A lot of people visit the South Island without spending much time in the North Island. The South Island is arguably the more scenic of the two, with a number of tourist attractions and popular towns that draw larger crowds than those in the North. After a couple of months travelling in the North Island, we thought it was time to compare and contrast the two for ourselves!
Our time in New Zealand was a little longer in duration than anticipated, thanks to a longer stay in Asia and expensive flights to South America. As a result, our budget for six weeks had to make do for four months – although we obviously couldn’t survive by sticking to that budget, we made a fairly successful stab at limiting our expenses by doing HelpX.
HelpX (also known as wwoofing if done on an organic farm) connects travellers with hosts in the country who want help with whatever they need – be it gardening, farming, or help running their business. In exchange, helpers get an insight into life in the host’s country (well, in theory), accommodation and, depending on the number of hours worked per day, their meals.
On January 2nd, after a fun time celebrating the New Year in Wellington, we caught the Bluebridge ferry to Picton, from where we drove to a town called Blenheim. There, we were to spend the week on a fruit farm just outside of town with Jess and Dean. Jess and Dean had a lovely house on a large plot of land and our time there was largely spent gardening and painting the outside of their house.
As we worked for five hours a day, they gave us lots of delicious home-cooked food and we enjoyed learning about their experiences in the Navy and running their own business. During our free hours between lunch and dinner, we visited a number of local wineries including Peter Yealand and Spy Valley. Blenheim is in the Marlborough region, which is especially famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and we were fortunate to sample (and buy) a fair few different bottles!
Next, we headed to the north-west, to Golden Bay. This part of the country was beautiful! It’s home to the Abel Tasman great walk, but a lot of people visit just to relax on the coast. We worked for a week in a campsite in Collingwood; for two hours of work per day we got our own cabin, which was lovely! Our free time in the afternoons meant we could visit local sights, such as the Farwell Spit and Te Waikoropupu springs.
Thus far, we’d tried to commit to only one week in each place but as we headed south, we spent two weeks working in a hostel in Greymouth. This was actually quite hard work but we enjoyed it quite a lot, even though there isn’t that much to do in Greymouth! Our host was a nice guy and I was sad to leave.
Finally, we had a wonderful time helping out at some kennels near Christchurch. Our hostess, Angela, was a truly lovely lady and her dog, Queenie, was a character! Here we helped maintain the grounds and of course, help out with the dogs, which involved lots of walking (and a bit of running!).
All of our experiences were totally different to what we’re used to – normally, sitting behind a desk – and it was really nice to work outdoors for a change. It was also nice to get to know people living and working in NZ and learn about how they made a living. Judging by the number of adverts on the HelpX website, it seems that a lot of people have bought a plot of land with the goal of becoming self-sufficient and living off the land. A lot of these people are also in the middle of nowhere and live quite a simple existence – no phone signal or internet, for a start – and while I must applaud their commitment we tended to steer clear of these! NZ is quite remote enough as it is and when staying with strangers it was quite nice to have the option to be near civilisation. Luckily for us, all of our hosts were lovely and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back to any one of them.
By working as we travelled, we stretched our budget and I would definitely consider doing it a bit closer to home – there are adverts all over the world! One piece of advice I would give for anyone considering HelpX is to read between the lines on the reviews left by other helpers of their experiences with hosts. If you sign up, you have a profile under which you can apply to listings and where hosts can also leave a review of how good a worker you were!
You may find it a little difficult to get started as a new helper, with no reviews, but after one or two stints it should become a lot easier to sign up to jobs. Some hosts advertise weeks in advance, but others may look for helpers at quite short notice – Faye was very organised and managed to book all of ours in advance.
Finally, don’t forget that HelpX is primarily a cultural exchange. If you think you are being exploited for free labour then you can always leave! We always got a bit nervous before starting in each place but I think it’s only natural as you have only a vague idea of what you’ve signed up for. Saying that, we definitely learned a lot and thought it was a great experience!
Have you ever used HelpX? What were your experiences like?