Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Just a quick post wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and wonderful 2010. No pictures for this post as we're using an Internet terminal at the New Zealand Alpine Club and there's no wireless to upload our pictures from our laptop.

Although we had the option of WWOOFing over New Year's we decided instead to spend it at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We spent New Year's Eve at the Glencoe Lodge, one of the lodges in the park. We didn't realize it had a Scottish theme until at New Year's there was a big speech by a guy in a kilt with a sword (his combination of Scottish and New Zealand English was completely unintelligible) and then a rendition of Auld Lang Syne set to bagpipes. Then it was back to our dorms for the night!

We're headed towards Queenstown and Milford Sound today. The beauty of the South Island is amazing. The weather has been pretty good actually. The West Coast was raining (sounds familiar :-) but once we crossed over into the Eastern side it's been sunny and nice. Super windy, but we were able to do a nice hike yesterday up to the Sealy Tarns and across a suspension bridge above a glacial river. Oh, and caves! We did a river walk through a cave that took us 45 minutes! There was no natural light so we used our headlamps to navigate up and over boulders and through waterfalls. We'll post a full report with pictures soon!

Have a safe and happy New Year's!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Where do we start?

First of all, apologies to our families for not contacting anyone over Christmas. We are safe and had a fine, albeit interesting Christmas weekend. The reason for the silence was that we were WWOOFing out in the country where our cell phone didn't work, the Internet was dial-up that was ridiculously slow even for dial-up, and although we could have used the phone (and should have!) we were kind of scared to ask our hosts...let's back up a bit to explain.

We arranged to WWOOF at a pizza cafe and bar in Westport, on the West Coast of the South Island. Little did we know when we signed up that it would be so isolated and that it would be run like an East German compound. Petra and Jack, the German owners were quite stern and even though their English was pretty good they were somewhat uncommunicative and we were often unsure where we stood with what we were doing.

We're pretty sure we would have left much earlier if we'd had our own car. We felt trapped without a car, but even if we'd gotten away we were unsure where'd we go during the Holidays on such short notice. The West Coast is very rural and we knew from looking at the bus schedule before that it ran very infrequently, especially during the holidays.

We were going to title this post "WWOOFing in Hell", but that would only be true if Hell had good food (and beer). Our first in indication of how the place was run was when Jack picked us up at the bus stop (a gas station) and we went immediately to the grocery store to stock up the bar.

I was pushing the above cart around, trying to be polite to the stares. "Yep, just getting ready for Christmas", I told other shoppers. And this was just the grocery store (and the beer cart - Jaimee was pushing the wine cart), we next went to Liquor Land to get even more beer and hard liquor.

Then when we chatted with him about our other WWOOFing experiences and we mentioned "four hours of work a day" he said, "Oh, that is just a recommendation." As it turned out they pretty much expected us to work all day doing outdoor stuff, then help in the kitchen in the evening. But they never really said that so we weren't sure. One day we did only work four hours but got a really chilly reception that evening.

It was a weird place. Not just the East German vibe (they actually had a friend who was doing some carpentry work for them who had spent some time in an East German prison for trying to escape to West Berlin 25 years ago) but also their favortism for this French WWOOFer who was some sort of permanent unpaid employee. She was weird too - she drank tea in the morning out of a soup bowl and could hardly speak English but was the only one allowed to wait on customers (I got lectured once for serving two guys drinks at the bar, even though I charged them and put the money in the till). And don't get us started about the espresso machine (which I was yelled at for trying to use), or calling Jaimee "bloody stupid" for catching a mouse in the dining room during the dinner rush but releasing it instead of stomping on it to kill it (she actually got a round of applause from the dinner patrons for catching it).

Also, the accomodations were quite rustic. Here's Jaimee posing in the outdoor shower:

And, to top it all off, the police came looking for us! We were working in the kitchen and I noticed that a police car drove up. Petra went out to see what he wanted, and then came in to get me. I thought maybe she needed someone who spoke better English, but it turned out he was looking for me and Jaimee! When we hadn't contacted Jaimee's Mom and Aunt over Christmas they got worried, and using our last GPS coordinates from our Spot page they called the Westport police to have them check on us. Luckily we were right where our Spot said we'd be. We then snuck away to call Jaimee's family and told them we'd be more diligent about checking in either with Spot or via e-mail. Our habit had been to check in with Spot only when we changed locations but we'll try and do it more frequently so no one worries...

However, our stay at Jack's wasn't all bad - as mentioned, the food was very, very good. Petra made excellent fresh bread nearly every day, the pizza was yummy, and usually they would offer us beer (except for the day we only worked four hours - No beer for you!) Also, we did meet a lot of interesting local characters, and walked to the beach and chatted with some gold miners we met there:

But, we've moved on now. We got a lift into Westport today (Jack needed to buy more beer), and even though it's "Boxing Day Observed" we were able to rent a car (we had to call them and they opened up especially for us and rented us the last car they had). We're going to explore the West Coast on our own for the next week or so. Prior to going to Jack's we had tentatively lined up another WWOOFing gig for New Year's weekend but we'll have to decide if we want to do it now or not...WWOOFing does save us money (we spent zero dollars during the past week), and when it's good, it can be very good. We got a super nice e-mail from Craig, our last WWOOFing host and it cheered us up to know that we'd made a good friend. But, as we've experienced, when it's bad, it can also be quite bad...

Here are the pictures from our stay:

WWOOFing at Jacks

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Note about Christmas Gifts

Not that we are seeking out Christmas gifts, but some have been asking what we'd like for Christmas this year. It's a cliche to say that this trip is gift enough but it's true. We're having the time of our life and are not in want for anything else.

But if someone really wanted to get us something we decided we'd love gift certificates. Jaimee and I are both big readers so we can use the gift certificates to buy books during our trip.

How will we order books from during our trip? Well, before we left we bought a Kindle from The Kindle is Amazon's electronic book reader. I was intrigued with the device when it first came out, but never considered getting one because we are both huge library users and would usually read most of our books from the terrific Seattle Public Library. However we didn't want to carry a lot of books on our trip and days before we left the US Amazon released a new version of the Kindle that works on the cellular network of over 25 countries. What makes the Kindle unique is that you can order and download books without using a computer. You connect via cellular reception and the book is downloaded directly to your device (or you can connect the device if you don't have cell coverage). The Kindle has been great. Jaimee and I have both now read several books on it.

I especially love how you can download samples - often when I have free time I'll browse and download samples of all sorts of books.

Anyway, if you'd like to contribute to our reading pleasure, click here. (Use our joint e-mail as the recipient address.) The only thing we'd ask is that you also give us a book recommendation to go along with it. (You don't have to give us a gift certificate - feel free to leave book recommendations in the comments too - we're always eager for new reading ideas.)

Speaking of reading, we've been very busy on our trip so haven't had as much time to read as I thought we might (isn't that always the case?) but for those that are interested, here are the books that we've read on our trip so far since we left Seattle on August 15:

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3), by Philip Pullman. The last of the series, the first two being The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. We listened to this on CD during our US road-trip. The series is a great audio choice; it's unabridged but it uses a full cast of actors for the different voices. We read (listened) to this series when we were looking for something new after reading all the Harry Potter books.

Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World, by Tyler Cowen one of the main bloggers at Not what I thought it would be at all and very hard to encapsulate. He combines autism, computers, economics, religion and politics together in unexpected ways. Recommended, but I'd understand if you couldn't get through it.

The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Another audio book that we listened to while in the US. The author of one of my favorite books of all time (The Shadow of the Wind) returns with another mesmerizing tale. Highly recommended. We were sad when the book ended.

Driving Like Crazy, by P.J. O'Rourke. Subtitled, "Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending Celebrating America the Way Its Supposed to BeWith an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn" it's a collection of essays O'Rourke wrote about cars. He reads the audio version himself. Several of his stories involves taking road trips and at one point when we were listening to the book in Arizona, he was relating a story that took place only a few miles from where we were.

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. I'd wanted to read this since I first visited Moab, Utah and saw the beautiful scenery in the Utah desert which is where this memoir/long essay takes place. It's now one of my favorite books and I would definitely consider reading it again.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, by T.R. Reid. The first book I read on the Kindle, it's about a man who goes around the world searching for a solution to a shoulder problem he's having. Along the way he discusses the different ways countries handle health care. I enjoyed it quite a bit, although it gets somewhat repetitive in that every new country presents another opportunity for him to bash the way the USA handles health care (not that it's undeserved, but I didn't need a recap every 25 pages or so).

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer. Another Kindle book that Jaimee and I both read. You can't go wrong with Jon Krakauer; I've read everything he's written and enjoyed them all. Pat Tillman was the NFL football player who enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Thanks for the Memories, by Cecelia Ahem. We found this book at the first place we were WWOOFing in New Zealand. Irish author, set in Ireland and London about an American professor. Supposedly it's Chic Lit but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1), by Stephenie Meyer. Speaking of Chic Lit. What can I say? I downloaded the sample chapter (it's a generous sample so I think it included about three or four chapters) to the Kindle and told myself I would only read it if I liked it. Forks, Washington plays a large role in the book and having been there several times it was fun to visualize the locations (which were pretty accurate). The teenage romance stuff? A bit much at times.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education, by Craig Mullaney. This is a memoir about a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar who served in Afghansistan. I got this once from the library but didn't get to finish it before having to return it. Jaimee and I are both read it on the Kindle.

Pomegranate Soup, by Marsha Mehran. I picked this off the shelf at the WWOOFing place we're currently staying at. It's a novel set in 1984 Ireland involving three Iranian sisters who open a restaurant in a small Irish town. Each chapter begins with a recipe that is central to the upcoming chapter.

And I'm currently reading:

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Paul Horwitz. I browsed through this book at a book store a long time ago and always wanted to read it. Now, after visiting a few of the places that Cook went in Australia and New Zealand I thought it would be fun to read about his journey. Although the Kindle does display pictures (and you can rotate to landscape for easier viewing) it does need some work on image viewing. I miss seeing a larger map of Cook's travels which I remember was on the inside cover of the paper version.

Jaimee has read the following books not mentioned above:

Strip Jack and Black and Blue by Ian Rankin.

Casino Royale and From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming.

New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2), by Stephenie Meyer. We borrowed this from Galit in Brisbane (and we're carting it around until I finish it and then return it to her.)

The Shark Net, by Robert Drewe. Jaimee found this where we WWOOFed. It's about a serial killer in Perth, Australia.

And she's currently reading Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) on the Kindle right now (literally right now).

A weekend away

After getting a ride into Auckland with our last WWOOFer's neighbor, we spent a night in Auckland at a hostel before catching a 12 hour bus ride to the south of the North Island. The ride went through some beautiful scenery but because we kept getting behind schedule we didn't get to stop at any one place for very long, and the one time we did stop for any duration, we got out to stretch our legs and got back on the bus to find our seat was now occupied by a quite large woman and her daughter. We explained that she was in our seats (even showing her our water bottles that we left in the mesh net on the back of the seats) but she didn't care. So...we had to ride the last eight hours not next to each other and not by the window. (The bus was a double-decker and our original seats were on the top by the window.) It was a little bit annoying, but such is life with long-distance bus rides. At least I loaded up the iPod with my favorite podcasts before leaving (although I'm not sure listening to five hours of podcasts about the financial crisis helped my mood much...) Jaimee entertained herself by reading three-quarters of a real page-turner.

In any event we arrived in Wellington, had a quick beer at the pub in the train/bus station (we needed it!) and caught the train out to the town of Upper Hutt to meet Brian, the Harley Davidson-riding kiwi who Jaimee's aunt and mom met last August when he was cruising through Idaho.

Brian is a awesome, although not exactly your stereo-type New Zealander. About the only thing typical is his business - he runs a fencing company, which I assumed meant farm fencing for the numerous farms around New Zealand. But, no, he said he does mostly commercial jobs that require tall barbed wire fences, like prisons. He also rides Harleys (he leaves one in Montana for his frequent visits there) and collects muscle cars (there were three Cameros, two Mustangs, a couple of Ford pickups and a Corvette, among other cars I couldn't identify in his garage). He fixes them up (even converting the driving side in some cases) and re-sells them. Who knew there was a market for 1980s Corvettes in New Zealand (or that there were so many prisons that needed fencing)?

Brian lives above his garage/work shop, which is decorated quite interestingly. Here I am working on the blog:

But we didn't stay here long. In the morning we went out to his land (he owns about 700 acres which he's subdivided and hopes to develop). Continuing with the WWOOFing theme, we helped him replant a tree, although if this was a real WWOOF situation we would have dug the hole by hand. Instead we used Brian's tractor:

After this task (and a cup of tea, of course) we drove a couple hours up the coast to his bach (pronounced batch) which as mentioned previously is like a small cabin or weekend home. His bach was a bit rustic, but the setting was phenomenal, literally across the street from the beach. The weather was a bit blustery for a swim, but we enjoyed walking along the water and playing with his three dogs by the beach. We also drove out along a beach road to a light house and seal colony.

We also got to do some work on the grounds (mowing and cleaning up). Once we tell people about WWOOFing I think they think it means that we want to work. We didn't mind, although the grass was pretty unruly and long and the mower kept stalling out by choking on the grass.

Now we're back at the workshop, but leave early in the morning to take a train back to Wellington, a ferry across to the South Island and then a bus to the town of Nelson. We'll check out Nelson (it's supposedly the sunniest place in New Zealand) before heading to our WWOOFing hosts in Westport on Tuesday.

Here are all the pictures (don't miss the one with the American Flag!):

A Bach Weekend

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Almost like leaving home again

We've had such a nice time WWOOFing here in Mangawhai that it's hard for us to leave. Although our hosts Craig and Jeanette welcomed us to stay through the Holidays with them, we've decided that as tempting as the offer is, we've got more things to see so we're heading south tomorrow morning.

We had a lot of fun here. The work wasn't too bad, and we got to see some beautiful areas of the coast. We went on a cliff walk in Mangawhai, part of Te Araroa - a 3,000 km long trail that covers the length of New Zealand. The entire thing isn't open yet, but the section we hiked was beautiful.

Only the cliff part is part of the trail but we made a loop of it by hiking along the cliffs and back along the beach, stopping for this picture along the way:

Craig's neighbor is giving us a ride to Auckland in the morning (he has to go there for business anyway) and then Friday morning we're taking a bus to Wellington, the southern point of the North Island. There we're meeting up with Brian, an acquaintance of Jaimee's mom and aunt in Idaho. (He travels to the states each year to attend the Sturgis Motorcyle Rally, riding through Idaho which is where they met him.)

Brian invited us to spend the weekend at his "bach" somewhere on the coast near Wellington. Then early next week we've lined up another WWOOFing gig on the South Island coast near Westport. It's been hard to coordinate WWOOFing around the Holidays as New Zealanders travel extensively during the Holiday period; the entire country is essentially on vacation. In fact, commercial trucks are not allowed on coastal roads from this Monday through New Year's weekend.

But our next WWOOF place is a farm/hotel/pizza restaurant so they are open and busy during the holidays. Not sure what we'll be doing but they want us to show up next Tuesday.

So, we're on the move again; it will be good to travel again after being here for over a week...

The pictures of our WWOOF stay are here:

WWOOFing in Mangawhai

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Making ourselves at home

As we said at the end of our last post, we are doing our second WWOOF gig and so far it's going great! Our host, Craig told us "to make ourselves at home" and we've had no problem doing that. Especially since our schedule is to work one full day (which we spent weeding the decorative garden along the driveway) and then one day off, the morning which we spent out fishing with Craig and his friend Gibby. We had to get up at 5AM but it was super beautiful out on the water at that time of morning.

Craig is a great guy - he looks like John Goodman and acts like he's from Texas. He's a libertarian organic farmer. In other words, he loves to recycle and compost but doesn't want anyone to force him to do it. He also hates Al Gore, Michael Moore and doesn't know what to think of Obama yet. He's the first New Zealander we've met so far that likes Americans (compared to Australians who generally like Americans). This is especially in contrast to our last WWOOF hosts who didn't really hide their animosity to America. In fact from 2001 to 2003 they refused to host American WWOOFers because of what George Bush was doing.

But, enough politics...let's talk fishing. Today Craig took us out in his boat to the bay nearby to literally fish for our dinner. We've been having fish every night so far, and since his stock was running low we went fishing (you don't need a fishing license, he pointed out). I hadn't fished since I was a kid and Jaimee hadn't fished since she was 18. It was surprisingly easy - we used poles with three hooks each and we just dropped the lines to the bottom and waited for the fish to bite. I reeled in this Snapper (which goes for $30/kg in the store):

We definitely have enough fish for the rest of our stay here (which will probably be through the weekend or Monday).

The weather has been outstanding too - mid 70s with a slight breeze. Jaimee got a slight sunburn while working outside and my allergies have been pretty bad, but otherwise we're safe and sound and really enjoying ourselves.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A lightning tour of Northern New Zealand

As mentioned previously, we rented a car for a few days to go on a tour of the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand. We didn't really know where we were going except that we were expected back at our next WWOOF hosts by Monday evening.

We rented a car in Warkworth from the chattiest rental person ever - he told us that the USA used to drive on the "correct" side of the road until Henry Ford for some reason put steering wheels on the left-hand side of the car. He also insisted on going over all of New Zealand traffic laws before letting us part with his Toyota Starlet (we learned that you can only get a Starlet if you import it specially to New Zealand) rental, as seen here by a bush along the ocean:

As it turned out we ended up driving 850 km (530 miles) all the way to the tip of New Zealand and back. We used our Spot device to check-in at various points of interest and I created a map with some of the photos geo-tagged to where we took them here.

We actually had great weather for this trip - lots of sun with clouds scattered around but no rain. Northern New Zealand is beautiful. It's super rural with lots of little towns and beaches around every corner. It reminded us of Whidbey Island in Washington.

Here's the link to the full album of our trip:

Northland Whirlwind

We are now in Mangawhai Heads for another WWOOF stint. It's a beautiful setting - olive groves and a small farm amongst rolling hills. There's also a swimming pool and hot tub. I'm not sure what the work will be like though as our host asked us if we'd "done much concrete work before." I guess "organic farming" can take many shapes around here. And he drank a low-carb beer before jumping in the pool to get his exercise. We should be in for an interesting time...

Friday, December 4, 2009

On the road, briefly

We've finished our first WWOOF "job" and have lined up another one that starts Monday night. Until then we've rented a car to explore the Northland region of New Zealand's North Island.

The weather the last few days has been quite rainy - one storm dropped almost 4 1/2 inches in about 12 hours. Luckily our hosts found us indoor work: Jaimee cleaned and sterilized new vinegar bottles and Asa cleaned old olive oil bottles in preparation for a new batch.

We also were there for the last sheep birth: it was a set of boy and girl twins.

Here's the link to all the photos from our stay at Puriri Flat.

WWOOFing in Warkworth
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