Monday, January 26, 2015

Finally headed South

consta-bull responsi-bull store-a-bullWe had set up a couchsurf in Auckland, and got dropped off in the vicinity of her house, but we weren't exactly sure where we were. We got some groceries for dinner and wandered around for a bit until a friendly chap directed us to the right area. Then we called Jaye, our host, and she came and picked us up. Jaye was a wonderful host, she had traveled when she was younger, and enjoyed meeting current travelers in the midst of their journey. We made delicious burgers for dinner, and enjoyed a relaxing evening with her family watching My Kitchen Rules. The next morning Jaye generously drove us to the bus station, where we caught a bus to New Plymouth. The bus stop was about two miles from our third couchsurf host, Hamish. We started walking towards his apartment, which of course ended up being mostly uphill, and our 50-lb packs forced frequent breaks. To make matters worse, it started raining. We gritted our teeth and slogged through, finally ending up in front of what we hoped was his door around 10 pm. Luckily, Hamish was home and warmly welcomed us, and with a dry set of clothes and a comfortable couch, we forgot the trials of the evening. We again had a spare bedroom to ourselves, and we fell asleep almost immediately.
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Wary sheep being corralled 
The next morning we baked some thank-you cookies for Hamish, and then walked the two miles back to the bus station, where we caught the bus to Bulls. Bulls is a tiny town (population 1,750) on the west coast of the southern part of the North island. To give you an idea of how little the town had to offer, the best their tourism board could offer was puns based on their name.
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The whethers outside were frightful
Our next farm host, Cathy, picked us up from Bulls in a beat-up farm pickup, or as they're called in New Zealand, a "ute". Cathy and David had 950 hectares on two farms where they finished thousands of cattle, sheep, and deer for meat. "Finishing" usually involves purchasing young animals a short while before they are ready to be butchered, and feeding them until they have the ideal ratio of bone, meat, and fat.
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Just a small fraction of the farm's sheep
 population (which was in the thousands)
 We had thus far avoided a common New Zealand farming stereotype on our trip but the next day finally found us caring for over three hundred sheep. They were all new arrivals to the farm and had to be inoculated before being put to pasture. This is accomplished by injecting liquid dewormer/medicine into their mouths. The process is called "drenching" which was appropriate because we had to complete this task in the pouring rain. The clothes we had been wearing that day would smell of wet sheep for weeks.
new zealand wwoof workawayThe remainder of our short stay was spent mostly working on fencing, apparently a common theme among our host farms. The last fence Randy worked on had been washed out by an epic flood a few years earlier. While he was traipsing through the woods pulling electric fence posts out of trees, a too-close-for-comfort gunshot reminded him that it was hunting season. He quickly decided to leave that fence for the next volunteer.
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Hectares of special grass planted via GPS
specifically for grazing
A really nice diesel-fueled
 kitchen stove
Meanwhile, Holly was helping Cathy paint and fix up a house that they had on a different property, in preparation for selling it. Holly was painting the window frames outside, and at one point she knocked over the can of paint, spilling it all over the concrete walk. This quickly turned into a fiasco, because there was no water hooked up. Even after hours of scrubbing, Holly left her mark on New Zealand.
new zealand wwoof workawayAfter only four days, David happened to be commuting to Wellington and we couldn't pass up that guaranteed two hour ride in the direction we were heading. We all left at 4:30 in the morning and enjoyed an in-depth conversation about the New Zealand dairy industry. We didn't realize that 95% of the milk produced in New Zealand is exported, mostly in powdered form. The majority of this powdered milk goes is destined for Asia, where an up-and-coming middle class is eager to obtain this newly-affordable source of protein.
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Islands in Cook Strait
David was kind enough to drop us off right at the ferry terminal, and we hopped on our 3-hour westward ferry ride to the south island. The ferry ride was beautiful, culminating in a panoramic view of lush green islands, as we navigated through the Cook Strait, finally landing in Picton. We had a couple-hour layover in Picton, before catching a bus south to Christchurch. On the bus ride down we enjoyed the New Zealand scenery, but the highlight of the trip was our chatty bus driver. The vibe he gave off was more tour guide than bus driver. He talked almost nonstop for four and a half hours on everything from how the commercial salt flats work, to a mildly racist history of the early Maori-colonist interactions, to the merits of getting a commercial driver's license ("it's surprising how easy it is to become a bus driver").
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Holly bonds with a baby fur seal
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Skags (cormorants) and the
giant rock they've painted white
new zealand wwoof workaway He also seemed to be sad that whaling was over, but nevertheless we enjoyed the history lessons, tangents and all, of the areas we were driving through. As we drove along the coast, the bus driver asked if we wanted to stop at a seal colony along the way. Although the majority of our fellow passengers raised their hands, everyone was still being indecisive, so when the driver asked again Holly put the matter to rest with a resounding "YES!," and we stopped for a photo op.

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New Zealand is also home to many fur seals, the sheep of the sea

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tip-Top of Down Under

Our goal was to head towards the south island, but after the Hawaii fiasco we had applied to quite a few farms, and most of them accepted our offer, leaving us with more options than we were counting on. So, instead of heading south, we went even farther north, to Honeymoon Valley, near the tip of the north island. With bus options few and far between, we decided to try our luck hitchhiking, our first attempt in New Zealand. We waited outside Eutopia on the highway (the nice thing about New Zealand is that there is only one highway, aptly named Highway 1), for about a half hour. Two young German tourists picked us up, and drove us up to Whangarei, where we were meeting our next host the following day. Holly stayed and watched our way-too-heavy packs while Randy went and sought out a place to camp for the night.
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Beautiful New Zealand scenery
Since the local parks had no campsites, we decided to stealth camp on a nearby nature reserve. The terrain was steep and rough, but we had the privilege of hearing kiwi birds calling in the night. After a fitful night's sleep, we were glad to be moving on to the next farm. Unfortunately, we found out that our host wasn't able to pick us up until the next day, we would need to find shelter again. It seemed a good a time as any to try our hand at couchsurfing. In what would turn out to be the first of many excellent couchsurf experiences, a very kind woman named Kathy agreed to host us, and even came and picked us up. Way better than a couch, we got our own bedroom, which we reveled in after our previous night's discomfort. The next morning Kathy dropped us off so we could finally rendezvous with our next host.
Sandra, Julian, Holly                         
new zealand north island wwoof workaway Sandra met us about an hour later on her way home from Auckland, and after another two and a half hour ride, we arrived at their farm in Honeymoon Valley. It was school holidays so everyone was home, her husband Julian, who is an art teacher, and their two kids, Erin and Fynn. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by two pet kunekune pigs, a native breed of pig who, much like the pug, has a face so squashed it's almost cute. They weren't greeting us so much as inspecting us for foodstuffs, and one of them ripped through our bag trying to get an apple it detected.
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A face only a sow could love
Sandra and Julian had a large "lifestyle block" (the New Zealand phrase for a homestead or hobby farm). Although their hilly parcel was quite expansive, we were able to see all of it, mostly because our main task was fencing it all in. Julian and Sandra wanted to utilize more of their land for pasture for their sheep and horses, which involved lots of brush-clearing, hole-digging, and wire-stringing. Besides fencing, we also did some weeding and put their vegetable garden to bed, covering it with a layer of manure we gathered from the horse pasture.
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Albino axolotl
new zealand north island wwoof workawayTheir animal menagerie also included chickens, guineas, ducks, and axolotls. Though not a traditional farm animal, the axolotls, along with other amphibians, were a side cash crop of Julian's. Although Sandra and Julian's pigs were friendly and cute in an ugly sort of way, a neighbor's kunekune was not as charismatic. The neighborhood was plagued by his obnoxious antics; he would wait outside the gate, trying to get in to mate with their female pig, and if you were in his way, he would attack. Fortunately, he was easily placated with a carrot offering.
The resident male kunekune was starting to get a bit aggressive as well, so the decision was made to remedy the situation by relieving him of his testicles. The local vet was summoned and arrived with his tools of the trade. Although he was a seasoned professional and had performed many castrations, the veterinarian admitted that he had never been asked to clip an adult pig before. He didn't let this lack of precedent hinder his confidence and proceeded to stick the pig with a few shots of sedative. Then we all sat back and watched the doped up hog stagger around the yard until finally passing out. Having a familial connection with the patient, everyone else retired into the house for tea while we followed the vet, grabbing front row seats to the operation.
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Preparing for the operation
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Rest in peace, kunekune cojones

Grisly details aside (see the video for those), the event came to a close with the pair of us bidding farewell to the vet, and the pair of pig nuts laying on the ground. For the briefest of moments we considered cooking them up in some tasty teste delicacy but, out of respect for the family and our less than enthusiastic anticipation of the dish, we refrained. The gonads did have to be dealt with though, because either pig could happen across them, and the resulting unintentional cannibalism would seem intrinsically wrong. We decided a shallow grave in the backyard was a respectful enough send-off.
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Still getting tomatoes from 
the glasshouse
Since Julian, Sandra, and the kids were all enjoying being on vacation from school and classes, no one was in any particular rush to get going early in the morning. We would start tackling chores around 10 o'clock and wrap up by mid-afternoon. Even with this light schedule, we were still fed like royal lumberjacks. Holly even received the pleasant surprise of burrito night, a dish she had been craving but unable to find in New Zealand. We were able to try some fresh choko. The vegetable, left to its own devices, was rather bland but Sandra was able to admirably spice it up in a stir fry.
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Planting fall starts
We had a wonderful time with Julian and Sandra and their terrific kids but with so many farms agreeing to host us, and the south island beckoning, we had to be on our way. Sandra dropped us off at a decent hitchhiking spot before heading to class. The four rides over the next eight hours were like a personal tour of all our New Zealand haunts thus far, as we rode past the Eutopia Cafe and Ian and Marcia's, on our way to Auckland.


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