I’ve been at the Ara Te Kereru Orchard since 3 November. Nearly one month! I’d never planned on staying this long but the private bedroom and real food was enticing enough. The deal is five hours of work for accommodation and food, but here’s the best part – I have my own bedroom situated on the west side of the house, which means the golden afternoon light streams in during nap time. I snooze with the sound of birds and the constant chatter of the roosters, chickens and ducks. I keep my window open to let the breeze swing through the house and into my room. Nap time is my favorite time.
The other great thing is that Colin, the host, can COOK! He prepares a feast every night and often during lunch…fresh salad and leftovers with beet and carrot soup, pig head soup or leftovers. Dinner every night is a different theme – Roast Sunday, Mexican Monday, Thai Tuesday, Pub Wednesday, and now BBQ Thanksgiving Thursday, Unlabeled Friday and Sushi (and Mussel) Saturday. He also doesn’t skimp on sharing wine and meat. Venison steak? Yes please. Dinner rituals are formal compared to previous stays. We all squeeze together around the narrow table and after serving ourselves wait for Colin to give “cheers.” Every evening is the same, “Well cheers everyone. Thank you for the flower picking, flower processing, orange picking, orange washing and duck handling.” Then the WWOOFers reply in unison a tired and hungry, “cheers,” with our cups in the air. We can only get seconds once the last person is finished eating, which is always me, every night. Eyes of eight WWOOFers watch as I carefully fill my fork with an equal amount of all the flavors on the plate. Proportion must be maintained.
There are usually five to seven WWOOFers, usually from Germany, staying at the Orchard. There are two other long-term folks here, Heath a Kiwi and Zeno from the UK but born in Auckland. The first week was Magda and Ani and two blonde German girls. The next week was another female German duo, Hanna and Cat. Also during this week a trio of Germans stayed for one night but the next morning wrote a note saying they got a job in Napier and had to leave suddenly. This was a surprise to everyone, including Colin. Not cool. The third week a German couple, Pia and Eric arrived, Nina a solo German traveler and Marianne a French solo traveler. The weekly rotation of new faces has been my favorite part about spending a month in one location. It’s incredible how close people become within a week. Work on the orchard involves kiwi fruit and persimmon pruning, orange picking, washing and bagging and flower picking. I have over the past month unintentionally become the flower picking and processing lady, training all the new female WWOOFers. We pick white and green roses and heirlooms; and collect green and copper beach and heirloom leaves that are used for flower arranging. The work is simple, rewarding and creative. It feels nice to be active, use my hands and see the dirt under my nails. The sun is the most dangerous and the best part of the job, just beaming and burning down on my shoulders.
But every day is Groundhog Day, which is why I would not want to be a farmer. There is no room for taking days off or vacationing because your livelihood is dependent on your presence and your hands. Work can’t be done over an iPhone and there are no automated messages informing people you won’t be back in the office until March 20th and you can’t hire a temp worker to manage the farm for a few weeks. We don’t give farmers enough credit, even shitty Monsanto farmers, because they have dedicated a lifetime to feeding thousands of people. That’s cool.
Since everyday is literally the same thing, I will entertain you all with the Saturday night events from my three weekends in Gisborne.
My first weekend at Colin’s it was Heath’s 20th birthday. And what did we do? DANCE! We went out Saturday night after Colin made a cheap version of Sangria – Fanta, red wine and diced oranges and kiwis. We made it to Soho, a bar and club in Gisborne. The girls and I were the first on the floor to dance. Someone has to start the party. I bought Heath a tequila shot then he bought himself a few more drinks, red bull and vodka. A few hours into the night I was talking to a Maori about his necklace as he was trying to buy me a drink. No thanks…then his buddy said to him, “Hey, look at that guy!” And pointed to the couch where Heath was sitting, passed out with all the Germans surrounding him. God DAMMIT. Magda and I were leaning into his ear, shouting his name because the DJ was only ten feet away, slapping his face. No response until he spewed all over me and Magda. We run into the restroom and clean up and I started talking to a woman who was a nurse and eventually helped Heath outside. I grab my belongings from the table and run outside where Heath’s lying on the concrete, completely out. Nearly thirty minutes later the police and ambulance arrive. The female medic was by herself so the club-going nurse and male onlookers had to help her get Heath onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. Welcome to New Zealand. The girls drive behind the ambulance to the hospital where we wait until the nurses tell us to go home and wait for a call in the morning. It was 430 by the time we got back and completely exhausted, smelling of vomit. Heath arrived the next morning around 10 am still wearing the gown and looking lively. “Oh, this is the third time this has happened,” he remarks casually. Dude. Not okay. That day we went to the beach and sunbathed all day, it was a relaxing recovery from a long night.
The next weekend was, thankfully, not as exciting. After Sushi Saturday we met Colin and his partner, Sarah, at the Fishing Club for their 50th Anniversary. Who you imagine to be the attendees is exactly right. Colin bought everyone a drink and we all chatted until the Recliner Rockers started playing and Zeno and I danced! He was surprisingly talented in the art of dance. I also was able to get a free half-bottle of wine by asking the female employee who was cleaning tables, what they did the unfinished bottles. She said, “We toss them, do you want one?” Heck yes I want a free bottle of 75 dollar wine. Everyone made it home safe, sound and conscious. Sunday was lazy, beginning with the Mockingjay Pt. I, cleaning the kitchen and baking cookies.
My last weekend was very eventful. All the WWOOFers during this weekend liked to dance so we made a plan to go out. During Sushi Saturday we sipped on our beers and rum and coke, saving ourselves from 10 dollar drinks at the bar. Colin didn’t have plans that night so he joined our crew and we started the night at Smash Palace, a classic bar with an older crowd and some kids…We arrived and Colin, again, bought everyone a drink. I started talking to two older men who were locals at the bar. One of the men, in a wheelchair, was the bassist for the band who was about to play. Then I wandered until I found food and started talking to a family who had peanuts. After satisfying my sodium intake, I started talking to a kiwi who was staying at the home located on the property where the New Year’s festival, Rhythm and Vines takes place. This is a huge New Zealand event and draws in thousands of people. His friend offered me a job at the festival, but I’ll be on the South Island during the New Year. The young WWOOFers started getting antsy so we dropped Colin at his son-in-law’s birthday bash and we drove to Soho where we danced the night away. We left around 130 am without any call from Colin, who said he’d ring to pick him up. I called him and he answers with a shouting grumble, “Shit, I almost fell off this push-bike. Dammit, I heard the phone ring and I tried to get my phone then almost fell of this push bike. Who is this?”
“Colin. It’s Sam,” I yell only to enunciate my words not because he can’t hear. “Colin, where are you?”
“I’m biking to Soho to meet you guys.”
“No, no. Colin. Go back to your son-in-laws. We’ll pick you up there.”
“But I’m on this push-bike.”Who would’ve thought I’d be reasoning with a 50 year drunk man riding a bike in New Zealand. We go to pick him up and he’s sloshed. Marianne, goddess that she is, drives the 20 minutes back home as Colin says she’s escargot because of her driving speed. The night capped with him pouncing on Heath and Eric for smoking cigarettes and writing on the wall, “Every muscel has no mussel Jack” and “Democracy is what we think.”
On our day off we went to Rere Rock Slide, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was a hot day and we brought boogie boards to slide down the rock. Eric and I were the first of the group to brave up, but I borrowed a tube because it was a slower and easier ride. It was too slow. I immediately, but hesitantly, slid down again on a boogie board. The water was freezing!
This was a wonderful last weekend at the orchard and summarized the entirety of my experience. A crazy kiwi farmer with a love-hate relationship with his often immature and always youthful and never aging WWOOFers.