During my research about ways to save money in New Zealand, I found Willing Workers on Organic Farms, or “WWOOFing.”
Part of the comfort zone I stepped out of coming to New Zealand revolved around my work life. I knew how to do what I was familiar with, but I wanted to learn what else was out there.
Having been a waiter in the hospitality industry for years, I yearned to serve a different purpose. I’d been surrounded in so much bitterness, and I needed an escape. Instead of bringing food to tables, I wanted to help people with their livelihood.
I knew it would change my perspective on my work ethic, and I’d walk away with a more grateful heart.
New Zealand, of course, isn’t the only country that offers this program, but it sounded incredibly beneficial. All I had to do for room and board was help on the farm for a few hours a day.
A few days before I left for New Zealand, I sent messages to host families just outside Auckland. I found so many people looking for help, and I knew one of them had to accept my offer.
At first, I told myself not to worry… But after the debacle with the flu, throwing up all over the city center, enduring culture shock, and realizing just how alone I was, four days into Auckland, when I was still optionless, the panic fought harder.
If I thought I stressed about anything before I left, I sorely underestimated the daily struggle of hiccups I suffered after arrival. I could only pray and hope the Holy Good Lord would hear and save me.
While browsing the WWOOFing site, by the grace of God, I discovered the bulletin-like option. There, instead of messaging the hosts you want, you post an ad and the hosts find you.
Within five minutes, I had twenty messages and so many options I didn’t know who to pick.
Desperate at the time, I went with the first: The Williams.
The family consisted of Janine, the writer, Andrew, the name sharer, and their three daughters, Becca, Emily, and Suzie. After I’d agreed to work for them, it didn’t take us long to sort everything.
Once we did, I promptly booked the bus out of Auckland.
The six a.m. departure time couldn’t come fast enough, and I eagerly awaited the bus as the sun rose. I hardly slept the night before, as my desperation to escape the clutches of Auckland’s terror kept me awake.
As soon as I freed myself of Auckland’s grasp, I immediately saw the beauty I’d heard about in New Zealand. I drank in the rolling, lush, green hillsides that stretched far as I could see. The hills interlaced with the multitudes of rivers, creeks, and lakes that cropped up with every turn.
The bus line itself provides a hop-on, hop-off experience that allows you to stay as long or short as you’d like in any location on your ticket. I hopped off at our first location in Whangarei (pronounced Fawn-guh-ray) Falls, where Janine and Andrew had agreed to pick me up.
There had been a brief miscommunication as to my whereabouts, and the bus left before Janine and Andrew arrived.
Like so many other things thus far on the trip, it wouldn’t have been the worst of experiences, apart from the downpour that greeted me the moment I stood alone.
Isolated and desperate for shelter, I hid under a tree until I saw a hand waving at me from an old, navy blue minivan.
The hand belonged to a woman with wavy red hair and tiny spectacles. Her aura reminded me of my mother, with a warm and inviting presence that urged me to run to her.
“So sorry about that,” said Janine as I approached. She helped me load everything in the “boot” (or “trunk,” if you’re American like me) and I hopped in.
“It’s all good,” I said, happy to be out of the rain. “I’m Andrew, happy to meet you.”
After we had done our introductions, we stopped at a grocery store before we headed into Hukerenui. The rain didn’t let up any along the drive, but apart from the snowstorm I’d endured getting here, I hadn’t seen decent rain in almost four years.
When we arrived on the farm, I had my own separate “flat” (or“apartment”) from the house. In there I had a small kitchen, living room, fireplace, bathroom, and bedroom.
After spending the last few nights in a hostel, nothing could have suited me better.
Once I’d settled, the family brought me in for lunch, and our friendship began.
My help consisted of weed eating, shoveling dirt, planting seeds, making jams and sauces, and then joining them at the markets to sell their products.
My first morning, during our ten a.m. tea session, I received a text from my mother. She said a doctor had found numerous tumors inside my grandpa, like someone had taken powdered sugar and blew it all over his insides, and each sugar granule had turned into a tumor.
No… No, no, please, I haven’t even been here a week! How is this already happening?
I tried not to panic, and Janine noticed the change in my behavior after I’d gotten the news. It turned out she was no stranger to losing loved ones, and we talked through it as we peeled ginger and made plum jam.
Her resemblance to my mother comforted me, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to have her there.
Part of me stayed out of the fear I wouldn’t find somewhere else to go.
Part of me stayed because it was immediately comfortable and I wanted to cling to that.
Most of me stayed because I really liked the family.
Days consisted of waking up with the sunrise, joining the family for breakfast, doing my jobs between 8-10, having morning tea, working again until 1, eating lunch, lounging for the rest of the day until dinner (unless we went to town), and then reading by the fire all night.
Such a hard life.
Sometimes the hours fluctuated based on the market schedules, but I never had a problem helping when asked, and I loved every job given me.
As they had around 800 cows to milk twice a day, I stood in line with the cows until they got onto the machine that attaches to their udder and milks them. I unhooked one of the machines and walked with the cow while I squeezed its udders and produced… very minimal milk, but what else is to be expected for a virgin?
The entire time I stayed with the Williams, I was never unrested or hungry. I had been afraid of what it would be like to work in someone else’s home, but the Williams eased that fear and always treated me as if I was one of their own.
Where Auckland had been a smorgasbord of everything I didn’t know about New Zealand, what I found in Janine and Andrew’s farm in the tiny town of Hukerenui ultimately sold me on the country.