Our first Workaway in New Zealand took place on a sheep and cattle farm – now turned adventure business – in the Waikato region of the north island. This remote location offered some incredible countryside views; livestock like specks of paint dotting the rolling hills, rocky outcroppings slashing through the green here and there, light and shadow intertwining to create moods of all kinds upon a natural canvas that was both restorative and invigorating. We met our hosts, Simon and Rosie in their country home of forty years, along with another Workawayer from France named Lou, and were promptly made right at home.
Here at Adventure Waikato, we enjoyed plenty of delicious meals, stimulating conversation with Simon the storyteller, and unexpected experiences that are now among the many prized memories from our travels. Our work consisted of property maintenance, such as weeding in the garden, mowing the lawns, hedge trimming, cleaning the pool and scrubbing the deck, as well as a variety of indoor jobs de-cobwebbing, deep-cleaning, sorting and reorganizing rooms, cupboards and shelves filled with knick-knacks and memorabilia of all sorts. I most enjoyed painting the garage doors red on a beautifully sunny day – and was most amused to watch Tyson shovel sheep’s dung underneath an old shearing shed as fertilizer for Rosie’s garden, while I simply held the bag and tried not to laugh out loud at his expression. Amidst the work, we were reintroduced to a tradition I’ve gravely missed – tea or coffee after every meal – and were also given many unique opportunities for adventures of our own.
One afternoon, Simon took us caving through a system which he named the Jurassic Journey. As one of the many experiences his business offers, our knowledgeable trail leader hiked us straight out of his backyard and down a crevice in the tropically-forested hills beyond to explore said cave. Along the way, we tried a chew of the peppery kawakawa leaves and spotted yet another dastardly eel in the shallows of a stream – thankfully out in full view in the woods this time, and without any bared toes for him to nibble. Simon then took us through the cave itself, where we ducked under enormous orange-and-ivory stalactite formations, waded through knee-deep waters, squeezed past chasms in the rock in which one can glimpse fossilized sea shells, and once more admired glow worms like constellations in the darkness.
On another occasion, we witnessed the adventure business in full swing as a company group tried their hand at archery and claybird shooting and completed trials in team sheep herding. I must say that after watching Simon’s dogs at work herding both sheep and cattle and admiring the sleek effectiveness with which they responded to an array of his commands, the human version was quite laughable. Separately from the group, the three of us volunteers also got to see Simon shear an ewe with two years of wool growth on her; now that was an impressive human feat!
Taking a day off, Rosie brought us along with her to the surf town of Raglan where she runs an AirBnB. Tyson and I immediately hopped on a pair of bikes to pedal around downtown before following the oceanside trail to a park, where we lazed about in the sunlight for a spell. Going out for supper with Lou, we shared sushi and an especially massive portion of fish and chips on the wharf just down the street – and with a trusty dose of gravol on board, we survived the drive home on the ever-twisting country roads. Tyson and I really enjoyed spending time with a fellow Workawayer, and as Lou who was our age and very easy to be around, one afternoon we all went out for lunch at the rural Nikau Café before hiking to a nearby waterfall together, too.
Two of the last experiences I’ll share are among the major highlights of our stay in Matira. First, upon meeting one of the neighbors – an avid outdoorsman named Rob who had us do some claybird shooting at Adventure Waikato – we were unexpectedly invited along with him and another neighbor for none other than a wild pig hunt. Who would have thought we’d end up on a pig hunt in New Zealand! Yet off we went one evening with Rob and Hayden.
Driving out to the top of a ridge, we hiked to a stake out spot and settled down in our camouflage, watching the hillside through hunting scopes and binoculars as we waited for dusk to settle and the pigs to emerge. This was an amazing opportunity in itself – across a vast distance we were able to spot three young male deer (or “spikers”, as the kiwi say), a peacock strutting his stuff, a pregnant doe, and countless of the wild turkeys whose distinctively comical calls resounded amidst the more entrancing native birdsong.
The light started to fade and turn the hills grey without any signs of the pigs we were meant to hunt, so we began packing up to leave – but as luck would have it, suddenly there they were! A group of grazing pigs had popped out directly across the gully from us. Immediately, the boys were off like lightning, down the hill and heading up the other side. Though I hustled to keep up, there was a certain point where I stopped to catch my breath, found myself alone in the gully, and for a split second imagined myself lost in the wilderness of New Zealand forever – a definite possibility, if you’re at all familiar with how successfully I can find Avondale school in my own hometown.
Let’s just say my success rate isn’t good.
Thankfully, I found the men again at the hill’s crest, and Tyson’s clean shot found it’s mark. With my nurse’s stomach of iron, I volunteered to do the gutting – I’ll leave it at that for all the sensitive stomachs out there (that’s you, Dad) – and afterward we returned with our bounty and commemorated the occasion with a midnight hot tub (or “spa”) session at Rob’s lodge. In the end, Tyson and I saw the process all the way through under Rob’s tutelage, right down to the skinning, butchering, and cooking of the thing – which did taste quite excellent. No doubt a unique learning experience in every sense!
Lastly, we also had a very memorable day on a completely deserted black-sand beach with Simon, Rosie, Lou, and Ruby the terrier. At low tide we collected fresh mussels off the rocks and had ourselves a mussel fry right next to an incredible limestone rock formation, highly contrasted against a breathtaking sea view. Needless to say, living like the locals in Waikato has made for some brilliant memories. This is exactly why we love Workaway – and why we’re looking forward to the next!
From my wandering heart to yours,