the famous Mussel Inn for the Golden Bay Live Poet's Society reading.  It's a really great venue with really good beer (I had the Dark Horse), and I loved one of the poets, who looked a bit like an older, goofier Alan Rickman (and had a similarly magnificent voice). 
The rain began on Friday, so I brought firewood in and started the fire.  My other job was to count and sort the money from Deb's farm stall (people can buy fruit in small quantities from a stall at the end of her drive, and put their money into what Steve Upstill calls an "honesty box").  It had more than $700!  So that was exciting.
This morning I woke up to rain again.  I brought in more wood and helped clean the house, but now it's pretty quiet.  I'll probably pull out my Kindle once I'm done with this.  I'm currently reading Infinite Jest, which is tough at times (I wish I had a hard copy along with my digital one, as the notes within notes can be tricky, and sometimes I'd like to flip back and check something.  But the nice thing about the digital copy is that I can just follow links to the notes and back, and I can search the book when something rings a bell), but for the most part quite enjoyable.
I've had a lot of fun on the farm.  Deb is like a cool aunt, and I've enjoyed meeting the other WOOFers.  Deb's dog Robbie really likes to be petted, and it's quite cozy to have a big dog snuggled up next to you.  The fantails on the farm are just amazing.  They follow you quite closely as you walk across the grass, hoping to snatch up any bugs you bestir.
I have taken probably too many photos of fantails.  Some of the chooks here have free roam, and there is one rooster that especially likes to crow outside my window in the morning.  And whoever invented the myth that roosters only crow when the sun comes up was whack- they crow ALL the time.
Tomorrow I am heading back over the hill to Nelson with Helena.  She is going to pick up a friend from the airport, and I figured it would be easier to get to my next destination (down South?) from Nelson than from Takaka. 
More to come!

*added Sunday afternoon:  Yesterday I babysat Poppy for a bit while Debbie and Amy worked.  We had a hilariously raucous time.  Then I had a big night out on the town with Debbie.  We went to see The King's Speech at the tiny theatre in Takaka.  So cool! We sat on a couch in the front row.  The theatre was pretty packed (for Takaka).  The movie stopped in the middle and I got worried, but they have an intermission!  We got a cup of tea and an ice cream and settled in for the second half.  Afterward, we walked down the street to a bar and listened to a live Reggae band for a bit.
This morning, Helena and I headed over the hill and now I'm in Nelson! 
Golden Bay

Thursday, April 7, 2011


~the Maori word for New Zealand, meaning something like "land of the long white cloud"~

So, it is day 17 of my time in New Zealand and I know what you're all wondering: yes, there are a lot of sheep.

fabulous outfit at the Saturday market
I spent a week in Nelson, which is at the top of the South Island. The wonderful thing about the top of the South is that there is ocean EVERYWHERE.  And apparently from coast to coast the widest point in New Zealand is only 250 miles across.  I stayed with Laurie, who went to med school with my parents.  She is a radiologist, and she has (not one but two!!) houses in New Zealand.  She spends about half the year here.  She has a young couple staying in her Nelson home. Their baby Leo is 9 1/2 months, very sweet, and loved to stare at me; Emma said I can tell people I have an admirer in New Zealand.   Laurie has a friend who is a dairy farmer, so I got to visit his farm (which I think I will see more of in the future). We went to her beach house on Golden Bay for a night, then to an amazingly beautiful beach called Wharariki.  Her friend Deb has an organic citrus farm called Bay Subtropicals, which we visited, and which I am headed to on Friday.  I had lots of fun exploring Nelson.  There's a wonderful stretch of beach, the fabulous World of Wearable Arts museum (check it out!), an old Cathedral, shops... lots to do.  To end my visit, Laurie and I went on a private winery tour in Blenheim which was extravagantly amazing. 
Laurie and I on our wine tour
On our way to Motueka, we stopped at Lake Rotoiti, which is really beautiful, and had a lovely walk among Tuis and bellbirds.  They both make a lot of noise!
Lake Rotoiki

I am now staying with Ania's parents on their farm outside of Motueka.  I am loving the country experience.  The community is pretty tight knit.  I've gotten to meet several of the neighbors, which has been wonderful.  My favorite neighbor experience was feeding alpacas with an adorably precocious 8-year old while the adults had tea.  The Upstills are really into food, which was great news for me.  Their garden is huge, and I've picked tomatoes, dug for potatoes and carrots, and picked stink bugs off of lots of plants to feed to the chickens.  They also get fresh milk from a dairy farm nearby.  I've become a diligent bread and cheese student, following Krys around the kitchen.  I've also been introduced to the mysterious fruit that is quince.  It is ostensibly the "golden apple" of legend, though I don't know who would want to eat one as they are bitter and quite sour.  BUT when you cook them, they turn pink and add a great tartness to sweet cakes, such as the quince-almond cake I made a couple nights ago.  It has been getting pretty cold at night, but still gorgeous during the day.  And it's not hard to sleep when you pre-heat your bed and pajamas with an electric bed warmer!  Yesterday we went to Abel Tasman National Park, which is beautiful.

I am learning a lot about New Zealand (lingo, wildlife, culture, food, etc).  For instance, I know to avoid sultanas (raisins) and white bait (a tasteless fish that is considered a delicacy), ask "How are you going?", and laugh at pukekos.
pukeko or "swamp hen." they are hilariously cheeky
The whole country is shoe-optional, which I find fascinating.  Kiwis are much nicer to the environment, and I've been pegging clothing on the line* when I do laundry. Also, they are really nice to their animals, so they say the meat tastes better because the animals are so happy (it is delicious, but I can't say that I can taste the "happiness").
  Soon I'll be off to Bay Subtropicals in Takaka, where I will WOOF for maybe 2 weeks.

*yes, that was a Decemberists reference.