A few weeks ago Chris and I had just finished our second season working at Cardrona Alpine Resort. After being in the the same place for over three months we were both pretty eager to get back into the car and do some travelling again. Also the thought of being unemployed for a while was very appealing.
Our first stop was the Wildside Backpackers in Hari Hari on the South Island’s West Coast. We weren’t going there as guests, but instead as WWOOFERS. This would be our first WWOOFing experience.
We arrived at the Wildside to be greeted by Dan, a friendly guy sporting a long beard and mullet. He directed us past his house and into his work shed instead. It’s hard to imagine what this place is like. It was full of all kinds of tools, machinery, wood work, metal work, three motorbikes, a pool table and a large newly varnished table. Dan cracked open a few beers and started talking, pointing out his various projects around the room, along with the table he’d made that was going to sell for $2,000. “She’s a good life,” he’d keep saying, “she’s a hard life but a good life.”
It wasn’t long until he took us in for some dinner, and it soon became apparent that dinner would be one of the best parts about WWOOFing at the Wildside. All the meat Dan set on our plates was hunted or butchered by himself and often on the menu was deer or goat. As for veg, where possible it’s fresh from the garden.
Later that night Dan’s wife, Kath, got home. She’d been at the hospital all night with the kids, Shea, 6, and Dylan, 4, as Shea had sprained her ankle jumping on the trampoline. Kath seemed tired from the ordeal and Shea was in no mood for meeting new WWOOFERS, so we helped clean up and then said our good nights.
Next day Dan gave us a tour of his property. It’s no longer a backpackers but they do rent out two properties. The teapot cottage, where Chris and I got to sleep, and the Lodge, which has no electricity and is solely made from recycled materials. Just shows you what you can do with some old stuff! He also has a pretty impressive garden where he grows a variety of veg including parsnips, spuds, beetroot and rhubarb.
Over the next few days we got stuck in helping Dan and Kath with different jobs. We helped in the garden planting runner beans and covering planted potatoes with silage. As I grabbed handfuls of silage and threw them over the spuds I felt a bit nauseous imagining what was in it. When I dug my hands in I could feel the heat coming from the silage and see the steam escaping into the air. I finally asked, “Em Dan…. is there shit in this?” He just laughed and said, “No no, just rotting grass, that’s all.” I was relieved to say the least. Some of the jobs were educational and interesting and didn’t even feel like ‘work’. We made rhubarb wine and then learnt how to distill alcohol. Of course we then had to test the alcohol, which once watered down to 40% and mixed with sprite was pretty good and effective.
When we weren’t helping Dan and Kath we were playing with Shea and Dylan. These two awesome kids are homeschooled. Their parents want to ‘keep them out of the system’ and educate them as they see best. Kath likes the idea of the Rudolf Steiner philosophy, where kids are allowed to be more free and make their own choices. For instance, she thinks a child should learn when they are in the right frame of mind rather than have it forced on them. I’m not sure if I was completely on the same page as them when it came to homeschooling but it made for a good discussion.
When I spent my first winter in New Zealand I was shocked to find that the majority of homes have no central heating. Instead, a lot of homes have log burners to give them warmth, and Dan and Kath are no exception. But where you or I would call up the local firewood guy for supplies, Dan takes a drive down to the beach and gathers firewood himself. This sounds relatively easy but after spending about four hours with him laboriously chopping wood into little pieces I can assure you it’s not!
We set off in a 4WD ute driving along a narrow unsealed road through the forest. The track took us through rivers and over obstacles such as fallen trees. We finally emerged out onto a long isolated beach, it’s shores littered with drift wood. Dan set off checking the large trees and branches, pointing to the ones that were suitable. The first step was to get the wood down to a chop able size. Dan took a chainsaw and made quick work of one large tree, separating it into five large pieces. The pieces still appeared pretty big, but Dan seemed happy enough, and with that he handed Chris an axe and told him to get to work.
For the next few hours we chopped the wood and then carried it piece by piece to the ute where it had to be stacked firmly and neatly. Every time I thought we’d finished Dan would go to another tree with his chainsaw and prepare more wood to chop. Chris and I kept glancing at each other. How an earth is all this wood going to fit onto the ute we thought! By the end the wood was piled up high and the ute seemed to have sunken down. “Are you going to tie the wood down with something?” I asked Dan. “No,” he laughed, “If we’ve stacked the wood correctly we shouldn’t lose a single bit.”
After several attempts sliding around in the sand we made it off the beach. It was a slow bumpy drive through the forest, followed by a 5okm/hr drive along the highway, but we made it without losing a single bit. Another few months firewood for the family.
For a first time WWOOFing experience I don’t think we could’ve chosen better hosts. We learnt so many new skills, had new experiences, and shared different ideas. Thanks Dan and Kath.