Our Hot Rod

We are in the midst of a transition, from Waiheke Island (A), through Auckland, to Coromandel (B) for a few days, Martinborough for a week (C) and ultimately down to Canterbury (D) on the South Island by the end of the month. We need a vehicle to make this transition and continue on with our travels. It is time.

On Sunday we attended the Auckland Car Fair, held at the Ellerslie Racetrack outside of Auckland. We have known about the car fair for awhile, but were hoping to buy a van through word of mouth. We tried that, but it didn’t work. Time to turn to the professionals.  (Professional used car salesmen? Mechanics? Scam artists?)

We got off the train with the rest of the tourists and traveled in a herd of languages: Japanese, German, Spanish, to the racetrack. Lost tourists trying to navigate their way may sound different in each language, but looks exactly the same: swiveling heads, scouring the streets for clues and signs. My instinct was to walk faster and beat the pack, but I am nursing a stubbed toe and had to accept that we were not going to be the first ones in. Dammit. I like being first. (Oh, hello little New Yorker tendency.)

We headed to the camper van row and started sizing up the cars, none of which I had heard of before. Toyota Estima? Hiace? Nissan Largo? A middle eastern guy had gutted his dented 1990 Toyota Estima taxi cab, complete with cigarette stank and stained seats, but was only asking $2,700. There was the 1985 Toyota Hiace with 300,000 km on it and completely gutted of everything except the two front seats that was going for $7,000. Then there was the dready guy and his gal pal who were lounging in tailgate chairs in front of their lifted, purple, 1999 Toyota Hiace with a bed, kitchen, and collapsable table inside. Too bad they were asking $9,500.

It seemed as if everything was either too expensive, too old, too many miles, expired this, broken that, too ugly, too small, too big, too whatever. We spent the rest of the day calling individual sellers, other car dealers, and mechanics.  Twice we thought we found something, but after the pre purchase inspection, were told to stay far, far away from the vehicle. We across town and back again to look at vehicles, which by the end of the day, all looked about the same. After the fair had shut down and we were waiting on another van to arrive, the fair mechanics offered us a mid day Heineken, which was much needed and took the edge off before we geared up for another round of “How tall are the tales you’re telling me?”

In the end, we found a car that passed inspection. It is a red, 1992 Nissan Serena, which I dismissed it at first because the interior is ugly as sin (think frayed, beige poly-rayon curtains, with a possibly used mattress covered in primary colored geometric print fabric in the back) Thank god that Zach can see beyond that stuff. There will be a funeral pyre as soon as I can find some cheap material to redecorate with. It has a good engine, good cooling system, new tires, brakes work, whatever. That’s the important stuff. And that the search is over. Now off to explore!

Home sweet home


A Day in the Life: Uma Rapiti (sounds like rapidly)

Does your toilet have a stained glass window?

Zach and I are still on Waiheke Island, but have moved to Uma Rapiti, a permaculture lifestyle block on the other/windy/fancy side of the Island. The people who own the property are only here part time and have hired farm managers to run the farm and educate volunteers about permaculture and sustainable living. There is a young orchard, a few garden beds, a green house, an outdoor clay oven, and endless experiments and projects going on. This place rules.

We are here for three weeks, but I feel like I could stay for eight or sixteen easily. Right now there are just four of us here: me and Zach and Elizabeth and Chad, the two farm managers.  We stay in a sleepout, a simple one room structure, and cook in an open air pavilion on a camp stove. We poo in a composting toilet and the shower is outside and solar powered. The only time I have spent inside this week (other than sleeping) is when I’m skyping or blogging in the toolshed, which is the only place that we get good internet reception.

Our first day started with us planting olive trees, but plans changed as black clouds rolled in from over Auckland and the rain started “pissing sideways.” We ran for cover and spent the remainder of the day doing quick jobs in between the rain. About halfway through that first day, while painting signs to label the trees in the orchard, I realized that I had used my sense of smell way more than usual, to navigate this new place and new practices. So, I’m going to lead you through A Day in the Life via the things I smelled.

This stuff may have been kicking around since I was in second grade, but it tastes good nonetheless!

7:30 am: Milo malt beverage. Chad suggested mixing instant coffee with said Milo Malt beverage. Malt beverage to me means Colt 45, but this stuff looks like Ovalitne. I pried the paint can style lid off and took a whiff to find out. Smelled like chalk. Tastes like a less chocolatey Ovaltine, but masks the instant coffee taste, so I continue to drink it every morning.

9:00 am: Compost/Potting soil mixture. While planting olive trees, Zach asked if the compost/potting soil mixture was from the compost on the farm. Chad replied by scooping a handful and sniffing it. Nope, store-bought. We both took a whiff to get a sense of what he was talking about. Smelled charcoley. And like dirt.

Compost. Pretty crazy that that used to be food.

11:00 am: Plum tree blossom. I was taking inventory of what was in the orchard and which plants needed to be marked. The delicate, sweet scent of the tiny, white plum blossoms caught me by surprise as I walked past. It is like what every plum scented air freshener or candle tries to be, but none has ever achieved.

3:00 pm: Fresh baked bread in the bread maker. Need I say more? While there is no oven here, there is a toaster oven and a bread maker. Om nom.

3:30 pm: Sawdust. I got a flashback to being in the backyard in Roger’s Forge, Dad in the garage with the O’s game on the radio, the scent of sawdust wafting from the open garage door. This time though, it was Zach cutting fence posts for a fence surrounding the garden beds. This was the moment that I realized it had been a very smelly day. I was painting at the moment and sniffed the yellow paint that I was using to paint signs. For the record: it didn’t smell like anything.

5:30 pm: Ginger. As the sun goes down, the temperature drops to really cold. I put on all of the shirts that I brought and made myself a cup of hot water with ginger, pear, honey and thyme and snuggled up with the book I’m currently reading, Mastering the Art of Self Sufficiency in New Zealand. P.S. This book is hilarious, informative, and makes me think I could pull off being a farmer.

6:00 pm: Garlic. In a pan. We’ve all smelled it before, yet it never gets old. This was the beginning of a delicious parsnip soup.

7:00 pm: Campfire. Where we devoured the aforementioned parsnip soup and fresh baked bread.

9:00 pm: Bed. Bed doesn’t actually smell like anything, but I felt it is a more appropriate place to end than the campfire.


A Day in the Life: Waiheke Eco-Lodge

The Eco-Lodge

As you may know, we’ve thrown off the shackles of our former life for a simpler existence trading work for room and board in New Zealand.  Sounds nice, right? But what does that mean, practically? How do we spend the hours between sunrise and sunset?  If you’re wondering how we go about our daily lives as WWOOFers, this is the post for you. I present a new series here, called “A Day in the Life.”  As we move from place to place – roughly every two weeks for up to two years – we’ll document an average day to give you a better idea of what it’s like to do this.  First, a bit about our surroundings.

Waiheke Island is a 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland, which is the most populous city in New Zealand and main entry/exit for international travelers. Locals tell me the island was settled by farmers seeking a self-sustaining, utopian ideal.  Some of the crunchy flavor still exists, but is increasingly being pushed out by the rich. Satellite images show opulent homes with helicopter pads adjacent to old farmhouses.  On summer weekends, the island fills with tourists from the city seeking refuge.  Imagine Martha’s Vineyard in a jungle, and you’ve got Waiheke.

We’re working for Sue and Dave, the owners and operators of the Crescent Valley Eco-Lodge.  The Eco-Lodge is a small, secluded bed and breakfast in a less-traveled part of the island that offers guests rest and relaxation in an earth-friendly environment. They compost extensively, use a rainwater collection system, and grow a lot of their own food. As a personal testament to their methods, in a week here we’ve produced about ten small pieces of actual trash – far less than a full bag – and nearly all empty Tim-Tam wrappers. Yes, in one week we’ve developed a crippling chocolate biscuit addiction. I’m not ashamed.

In exchange for a few hours of work per day Dave and Sue provide us with a simple cabin, breakfast, and lunch. A average day goes something like this:

We wake up between 7:30 and 8:30am; no alarm is necessary because our small outbuilding doesn’t have a toilet. I like to think of it as getting up “naturally.” The mornings are a bit chilly here, so we get bundled up in our fleece and long-underwear and walk a few feet down the hill to the lodge, where Sue has already set out our breakfast.  It varies day-to-day (awesomely), so one day may be muesli and yogurt and the next eggs and bacon.  I love the surprise. We eat a leisurely breakfast in the dining room of the lodge while reading, writing blog posts, editing photos or wasting time on the web.  It’s just like home!

A surprising benefit of the time zone difference is the flow of email.  Because the US workday ends at 9am our time, I can check (and usually delete most of) my email in the morning and I’m free from the slow trickle of messages throughout the day.  Usually when I check again at in the evening there’s nothing new. This is ideal.

At 10am we split up to do our daily tasks.  Sue and Dave also run a catering company that operates a food truck, so one of us is usually assigned cashier/sous chef duty on the truck.  The other stays at the homestead and does prep work, landscaping, or cleaning around the lodge.  Landscaping can be as easy as pulling weeds or as hard as hauling buckets of rocks a few hundred feet up the hill.  Prep work has been: cutting a bucket of onions (oh, the tears!), making dozens of burgers, or similarly monotonous tasks. We both prefer the truck. Sue and Dave seem to know everyone on the island, so it’s cool to meet all the locals that stop by for lunch. I’d argue that the landscaping work is more rewarding though; it’s nice to see immediate results.

At two o’clock the prep/landscaper person rides (coasts, really) one of the rickety bikes that are available for our use down the hill to the truck for lunch.  We serve delicious burgers (chicken, venison, or beef), sausages (boar or venison), and other very meaty things. So far, the venison burger is my favorite, but I haven’t worked my way through the entire menu just yet. I learned just yesterday that venison has less than half the fat of beef, which makes eating it every day a bit less disgusting.  A bit.

At Onetangi Beach with friends Javier and Leandro from Argentina.

After lunch we’re free to explore the island or relax for a few hours. We’ve become fond of the wine, the beaches, and the general beauty of Waiheke, so even sitting back at the lodge and enjoying the day is often enough. We’re constrained to a smallish portion of the island by the aforementioned rickety-bike-transportation-situation, but still, we’ve found plenty to do and plenty of joy in not doing a whole lot.

Dinners, as Stina mentioned in a previous post, consist of lots of fresh veggies from the market and a few ingredients from the garden.  Every few days she’ll ask me to go pick some lemons or rocket or rosemary, a task that I find immensely pleasurable.  I’ll always be amazed that a tiny seed can sprout into something delicious and nutritious with a little water, sun, and soil. It’s magical.  So I’m happy to gather what we need for dinner; knowing it came from the ground a few steps away makes the food taste better.

The sun sets around 5:30pm and we eat dinner soon after – it feels right to eat just after dark.  By nine we’re usually yawning and crawling under a heap of blankets in our humble little cabin up the hill, with a book that we’ll try to read for a few minutes before nodding off reluctantly.

It’s a simple life, but one to which we’ve adapted easily.  The crowds of the city seem galaxies away.  Now we take pleasure in providing food for ourselves and others; the most basic and fundamental of joys.


Day 1

Yellow Kiwis at breakfast

We landed in Auckland just before 6 am on Friday, successfully passed through customs without having to get rid of my stash of Luna bars and managed to get our tent and boots through biosecurity without any problems. We boarded a bus at the airport while it was still dark and watch the outskirts of town slowly light up as we wound through the surrounding towns and approached downtown Auckland. It is winter here, which means it is typically 55 and rainy. Yesterday was misty in the early morning hours, turning sunny then chilly at night. The jet lag wasn’t so bad, and was eased immensely by a delicious “tall black” (espresso w/ hot water, which we would call an americano) to get through the morning.



This is how the day went:

  • While still on the flight, I realized that I packed our WWOOF handbook (with the listing of farms) into storage. This was to be our survival guide and resource for work. MAJOR WOOPS.
  • Also while on the flight, I realized that I need immediate dental attention for a tooth that has become infected. When I visited my dentist in NYC a few weeks ago, he told me that nothing was wrong and I was over reacting. Turns out I’m not.
  • Arrived at Prince’s Wharf around 7:30 am, where we are couch surfing in the lap of luxury.
  • Upon checking my email, we learned that our first farm no longer needs us to work there. Heavy rains have made for little farm work. Instead of freaking out, we got right to work. Zach searched on HelpX.com for work trade opportunities for next week and sent some emails. I also requested a new handbook to be sent to Jon, who volunteered to hold any mail for us.
  • Got a recommendation from Jon, the dude with whom we are staying, for a dentist. Was in their chair at 11:00 am, got a script for antibiotics and was home by lunch time. I also think I made new friends there, with the nicest receptionist and most honest and helpful dentists I’ve ever visited.
  •  Zach and I headed out to explore downtown Auckland and check out a bouldering spot by Mount Eden, a dormant volcano. The walk there was about an hour and gave us the opportunity to see much of downtown Auckland, which Zach compared to Montreal. Mostly older buildings, pretty gritty, not dirty, just not pretty. Also realized not a place we want to spend much time. While we are here, we are taking full advantage of the conveniences of the city in getting settled. The climbing spot was on the property of  boys private school, so we cut through their athletic fields (where they were running laps barefoot) and followed a Harry Potter looking boy’s directions to the spot. It was a great area, with sport routes set and chalk from previous climbers, marking the routs. Unfortunately, it was soaking wet and pretty hard to find good, dry routes, so we didn’t climb much. We anticipate being back when it dries out.
  • On the way home, a bird took a poop in my hair. Not a kiwi bird. Just a pigeon.
  • Got home round 5pm, made beef stew, drank some red wine and watched highlights of the Olympics with Leandro, our couch surfing room mate from Argentina. Both of us were dead asleep around 8 pm.

“Don’t run, skip. As if the path ahead is full of daisies.”

Day 1 was not at all what we expected. We had a plan. It didn’t work. So we made a new one. But, isn’t that what it this all about? Being flexible and open and learning new things? Instead of farming, it looks like we are going to work for a caterer on Waiheke Island. Also looks like I’m going to have a tooth extracted (this is a good thing, that tooth has been a problem for years). And we have good luck bird poop to make sure all goes well.
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