A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Woofing in Hastings then down to Welly!

sunny 22 °C

Our first Woofing placement was on a medium scale organic farm near the centre of Hastings, a small town which resembles some kind of American clone with seemingly endless miles of fast food restaurants, car dealerships and supermarkets. Thankfully the farm we stayed on, Epicurean, had a bit more character and produced an incredible selection of delicious organic salads and vegetables. We turned up and were warmly greeted by Clyde, the owner of the farm and a fountain of knowledge on the ins and outs of organic growing. He showed us to our lodgings; a dank, dusty and very dirty caravan which looked like it hadn't been inhabited for years (i later discovered this to be untrue when mentioning the state of the caravan to another Woofer, 19 year old Toby, who said he had been living in it up until a couple of days previously). We shared our communal living spaces with 8 German gap year students who were also Woofers, so the conversation as you can imagine was pretty riveting.
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Whilst we were there we undertook a number of different tasks including planting seedlings and seeds, weeding, harvesting rosemary and sorrel, and packing and weighing produce in preparation for either the supermarkets or veg box delivery. Mariana and i also did a mammoth clean of the kitchen and bathrooms as the whole place was in a pretty disgusting state.
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We left after 6 days certainly wiser about the processes at work in an organic farm but also feeling slightly like we had just done a placement on a German youth camp.

Our next placement was a 30km cycle south to a farm called Kahikea where we were introduced to the world of permaculture through Jo and Aaron, keen advocates and practitioners of this way of farming. Whilst there are many different definitions of permaculture it essentially integrates a number of different elements of sustainability including organics, working with natures processes rather than trying to exploit it, and also the use of renewable energy and passive building design.
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Again our lodgings were in a caravan but thankfully this time it was much cleaner. Our task for the first three and a half days certainly tested our strength and fitness levels. It consisted of trimming the long grass around each of the 60 or so trees in the orchard, then shovelling a load of horse manure into a wheelbarrow and transporting it to each tree, spreading the manure around the tree and finally covering that in straw (which we also had to wheelbarrow down in scorching 28 degree heat). This was apparently in preparation for the planting of herbs around the trees which aid growth and prevent weeds through natural processes. We completed the task with both a sense of relief and gratification that comes from the end of a hard job well done.
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After a really enjoyable and informative time we headed off on the bikes again on a three day ride to Wellington; the capital of New Zealand. This was supposedly the "ugly" part of NZ but the rolling hills we cycled by staying off the state highway proved very nice indeed.
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On our first day we started late because we were waiting for our solar charger to turn up - we had been promised a 5 day delivery but 12 days later it was still nowhere to be seen so we decided enough was enough and we would try and get it rerouted to Wellington.
After a long day heading towards Dannevirke we still had 20km to go when the heavens opened on the outskirts of a small town in the arse end of nowhere. Suddenly a car came up from behind and started furiously honking their horn at us. As i turned round ready to tell the driver where to go, a lady got out of her car and asked if we were heading to Dannevirke and if we had anywhere to stay. "Yes we were and no we didn't" we responded. The lady then said the rain was going to get heavier and we should come and stay in the campsite she managed for free; nothing like a good bit of NZ hospitality!

We arrived in Masterton after 3 days of cycling under blue sunny skies. For the last 40km, the only road into Wellington to was the very busy State Highway 2 which also required going over a 500m pass with no hard shoulder. After recent news of 5 cyclists killed in 5 days we decided to do the sensible thing and take the train...
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Posted by roblewis 18:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hastings woofing Comments (1)

Gisborne to Napier

semi-overcast 16 °C

Despite an 80 km ride to Gisborne which was the biggest city with more than a small parade of shops since leaving Auckland we were keen to leave pretty much as soon as we'd arrived. Our campsite seemed pleasant enough, or so we thought, as it ended up being the venue of the first theft of the trip - very annoyingly among the stolen items was our solar charger without which all of our electronic gizmos including our GPS can't be charged!

So we left early in the morning under a thundercloud (literally and metaphorically!) heading to Wairoa via Tiniroto road (much better than going on the state highway 2 if anyone is planning cycling this way) This route had virtually no traffic on it but a couple of good climbs - first up to 450 metres, down to about 200 metres and a slow steady climb back to 400 metres and then all down hill pretty much from our lunchstop onwards.

After a night in Wairoa we decided that we were going to 'cheat' for the next leg, heeding the advice of the cyclists we had met on the road. The stretch between Wairoa and Napier is very steep and winds up and down through the hills with very little to no hard shoulder. Logging trucks are plentiful and a particular menace for cyclists so another day off the bike as we hitched a lift by bus.

Napier is definitely our favourite NZ city so far with much more character than the fairly bland americanised cities we have been through so far that are all seemingly designed round cars on one long road where you still need to drive to get anywhere even within the city. Napier is much more contained with more of a buzz to it. There was an earthquake that flattened the city in the 30s - and when it was rebuilt it was designed as an art deco treasure house! While we were in Napier we decided to try out couchsurfing www.couchsurfing.org which is a brilliant way to get to see a city by staying with a local who is prepared to put you up for free on their couch (or in our case a blow up mattress.
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Despite Napier's charm we were keen to move on as following the raging success of our first Woofing experience on Anaura bay we almost immediately decided to sign up to another one between Napier and Hastings. Hastings was only about 30 kms away from Napier so another easy day on the bike for us! We had just entered wine country our trip to the eco farm we were staying at took a bit longer than expected with a number of wine tastings stops on the way before rolling into Epicurian - the eco farm where we would be staying for the next week or so.
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Posted by mrs lewis 19:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Woofing at Anaura Bay

semi-overcast 18 °C

Still no reprieve from the foul weather when we woke up in Ruatoria although at least we didn't have to scurry around putting the tent down in the lashing rain. It was a relatively easy cycling day; about 70 km with one main climb to Te Puia Springs and then pretty much down hill with a few easy climbs the rest of the way save for the steepest climb of the trip right at the end to get to Anaura Bay, 10km off the main road which was so steep that we later discovered it was technically an 'illegal road' because the gradient was too steep - even for cars. It definitely proved too much for us and for the first time in the trip we were forced to push... Physically everything had started to give way after setting what was perhaps in retrospect too punishing a pace for the first two weeks of the trip. With about an hour to go Rob's achilles gave way and could only cycle pushing with his left leg as his right ankle was in agony... About 20 minutes later his left knee started to register its protest. We hobbled our way over the final hurdle to get to Anaura Bay - our first Woofing destination and a perfectly timed stop and break from cycling where we would stay for the next week.

The beach at  Anaura Bay

The beach at Anaura Bay

We signed up to do some Woofing (Working On Organic Farms - not related to seedy carpark activity) before we left the UK to learn a bit more about organic agriculture. We were really keen to Woof on the east cape both to learn about farming but also to experience living with a Maori family. When we arrived it was clear that 'farming' with this particular family was quite loosely defined.... Louia and Scrubbs had been taking in Woofers for almost 20 years in the palatial home with 5 acres of land originally built by missionaries.

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The house and grounds were so large that they really needed ongoing maintenance and that was where we were drafted in - doing anything from chopping wood for the fire, harvesting fruit (just for personal consumption) from the orchard, weeding, mowing etc. Our hosts - Louia and Scrubbs - were far from a 'traditional family' with progressive and alternative views on just about anything. They - and their house - were important pillars in the tiny community of 30 families in the bay with Louia in particular organising loads of community activities to keep the kids active and entertained from surfing to air guitar parties. Louia is Maori and Scrubbs a white kiwi. They also have 2 precocious daughters in their early teens who were worldly wise beyond their years - probably from having travellers from all corners of the earth passing through for as long as they could remember.

So - not quite the farming experience - not the 'traditionally family' experience that we had expected- but we absolutely loved it. There were two other woofers staying at Anaura as well: Dan from Norway and Yuseki from Japan. They had both been there for over a month and we could very quickly see why. Each day we did a few hours work outside in the sunshine punctuated with a bit of surfing (we are both trying to learn and it seemed like the ideal opportunity with free boards and wetsuits) and then fantastic food from the bay in the evening. Rob felt compelled to impart his fresh pasta recipe to the east cape so managed to sneak cooking into his work timetable.

Rob's first time surfing

Rob's first time surfing


pasta making at Anaura Bay

pasta making at Anaura Bay

We also filled our time fishing for tua tua (a bit like clams), sea snail, urchins and paua (sea slug) before hauling our catch back to the kitchen to see it on the table within a few hours. There was something calming and enchanting about Anaura Bay and the week we spent there, having originally only planned to stay for 3-4 days.

Neither of us have ever met a family or experienced a lifestyle quite like it and it also felt - three weeks in that we were 'travelling' rather than just on holiday... But the bikes were beckoning so feeling very well rested, and exceptionally well fed and watered we headed off on the bikes aiming to get down to Gisborne in a day (about 80 km) - marking the end of the east cape section of the trip.

Posted by mrs lewis 22:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Opotiki and beyond

wind, hills and magpies

all seasons in one day 15 °C

One of the few things that was certain at the start of this trip was that we would be cycling round the east cape. Every time we mentioned this to anyone we could find to bore about our cycling plans it was unequivocally met with cries of how spectacular everything beyond Opotiki is - and how perfect it is for cyclists: rugged and wild with hidden rocky coves and plunge pools, white sandy beaches that go on for kilometres in areas completely unpopulated by people. We were chomping at the bit to leave Whakatane after our day off the bikes and head into the Maori heartland.

Our first couple of days certainly didn't disappoint. The weather was perfect as we picked our way through settlements that were fewer and further between with scenery that was unspeakably beautiful. As the villages were quite spaced out - many without shops, cafes or any other sources of food we had to ration the number of times we could stop to admire the view to make sure it didn't get to lunchtime with 30km to the next place selling a snickers bar (Rob's new favourite... he has become a sugar junkie, eating the equivalent of about 6 full meals a day and is still losing weight!)
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On our third day in the east cape we felt the full wrath of New Zealand's greatest weapon against the unprepared cyclist: the Southerly. Cold and gusting at between 30-50km per hour straight at us it was absolutely punishing and unrelenting. We woke up in Te Aroroa to lashing rain and we ummed and ahhed for a couple of hours before finally setting off on the road. Both wind and rain were unrelenting so sadly unable to report much on the beauty of the coastline between Te Aroroa and Ruatoria and all energy was expended trying to avoid being blown off the bikes grimacing through the rain. One of the highlights of the east cape cycling was inadvertently becoming part of a cycling touring posse. We met a lovely Canadian couple - Fred and Sarah - doing a similar cycling route to us and a French couple - Tomas and Aurelie - who put our cycling feats in the shade: they are travelling with their 1 1/2 year old daughter who is being pulled in a buggy behind the bike. All their additional paraphenalia adds a cool 50 kgs to the weight that they have to carry up hills. As there were so few campsites to stay at throughout the east cape we invariably ended up together and did quite a lot of the trip in convoy. We must have been quite a sight with our neon raincoats flapping in the wind with faces like pinched lemons facing the elements!
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To add insult to (almost) injury Rob experienced first hand what we thought to be a cyclist myth - the dive-bombing magpie. We had heard from another english cyclist that magpies have a bit of an axe to grind with cyclists as they are very territorial and particularly when they are nesting they will go for the back of cyclists' helmets (they always attack from behind and from a great height). Luckily the wind was howling and whistling so loudly he didn't see or hear it going for him - or hear me screaming in panic- as he was hurtling downhill. Luckily Rob's speedy cycling more or less eluded the magpie and we have been told that the solution to cyclist-preying magpies is to paint eyes on the back of our helmets.

By the time we got to Ruatoria we were battleweary and beaten by the weather. We had planned to try and get to Tokomaru - another 40km down the coast (over a big hill). We had only cycled about 50 km but we were absolutely exhausted - not helped by having to pedal hard to get down the hills in the wind as well as up them. We were standing forlornly in the rain with Fred and Sarah when a Maori lady ran over to us to ask if we knew where Tomas and Aurelie were as they had arranged to stay with their family through a friend of a friend. Seeing us all looking like drowned rats she extended the invite unleashing a cyclist invasion in her house and exposing us to the most amazing hospitality in this small Maori community.

Posted by mrs lewis 00:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Tauranga and a trip to NZ's only active marine volcano

sunny 19 °C

After an epic day cycling into Tauranga we treated ourselves to a hostel room and a slap up meal (at a Turkish restaurant so it was just like being back in Newington Green). The next day we stuffed ourselves with fantastic and cheap sushi before heading over to Mount Manganui where we relaxed on the beach before soaking our aching muscles in the thermal pools at the base of this beautiful landmark. We cycled back to the hostel along the peninsular with a beautiful sunset forming in the backdrop.

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The next day we headed off to Whakatane (Wh pronounced 'F"!) over flat terrain but a stiff head wind made the task more difficult. Mariana was not put off by this and set a blistering pace for most of the day so I did the prudent thing and tucked in behind her avoiding the worst of it. That evening we set up camp in a pleasant site overlooking the river.

About an hour and a half from the mainland lies New Zealand's only active marine volcano named White Island. We decided it was an opportunity not to be missed and set off on a guided tour of the island. As we approached large plumes of smoke billowed out from the summit and when we were equipped with gas masks and hard hats we knew we were in for a exciting time; we were not disappointed. Arriving on white island is like landing on Mars; yellow sulphurous rocks, ferociously steaming vents of gas and belching, bubbling pools of mud lay all around us. We precariously made our way across the island closely following our guide to prevent having a misplaced foot burned off. At the centre of the island lay a huge lake of highly acidic water, like something from a batman movie. It was incredible to think that several mining operations had been set up here in an attempt to extract the sulphur with the miners actually living on the island. Unsurprisingly all had been unsuccessful and many miners had died in the process, such were the difficulty of the working conditions.

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The following day we set off for the East Cape, supposedly one of the worlds great coastal cycle routes and the Maori heartland of New Zealand.

Posted by roblewis 22:55 Archived in New Zealand Tagged volcano white island tauranga manganui Comments (0)

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