Friday, May 6, 2011

Merge Like a Zip

Our belongings of the past nine months of travel lay splattered around the guest room here on the Parade. Items like our 1.5 person MEC tent (if you live in a tent, be sure to choose one that has a little wiggle room), to a half-filled bottle of sunscreen (helpful, however does not adequately protect you from New Zealand`s "lack of ozone" burn), to our well-used camp stove (with which we championed the one-pot meal). All pieces of equipment that have enabled us to survive this New Zealand adventure, now waiting to be packed away for the return to Canada.

How could I possibly begin to describe our time in New Zealand? We came, we surfed, we hiked, we wwoofed, we fought, we made up, we road-tripped, and we settled down. We milked cows, stuffed sausages, picked blueberries, and fed the sheep. We baked bread, ate pie, and met inspirational, remarkable people. We felt the beach with our feet on every coast, in white sand, brown sand, and black sand. We drank flat whites in urban cafes and fell in love with rural New Zealand. We will be back.

Soggy morning chores in our gumboots during a return visit to Soggy Bottom.

Little Piggy.

Learning the art of butchery over coffee.

Left alone in the butchery to pack sausages.

Savouring the last few bites of NZ`s no. 1 breakfast cereal.

Saying good-bye to Wellington.

Now to find our way back onto Canadian soil, find you and give you huge hugs,

seek out (paid) employment, and drive on the other side of the road.

Time to merge like a zip.

See you soon!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Swell Season

After and week of great food, amazing home brew and cider, and phenomenal company, we said farewell to yet another set of great friends that we have met here in New Zealand. Next step: heading north in search of surf for the final steps of our journey.

I was very excited to be back in the water after a long hiatus. Unfortunately, "Surf Highway 45", the coastal road around Taranaki renowned for its surf locations, was not where we would find these marvelous waves I had been dreaming about. Instead we found some wind, and lots of it.

When we got to Raglan a few days later, the weather cleared, the swell picked up, and the water was warm enough for me to get Lanna into the water. Despite the initial nervousness, she performed like a superstar standing up on her first day out!

After our week of "vacation" in Raglan, we are headed back to the farm in Ngaruawahia to work with some old friends and hopefully sell our car... I can hear it now, here piggy piggy piggy...

Playing a game of Phase 10 in our storm shelter somewhere in Taranaki...

Perched on a log and putting thoughts to paper

Having a cuppa in Raglan while waiting for the tide.

Unfortunately this is the only photo we have of Lanna surfing as we were both in the water.

A view from Mt Kaori, our only day in Raglan with no working and no surfing.

Our lovely Merlot, the one that carried us to so many places.

Monday, April 18, 2011


"Having a cuppa" has evolved into one of my favourite New Zealand pastimes. As fall settles in we welcome a cuppa to warm us from the inside, like a hug on these chilly days. Suddenly our trip has taken on a new vibe, and I am feeling nostalgic about New Zealand already. Now is the time to savour our cups of tea.

Walking through the the sleeping plum orchard at Windsong.

Falling feijoas.

Marlborough in harvest.

Wine grapes.

Table grapes.

The fruit that tastes like perfume.

So much to ponder as we leave the South Island
and all the marvelous things on it.

Wonderful Wellington for a stopover before we round
out our trip through the North Island.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thrown by the Bull Again

Who would have thought that I would travel 14,000 km's to spread silage ("bay-lage") off the back of a truck to feed a couple hundred hungry ewes, a chore I would likely roll my eyes at if my brother tried to convince me back home would be fun. Truth is, WWOOFing in New Zealand has not been my initial contact with farming, I grew up part of it (whether I wanted to or not). But the man next to me, in his gumboots and Carharts, will never be the same. As we both dig the soil from our fingernails, we realize that on our 'vacation' we somehow managed to fall in love with growing food and the people who make a living doing it. Whether we were picking in the blueberry orchard, packing yogurt into bulk containers, or putting the cups on cows, we have been delighted to be part of the process before the plate. Here's the secret about farming: first you grow it, and then eat it. And if you can connect people with their food somewhere in the process, they will care about what they eat. Healthy food, healthy Planet.

Quite simply, there have been so many lessons learned while working alongside our brilliant hosts. However, it's important that I let you know that not all our farm experiences have been enlightening. Although beautiful, we landed at a farm on the east coast a week ago that had us so disappointed it left us questioning the point of WWOOFing. We had signed up for this organically certified (for 20 years), biodynamic grain farm ages ago, and were keen to be part of their process - all the way down to getting dusty in the on-site mill. Turns out, our hosts had something else in mind. If I wanted to scrub the lichens off a bridge I would volunteer for the Department of Transportation. We managed to hold on for 4.5 days, waiting for some knowledge to trickle down to us lowly wwoofers. Instead we baked apple crumble for breakfast and learned that "dinkle flour" is just another word for spelt. "Biodynamic" has something to do with the spiritual harmony of the farm's soil, but does not mean there is harmony among the farm's humans. So not all WWOOF's are created equal; new lesson learned.

We move on, north actually. Back to the comfort of the Blueberry Cottage and the type of hosts that stock the fridge. We're thinning the feijoas and preparing breakfast at the farmers market, baking bread and loving life.

The product of the apple harvest
(great for dessert as well as breakfast).

A chilly fall morning on the farm.

Leaving the farm for a hike instead:
a round the lake loop at Nelson Lakes National Park.

We are treated to a hut to ourselves for the evening,
one of the sweetest things about life in the New Zealand backcountry.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Join the swing to Jerseys

What can I say, the west coast is... wet. It rains pretty much every day here, making the sunny moments that much more stunning. After a difficulty finding farms, we managed to get a wwoof at the end of the northwest coast, in Karamea. Meaning we only had 1 week to see the lovely glaciers. Unfortunately, the cafe / "farm" turned out to be a true disappointment full of crap (both in terms of junk and the hosts). This made us appreciate our previous farms and the hosts even more.

In light of this misfortunate situation Lan managed to put on her superstar hat once again and found us work on a real farm just south of Greymouth. This came at pretty much perfect timing as several severe rain storms passed through, which no doubt would have flooded our little tent.

Upon our arrival we were both shocked and nervous to learn that we would be part of the milking team, milking some 200 jersey cows (which produce milk with 6% fat rather than the usual 3%). It was both a great and fearful experience, great that we learned a new skill and now have a new appreciation for milk. However, we "lived in constant fear" of getting the next greenish brown squirt on the head. At times we had to wonder whether we were collecting milk or poo in the milking barn ("sunhats" were a must).

Aside from the milking shed, we also enjoyed some great company, great food, made butter and yoghurt, and most of all celebrated Lanna's Birthday, what a hoot!! Oh ya, who needs a quad to round up 200 cows before sunrise when you have a pedal bike, a flashlight, and Mr. Bo Jangles (the farm dog).

Now off to the East Coast via Arthur's Pass.

Franz Josef Glacier in all it's glory.

Lanna's "all dressed pie" at Blanchfield's Bakery (est. 1892).
My Pie didn't have peas and potatoes on top...
Morning milking at Fern Valley Jerseys

...hoping the bench won't break...
Off to round up the cows for the afternoon milking.

picture says it all...cuuuuutie!

Trying to avoid the golden shower while getting the cups on.

Fence repairs.

Arthur's pass, cold and tired from a week of milking.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Making it Happen vs. Letting it Happen

When I first described to a friend how the inner-workings of our trip to NZ would develop I told him that I was a planner and Bry was most comfortable going with the flow. I tried to hide my anxiety as I imagined myself living out of my savings account with little to no agenda except that I needed a break from the everyday and NZ seemed like a great place to do it, and well... Bry relished the blank slate we were working with. Over the past 6 months we have managed to reach a series of compromises (not without the colourful frustration that often preludes a compromise of course). Those compromises have landed somewhere between tramping the entire South Island and being a surf bum, or - making it happen and letting it happen.

In the past few weeks we have had one farm host cancel on us and another not return our phone calls. We've felt the arrival of fall in the South, dealt with the rain of Fiordland, and became reacquainted with sandflies. What with the current situation unfolding in Canterbury, we quickly realized that our troubles were trivial. We push onwards, relieved to be together and safe.

The Moeraki boulders, falling out of the cliffs and into the sea.

We reach Dunedin, a classy little city I could imagine myself being very comfortable in despite the persistent rain. While visiting with Brit & Ben for a few days we make fish cakes, see an albatross, and watch blue penguins waddle up to the beach at dusk.

We visit a sheep farm in the Caitlins for a few days, the Southland's east coast. Here we are with the smallest 'ute' (trucks in NZ are known as 'utes' short for utility vehicles) and the biggest pile of weeds. You can call this glamour-wwoofing.

Chased by a bull seal on the southern most beach in NZ.

We arrive at Milford Sound (which is ironically a fiord) and decide to join all the other NZ tourists and book ourselves in for a cruise. One of the key selling points: a BBQ buffet lunch was included in our tour. We make a stopover at the new Milford Sound Discovery Centre and descend a staircase to the sea, full of phenomenal marine life.

While on our Milford tour we pause with the rest of NZ for a moment of silence to show our support for the people of Christchurch. I realized that whether we are making it happen or letting it happen, our relationship with this country has taught us that the beauty of NZ goes beyond the mountains that plummet into the sea.

Monday, February 21, 2011

White Gold

In this case, I’m thinking about milk! Dairy is one of the largest industries in NZ, and growing by the day. This past week, we had the opportunity to spend a week not only on a small organic dairy farm, but on an organic dairy farm that also produces delicious yogurt less than 10 m from the milking shed. What a beautiful process of using none other than fresh milk, culture, and a little bit of heat to make this extremely "low food-miles" product.

On the farm, not only did we drink a lot of fresh milk and yogurt, but we also got to make some feta cheese, AND make some yummy ice cream!

During our time on the farm, we were also asked to participate in two presentations/discussions on "water conservation issues in the Canterbury Region". Some of it was very interesting, some...not so much... Although I have a feeling that intensive dairy systems should not exist in the arid areas that need constant irrigation of there pastures, it was not discussed during the water strategy meetings. Instead we learned that there are plans to expand the dairy industry in the area despite the already present water restriction. Go figure.

Following our stay on the farm, we headed west to see the other "White Gold", this time in the form of snow and ice (and tourists!). We arrived at the base of Mt Cook/Aoraki awestruck by its grandeur. It is no wonder why Sir Ed Hillary chose this area to train for his ascent of Mt Everest!

We decided walking around the base and campground was not enough for us and therefore decided to do the 4hour climb up to the Mueller Hut (1800 m). Not only was the scenery on the climb up beautiful, the hut was directly across from many of the glaciers!

Now, on our way to Dunedin to visit Brit and Ben, where we hope to see the magnificent Royal Albatross!

Standing outside the Clearwater farm.

Jackie milking the cows (I got to milk one of these lovely ladies by hand!).

The nearly finished product.

Two familiar faces with Mt Cook in the background.

Mueller Hut, our humble abode for the evening.

Flowers and Ice (sounds like a James Taylor song...)

Until next time...