My first Wwoofing Experience

Still in Wellington I was searching the web for a job. What I found wasn't really a job but a pretty cool sounding wwoofing place at the top of the South Island – Marlborough Sounds. They were looking for a nice German girl and I thought “Hey that's me” :) Te Rawa, a tourist accommodation place, was looking for help with the garden. Situated in Pelorus Sound and only accessible by boat, I thought that sounded quite intriguing. Also it was still summer, so what could be better than being so close to the water and nature? I applied and was told I could start early February.

To clarify the situation: Wwoof means “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and is an organisation that “links volunteers with organic farmers, and helps people share more sustainable ways of living.” But it is commonly used as a term to describe work in return for accommodation and food, no matter if it's on farms, in private houses or hotels. Usually you're supposed to work 4 hours a day, of course everybody handles that differently.

Living in Pelorus Sound, her mail is delivered by boat.
Naively I assumed I wouldn't have to pay the boat to get there as I was a worker. To be sure though I asked a few days before, just to find out I had to pay 40NZ$ each way. Quite a lot I thought to be a free worker and also I wondered why they didn't tell me before. Anyway I made sure I had enough money on me and set off on a Tuesday on the mailboat, which actually delivers the mail to all the places out there. It also serves as a tourist cruise through the sound to generate more money as the post service isn't all that profitable.

Dropped off in the middle of nowhere, I found Te Rawa included a couple of batches, a little shop, restaurant/bar and the German couple that own it. As well as another German wwoofer girl, Verena, who arrived a week earlier. It was pretty much paradise, you can go fishing, kayaking and soaking sun all day long and usually these places are very busy in summer. I found Kiwis like to spend their holiday either in their own wee batch somewhere in wild nature, with the family on one of the thousands of campgrounds or in a nice remote self contained place like Te Rawa. But surprisingly I had to discover that this place was struggling with decreasing guest numbers.

Glow worms just a 5 minute walk away from our batch

As a result there wasn't actually that much to do for us wwoofers. We did some weeding in the manageable size of a garden, did the dishes and cleaned the rooms when a guest was leaving. As a graphic designer I also offered them to refine their menu layout. They didn't want to spend any money, otherwise I would have liked to renew their website as well, which looks very much outdated at the moment. I believe it would have been a necessary investment for their struggling businesses, but anyway...

That's a thing I'll never understand. People don't want to spend money (on design in this case), therefore they probably think it's not an important issue. But when they get it for free, it all of a sudden is important enough to make demands. Instead of being happy that it has improved, they're complaining. They're not satisfied although it's definitely better than what they used to have. Pay me and I'm happy to make all the changes (as long as they're sensible) you want. Don't pay me, take what you get! Isn't that reasonable?

I should probably mention the fact that the overall atmosphere wasn't very good. There were hardly any customers, which made it a pretty boring and unsocial place to hang around. In addition the German owners, Erika and Walter, were miserable, stingy and didn't stop complaining, moaning, griping – any word that describes this pessimistic view and behaviour that seems to hamper the ability to enjoy and value all the good little things in life. To give you an example: One of the few guests was a single woman. One day she was laying on the jetty reading a book. Erika looked out the kitchen window commenting in a derogatorily manner “Die hat wohl nichts besseres zu tun, als den ganzen Tag zu lesen.” Which translates as: “She has about nothing better to do than to read all day.” Why? Why and how could you possibly make this into a bad situation? A kiwi would say “Good on her, she seems to really enjoy the sun and her book.” There is nothing bad about it, it's her holiday, she's in an idyllic countryside where there is not much action anyway. Give me one reason why she shouldn't read that book all day! Walter didn't talk a lot and was always out and about doing stuff around the batches anyway. So naturally our permanent contact was with Erika, who never seemed to be content. Anything we did wasn't quite good enough for her.
I won't tell you about all the awkward, mood-driven and illogical situations that we went through every day, but naturally there was a bit of a conflict. As you might know I don't just put up with all the random crap I get, so unlike Verena who just took it in, I made myself clear when I thought something is not right.

 Marlborough Sounds and its oyster farms
Fortunately, Verena and I got along quite well. One lovely sunny afternoon we set off for a hike over the hills and sheep paddocks with amazing views over Pelorus Sound and the many oyster farms. As we were just talking about how quiet it is in the New Zealand bush and that you can't really hear a lot of animals – except for in the mornings, when the birds can be deafening – we heard a noise in the bush. A grunt, suspiciously close to the path. I got a hell of a fright, not from the first noise but from the second, which was Verena screaming and almost jumping on my arms.
Although there are no native mammals in New Zealand, settlers have brought in several animals as a food and trade source or by accident. Literally all mammals (except for one bat that lived here before) were introduced... including pigs. Most of them have caused huge problems for the natural balance. The absence of natural enemies and abundance of feed makes them bread like rabbits – not only the rabbits that is. Possums, rats, wild cats, deer, goats, pigs – they eat native birds and plants, which are not adapted to having enemies (thus the most flightless bird species in the world), and struggle badly with the predators.
Enough education though, back to the story. So there was a pig in the bush. Right next to us. We froze and listened. I've seen these huge snorting kune kune pigs before and I wouldn't want to meet one in the wild. What could we do when it actually comes out and attacks us? We didn't bring anything but our cameras and since it wouldn't be a good idea to throw those, I suggested picking up rocks as weapons, whereupon Verena immediately picked one up and didn't let it go until we were in sight of the house. We continued cautiously but didn't hear the pig again.

Verena hiding the defense rock behind her back :)
The next day, as we were washing up, a couple of lads were having a drink in the bar, a rare sight, as it was usually quiet. They waved to us through the window and asked if we wanted to join them later for a beer at their batch, which was located in another bay across the sound. I was really happy about this opportunity as I couldn't wait to get out of there and get some distraction, but I knew it would be work to convince Verena to join. After I assured her it's gonna be fun, that they looked like nice guys and that you get nowhere when you're scared and say no to everything, she came along. I would have gone alone, no worries, but I actually didn't want her to miss out. So we left in a motorboat with 5 guys, thinking to have a few beers and then drive back the same night, because we had to work the next morning. As you can probably imagine, things worked out a little different. We arrived at the holiday batch and were welcomed by all in all 12 guys, who came up there from Blenheim and Christchurch for a fishing trip. It turned into a great night with of course more than just a few beers, freshly prepared seafood and us ending up sleeping on their couches.

I had a terrible morning the next day, and why was my ankle so sore? Anyway at least I knew now I would be able to leave soon. The boys had offered to take me back with them to the mainland the following day. That meant 2 days less waiting for the mail boat and saving 40 bucks.

I always say I have all the time in the world, because it feels quite long to spend a whole year here. Especially compared with some other people rushing through both islands in as little as two weeks. But I really only have time to be happy, I don't want to waste it in a miserable place with depressed, unmotivated people that have given up and create an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone. If I don't enjoy it, I'm out of there.
Isn't it wonderful to have this freedom?!