Farm Life: Perks and Pains

I have been working at Woodhaven for three weeks now and I am slowly getting used to the long week and the work I have to do.

As with any job, there are things I enjoy about it and things I don’t enjoy so much. For example: I like getting paid, but I don’t like getting up.

Apart from the obvious ones above, I have a few main perks and pains that can make or break my day.

Perk 1: Free Vegetables

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Massive cabbage

As someone who really loves food, especially free food, this is probably the best perk of working here.

They keep boxes of vegetables near the pack house for employees to take of they want.

I have had many free courgettes, some leeks, a large beetroot, heads of broccoli, a lettuce and a massive cabbage so far!

Perk 2: Driving

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In the driving seat

To many people, this may be considered a pain or just a neutral fact. I only passed my driving test in December, so driving is still a super-fun novelty.

There are these little 4×4 cars that everyone uses at work (they are Daihatsu Terioses) to get from the main yard out to the fields and also around the fields.

I have been driving around in the fields which is so much fun, although automatic cars are weird! It’s gone pretty well, apart from when I accidentally ran over maybe 20 broccoli plants (don’t tell my supervisor)!

Outside of work, my weirdo room mates let me borrow their car to go to the shops, which was exciting!

It’s been good to practice driving again as I will need to do it a lot in Canada!

Perk 3: Beautiful New Zealand

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There are lots of pretty cows

As I have established through my blogs, New Zealand is essentially my new best friend.

Even in Levin, which is not a touristy area, the landscape is stunning! From the field we are working in I can see beautiful hills, cows, sheep and even a little slice of the sea!

Working outside in this lovely landscape is a massive bonus, especially when the weather is good!

Pain 1: Rain

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Moody cloudy cows

Rain makes me sad. This is mainly because we can’t plant. So this means either patching in the rain, spinach in the rain or pack house.

Originally. I had no waterproof trousers, so working in the rain meant very wet legs and feet as the rain ran down my legs, into my wellies!

Pain 2: pack house

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Something you won’t see ALL DAY in the pack house

Sometimes, when it rained, I have been put into the pack house. The pack house is no-one’s favourite. Some of the girls even get “packhouse anxiety” if they think they will be sent there.

The pack house work is very boring and repetitive, but that’s not the main problem. It is very wet in there because everything is washed down with pressure hoses and despite big aprons you find yourself getting damp.

The main problem for me is the lack of sunlight. There are no windows and so it is quite depressing compared to being out in the beautiful sunny landscape.

Pain 3: Pain

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Personal pain map!

Physical ouchy pain.

Farm work requires a lot of physical effort: bending, carrying things, ripping tiny seedlings out of trays…

It isn’t surprising that, after a while, you begin to hurt. My hands are blistered and cut, my back, legs and arms ache and my body is very tired!

Despite all of these pains, I am very happy to be working and meeting new people (although I have yet to decide if some of them are perks or pains – looking at you Landia ;)).

 

 

Introduction to Farm Life

Since my amazing two months travelling around what I can now say is one of my favourite countries in the world, I returned to North Island (I miss South Island!) and began working on a farm.

The farm grows vegetables. It is called Woodhaven Gardens and it is in Levin, which is a small town north of Wellington. It has a population of about 20,600 and is actually the 22nd largest urban area in New Zealand. There are only 21 places that are bigger here.

Before I moved, I had a few more nights with the lovely Rhiannon and Wayne, who live in Paraparaumu (north of Wellington, south of Levin) and Jason and Kimmie, who have moved there for now as they are moving to the UK fairly soon.

I didn’t do too much, just organised my life, cried over my nearly empty bank account and took photos of their cat, Freddie.

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Freddie looking fierce

Soon enough it was time to move to Levin. I took the bus up and found my new home – a holiday park, imaginatively named “Levin Holiday Park”. I met Repi, one of the owners and shortly after Debbie, his wife and co-owner, who showed me to my cabin. The cabin is a very small room with two bunk beds. I am sharing it with Lydia and Annie, two slightly crazy, but friendly English girls.

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My room (my bed is top left)

We have toilet and shower blocks, a laundry room and a kitchen (a small one is reserved for just the Woodhaven workers). There is also a TV room and a ping pong table!

There are 13 Woodhaven workers living here: Annie, Lydia and I, who all hang out with Chris, who is a sassy German guy who is, rather stereotypically, organised and sensible. Alex (a Polish guy) and Eric (an American) live with Chris. There is also Eva (a Czech girl who gives me lifts to work) who lives with a Spanish girl whose name I’m not quite certain of and a Japanese girl I have yet to speak to. There is also Atis, from Latvia, who arrived at the same time as me, who lives with a Japanese guy I haven’t spoken to yet. And finally, there is Craig and Amy, a British couple.

It’s nice to have colleagues living with me, as we can talk about work and we all have a similar schedule. I am enjoying getting to know them and going to parties with the other workers on Saturdays.

I am a planter at work. Planting teams seem to move around a lot and are small. There is a tractor driver and two or three planters. There might be more than one team per field.

How planting works:

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The tractor has a forklift on the front to move plants from the van that brings them to the field and carry plants along a row so you have enough to get back. The planter unit is a special trailer with seats for the planters, planting machines, a shelf for plants and sometimes a water tank.

The planters throw appropriate plants from the trays into the cups of the planting machine, which then makes a hole and drops the plant into it. The speed varies, but you have to learn not to miss any cups as it is mostly quite fast. Appropriate plants are strong and have good roots.

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After planting, you have to go round and “patch”. Patching is basically checking the plants are correctly planted and correcting any mistakes. Plants must be fully in the ground, but not too far, they must have the right spacing and weak plants must be replaced.

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When I am not planting or patching (due to rain), I am in the packhouse. This is where the vegetables are packaged. In the packhouse I have out radishes in bags, put lettuces in bags, put silverbeet (like swiss chard) in bags, put spinach in bags, washed radish and peeled spring onions. I don’t really like the packhouse as it is boring, dark and wet. However, it is better than losing money by not working when it rains!

After working on the farm for two weeks, mainly planting (thankfully), I appreciate a bit more what goes into producing food. I am actually enjoying the hard work and the long hours mean I am being paid nearly $800 (£500) per week after tax!

My plan is to carry on working here for the next eight weeks, then have two final weeks in New Zealand before I head on the Melbourne and Vancouver!

Coffee and Cathedrals

I had originally intended to put my Christchurch post in with my Mt Cook one, but they are such different places that it felt better to keep them separate.

On the way to Christchurch, the bus stopped for a while at lake Tekapo, where we saw a famous church – it is always booked up for weddings!

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The church at Tekapo

I only had two days in Christchurch, but I found it a fascinating place, especially with all the earthquake damage and rebuilding. I mostly just walked around the city, exploring.

I found the Cathedral pretty quickly (of course there is just one, but “Cathedrals” sounded better for the title)! It was badly damaged during the 2011 earthquake – the tower it had on it is not even there anymore!

Christchurch is still a very lively and busy city, with beautiful stone buildings and lovely parks. There is a beautiful street with old, pastel coloured buildings and cute little artisan shops along it.

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New Regent Street

There is also a wealth of street art in Christchurch – massive, beautiful murals on the walls of old buildings. I took photos of quite a few of them because they were so cool!

Christchurch also has a beautiful and free botanical gardens. There is an amazing rose garden there where I spent a lot of time.

Christchurch also has some pretty epic coffee shops. I went to one called C4, where they roast their own beans and you can buy beans, coffee making equipment and store branded items. The coffee was very good.

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Coffee bean hoppers at C4

One of the coolest places in the city, which needs a mention, is the re:start mall – which is a big shopping centre made from shipping containers!

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Re:Start

Neat the re:start mall is the earthquake memorial which has all the names of the people who died in the 2011 earthquake written on it – including their nicknames and translations into their own languages.

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The earthquake memorial

On my final night in Christchurch I decided to go out at around 8pm and play on the massive, amazing playground around the corner from my hostel. Apparently it cost $2M. Money. Well. Spent.

I had SO MUCH FUN. I went on the zip line, the swings, the trampolines, went down all the slides (including the big spiral tunnel slide). And it wasn’t just me, the park was full of adults!

I think we need more playgrounds like this in the world – adults like to play as much as children do!

Where Shell Ducks Fly

I left Queenstown very early in the morning and took the long and scenic route to Mt Cook. Mt Cook village is a very small place – it doesn’t even have a mini supermarket. You can buy food in the big hotel there, but it is limited.

The village is in a very large and very beautiful glacial valley, with a bright blue lake, Lake Pukaki, at one end and beautiful snow-capped mountains at the other end.

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Lake Pukaki

From the village I was able to hitch a ride to White Horse Hill campsite (who was a 30min walk away). The campsite is run by the DOC (department of conservation). It has basic toilets, bins and a cooking shelter. There are no showers. It cost $13 (maybe £8) per night to stay.

I arrived, pitched my tent and walked back to the village to pay and get food for dinner. I also built a “fridge” out of rocks to store my more sensitive food items.

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My campsite with Mt Sefton in  background

In the town, I visited the isite (basically a visitor centre) which had a really cool exhibition about the area inside. I paid for my campsite, got food and had a wander around the village, where there were great views of Mt Cook, which is New Zealand’s highest mountain. The Maori name is Aoraki – which means “cloud piercer”.

I walked back and ate. Before it got dark, I set up my camera to take photos of the stars, which are meant to be especially good in Mt Cook. I sat in my tent reading and waiting for it to get dark.

Darkness gathered and I ventured outside. It didn’t disappoint! There were so many stars. More than I had ever seen. The milky way was clearly visible. I stood for a while admiring the view before I took any photos. I spent maybe an hour outside before I headed back into my tent for a very cold sleep.

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One of my many star photos

The next day I decided to walk  the Valley, which has lovely views of the mountains and a glacier at then end. The walk was three hours in the hot sun, with no trees to shelter under. There were some lovely views though!

There were also three very cool rope bridges which could only hold twenty people at one time.

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Cool bridge + random man for scale

The glacier was not clear and beautifully blue like Franz Josef -it was covered with a thick layer of dirt and rocks – a very grubby glacier!

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Hooker glacier, very unclear beneath Mt Cook

I returned from the Hooker valley in the heat. I then decided to head back into Mt Cook village to buy some more food and get an “ice block” (which is just an ice lolly). It was only $1.50, which is less than £1!

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My lemonade “ice block”

My time in Mt Cook was mainly spent looking at the beautiful ry and taking many many photos! Even just walking back to the campsite provided incredible views of this truly stunning part of  world.

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Just wow.

From the title of this blog, you can see that a big part of being in Mt Cook for me was the shell ducks. At the campsite there was a pair of paradise shell ducks who wandered between the tents and making beautiful quacking noises. The male duck makes a low honk and the female duck has a high pitched quack which gets screechy when she got angry.

They wandered around and occasionally called to each other – one would always run to the other when this happened. Often they would fly around loudly for no apparent reason. Once I saw the male duck standing on a rock quacking and the female duck wandering around below, pretending she didn’t know him.

On my final full day in Mt Cook, I walked up to a placed called Kea Point, which was about 30mins. There were nice views of another glacial lake.

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View from Kea Point

I then decided to attempt to walk up to the Sealy Tarns, which was a 3hr return walk. It turns out it is all stairs, maybe 2000 of them. I decided to stop at a large rock, which was 500 steps up as it was very very hot. The views were still very good and I sat on the rock and spoke to an american girl for a while before I headed back to camp.

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Standing on the big rock

 

I loved staying in the remote beauty of Mt Cook. Camping was so much fun and made carrying a tent to New Zealand finally worthwhile. The stars were just incredible. I will never forget the feeling of staring them in the cool evening air.

On my last morning of being in Mt Cook, a dramatic situation occurs, something that deserved its own post: The Sandfly Saga.

The Sandfly Saga

It was the third morning I spent in the White Horse Hill campsite at Mt Cook. I was leaving that afternoon from the hotel in the village, so my plan for the morning was simply to get up and pack up my things, including my tent.

I woke up to the sound of rain and my heart sank. Putting a tent down in the rain is a massive pain. However, I soon realised the sound was not, in fact, rain. It was so much worse.

There were so many sandflies in my tent, bouncing off the flysheet, that it sounded like rain.

For those of you who don’t know, sandflies are small black flies that live in lots of places in the world. There are quite a few on the South Island of New Zealand. They like to bite you and it itches so frickin’ much.

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Sandfly!

So, I put off leaving my tent as much as possible, packing the things inside it and preparing myself to leave. I realised it was cloudy this morning, so the flies were still there as it wasn’t too hot for them.

Eventually I left the tent and went to brush my teeth. Upon returning to the tent, I saw there were sandflies literally everywhereeee!

I was wearing long trousers and a hoodie with the hood up, so only my face and hands were visible. I still had to swipe at the flies constantly as i took the pegs out of the tent and removed the flysheet. I felt like a Sim when you kill them with flies.

Even though I had removed the flysheet and realised the flies in there, they still mostly hung around my tent and wouldn’t leave. I was swearing and swiping at them and trying to decide what to do. Eventually I decided to go back into the tent for some momentary relief. So I opened the door and plunged in as fast as possible.

I was followed by a hoard of flies. So I jumped back out of the tent and trapped hundreds of sandflies inside.

Then a miracle happened.

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The sun, which I had been willing to burn through the cloud, finally succeeded. It was like that bit in the Hobbit, where the trolls are turned to stone before the can eat them.

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The flies disappeared and the ones in the tent were slowly cooked to death, before I put it down on top of their corpses.

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The Eater of Money: AKA Queenstown

The journey to Queenstown was long and beautiful. The south island scenery is incredible. Everything is so big down there – the mountains, the lakes, the valleys. The coach was very full, but we kept making stops – almost too many stops! It seems that it is quite normal here for a coach driver to stop for 10mins at a local beauty spot – today it was a large waterfall.

I said goodbye to my German friends at Wanaka and we sped on into Queenstown. The lake the town sits on, lake Wakatipu, is massive and gorgeous. The mountains that stand above Queenstown are well named – the Remarkables.

I arrived in Queenstown, found my hostel and cooked. I had an early night before my trip to Milford Sound the next day. The trip was one of the best things I did in New Zealand. It was beautifully organised and the area was just stunning.

I feel like, at this point, I ought the explain what a Sound is, because I had no idea before I came here. A Sound is a river valley that has been flooded by sea water – like Queen Charlotte Sound, where I was when I visited Picton. Milford Sound is, in fact, not a Sound. It is a glacial valley flooded by sea water – which technically makes it a Fjord. At the time it was named, the word “Fjord” had not entered English – hence “Milford Sound”. Which does sound cool, to be honest.

The bus picked us up at 7:05 (i.e. horribly early) and we drove a few hours to Te Anau, where we had a break and picked up some more people.

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Te Anau

After Te Anau, the real tour began. The bus, which was very new, had a glass roof so you could see the mountains above, even if you were on the wrong side.

We stopped at a few places on the way. First, we stopped at a glacial valley, where you could see the misty mountains from Lord of the Rings (part or the southern alps). Then we stopped at a lovely lake, called mirror lake, which had near perfect reflections.

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The Mirror Lake

The third place we stopped was called Monkey Creek – you could see some great mountains and glaciers from there. I got out of the bus to look and take photos. The driver had also informed us that the water was safe to drink. I originally wasn’t going to as I tend not to trust things like that, but then I figured I should. So I got my bottle and bent down to get some water, when I heard a splash next to me – my phone had fallen out of my pocket into the creek. A few swear words later – I was back on the bus with my wet phone.

This is the bit where everyone goes “you should take the battery out and put it in rice”. Which is very helpful, but I was out for the day, so rice wasn’t an option. I took the battery out and left it until I got back on the bus from the boat tour, but the screen flickered and died. RIP crappy NZ phone 1.

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Moody Glacial Mountains

After the creek, we stopped at a car park just before a tunnel through to Milford Sound. There were some Kea in the car park. They are beautiful Alpine parrots, but have a reputation for mischief.

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A Cheeky Kea

After that quick photo opportunity, we headed through the tunnel and down the valley to Milford Sound. The bus dropped us by the port and we boarded our boat. There was a free lunch on board.

The boat took us out through the sound, which was stunning. We saw the waterfalls and the massive shear cliffs, which have trees on despite their lack of soil. The trees tangle their roots together to stay on – the basically hold hands. But if one tree falls, there is a tree avalanche as the ones connected to it fall too.

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Milford Sound

The boat journey took a few hours. It remained mostly cloudy, but it didn’t rain, which was good as it rains in Milford about two thirds of the time.

As we went round we stopped to look at some beautiful fur seals, hanging out on a rock.

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Seals!

The sound got wider and wider and the steep cliffs sank, until you could see the vast Tasman Sea ahead. The boat turned at the view back into the sound was stunning.

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The view back

On our way back, we came to a large waterfall. The waterfall, called Waimanu falls, was said to have regenerative properties – those who bathed in the water would become younger.

The tour company seemed to think this was a good idea, so they push the front deck of the boat under the falls so the passengers can get soaked (or hide inside).

The boat took us back to the dock and we reboarded the bus. I had a great day out, despite losing my phone. I would recommend Milford Sound to anyone!

The second day I spent in Queenstown was rather different. I had booked onto a white water rafting and bungy combo. It was another fairly early start to get to the river to raft.

We took the minibus from Queenstown to the centre and went to change into our wetsuits.

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It’s a great look!

We then got back into the minibus and headed for the Shotover river, a big gold bearing river near Queenstown. It used to be mined, now people just pan for gold. The road we took into the canyon was very narrow and had nice steep drops on the sides. The rafting guys gleefully told us that it was the most dangerous road in New Zealand and, at one point, made people stand up and look down the 100m drop that we were right next to.

We reached the bottom safely and had a briefing about what to do if you fell out of the boat while rafting. Then, we were ready to go!

I was placed in a team with a big Maori guy called Chief, who put me in the front of the boat. I thought I was terrible at rowing, but Chief was a good teacher and by the end, I was getting it!

We rowed down the canyon for a couple of hours, following Chief’s instructions to avoid big rock walls and navigate the rapids. We had a false start as we messed up on the first rapid and two of our passengers fell out! I almost fell out too. They were quickly rescued and returned to our raft.

After that we did much better. The other rapids went reasonably smoothly – it was so much fun! The final rapid came after a long tunnel through a rock face (I’m guessing made by the miners). It was a really big, fun rapid!

I have a video of my whole rafting experience that I will post at some point!

After rafting, I had lunch, then headed back to Queenstown. After running some errands (including getting a new phone), I headed to the bungy centre to prepare myself. I checked in and they weighed me and checked some medical questions.

We then got on a bus to go to the bungy site. I wasn’t as apprehensive as I had been about the skydive, but I had had less time to think about it.

We arrived and were told where to go for the bungy. I watched a few people do it first, then went to queue up. That’s when I got scared. I watched people jump and scream. I waited in the sun. Soon I was handed a harness – no going back. A few more people jumped. Then it was my turn.

As with the skydive, I let it all happen. I was fastened in. I was told to stand up and wave at the camera. I shuffled to the edge. I didn’t look down, because I knew I wouldn’t jump. I closed me eyes and jumped.

What followed was so disorienting! I felt the fall and then I felt slow deceleration and saw the river slowly drifting closer. I touched the water and was almost immediately sprung back into the air. The bungy guys swung the bungy cord. I bounced around, swinging and spinning in the air, flashes of landscape whirring before my eyes.

Soon, a long poor came into view, I grabbed it and was pulled slowly down onto a dingy. Once I was lying on the dingy I began to laugh. It was so much fun!

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The drop!

The hardest bit of the whole experience was climbing the stairs back to the centre! I have a video of this whole thing too – another one to upload when I have time!

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The Bridge!

I didn’t do much else in Queenstown as I began to furiously hunt for a job on checking my bank account.

I did a short kayaking session on the morning of the third day on the beautiful lake. I wish I couldn’t have taken photos, but I didn’t want to drown any more electronics!

I did manage to walk up Queenstown hill as well that afternoon. It was hot and steep, so it wasn’t the easiest climb, but there were beautiful views at the top.

At the top is a sculpture called the Basket of Dreams. It is quite cool and atmospheric.

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The Basket of Dreams

On the way down I discovered a really cool area where people had piled up hundreds of stones in little piles. It was quite beautiful in a strange way.

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Piles of stones

The piles of stones reminded me of a scene in the film “Moana” where the chiefs of the tribe piled stones on top of one another with each new chief to make the island taller. It was symbolic of progress.

I had a lot of fun in Queenstown and was sad to move on, but my next destination was breathtakingly beautiful. More soon.