Welcome to the super spectacular blog of Sandie and Amanda :) Join us as we travel west on a roadtrip through Canada, and south through the Western USA; fly over to the wonderful South Pacific islands of Vanuatu; and make our way to New Zealand for adventures in WWOOFing and working.
Stay tuned, even we don't know what might come next...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Horses and Hiking

 My last bit of wwoofing for the month of October was spent at Ruapehu Homestead in Ohakune, the picturesque little town famous for being the carrot capital of NZ!  Ohakune is located pretty well smack-dab in the middle of the North Island, in the shadow of Mt Ruapehu. It was here that I found a wonderful place to stay with Sue and Don, and of course Mia, Apollo, Cherokee, Apache, Angel, Tane, Dot-com, Jimmy... the horses ;) Sue and Don run a horse trekking business in this small tourist town, although in my 10 days here I only saw 2 tours go out... so the horses, many saved from the meatworks, lead a pretty chilled out life!  My working days were spent with Marie, a fellow wwoofer from France, working hard caring for the horses- feeding them carrots and hay, brushing them, and cleaning stables. We also looked after the goats, sheep, barn cats, 3 dogs, AND chopped firewood. Heaps of firewood!  Marie and I shared a caravan in the yard, where we enjoyed lots of tea in the evenings cuddled up with our books and some good French music, and woke often in the night freezing our butts off. Pretty easy going days mostly. Sue and Don were often quite busy with work and other projects on the go, so Marie and I did our own thing on the farm.

Of course I couldn't leave without doing a proper horse trek myself! And so their daughter Veronica was sweet enough to take me out for a few hours, with Tane and Mia, through the trails and across the creeks of a neighbouring conservation area. Such a wonderful ride, and such a great place to stay. Couldn't be happier spending my days with the animals, getting cuddles from the cats watching the horses' antics in the paddocks. Such characters!

On one of my days off I enjoyed a magnificent hike on one of New Zealand's best treks- The Tongariro Crossing! This alpine trek runs between 3 mountains, including Mount DOOM, and other landscapes popularly known as Middle Earth :)  Although the day I chose to do the hike turned out to be a cloudy one (as it is 75% of the time up there), the views were still spectacular. My boots treaded across mosses, scrubland, lava rocks, and snow! The only snow I'll be seeing this season actually-- so crazy to be having 2 summers in one year. The best sight was the Emerald Lakes up at the top, a perfect, albeit chilly place for lunch. 8 1/2 hours later I was met by my ride on the other end, and back to the homestead. 

My great days in Ohakune ended on Halloween- and although my heart was breaking to not be celebrating my favourite holiday, it was time to move on to my first job since Korea- Seacliffs Dairy farm in Hawera!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hot spots in Rotorua

Tues Oct 19:  After leaving the macademia nut farm, I had a few days to kill before I was on to my next wwoofing destination. Since it was on my way south, and we had skipped over Rotorua during our roadtrip, I thought I might as well explore the place all the tourists flock to see. I luckily found myself a place to stay with Couch Surf host Jackson, and his 8 year old daughter Tao.

With hot pools bubbling up all over this volcanic-bed of a city, the smell of sulpher hung in the air when I arrived downtown. I spent some time exploring the many shops, and later met Jackson and Tao before dinner. They were very welcoming, and sweet enough to take me to see some of the hot pools traditionally used since way back in the day, in a Maori community outside the city.

Wednesday morning Jackson dropped me off in Kuirau Park on his way to work. It was really great, because instead of spending an arm and a leg at some of the main tourist hot spring locations, I got to wander around and see plenty of steam pools and boiling mud, for free! It was neat to read about how before we all become so paranoid and fenced off all these 'dangerous' pools, people used to come here to bath, kids would play after school, and ladies would do their laundry!

From there I walked down around the coast of the big, beautiful Lake Rotorua, and through the Maori village of Ohinemutu. There were some really neat carvings to see in the main square, as well as a traditional meeting house, or 'whare', a church, and a crafts shop. Poking around inside I also met a few guys doing some spectacular carvings, something like  totems, representing mythical characters and stories about healing, since the carvings were to be placed at the entranceway of a new hospital. So cool! Later I walked down to the Goverment gardens and old city hall building, saw some spotless cricket fields (a popular sport here), and went to the art museum. Finished off the evening cooking up a great quiche dinner with Tao, who happens to make some very delicious croissants ;)  Thanks for the great stay Jackson!  Next stop, Ohakune...  

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Nutty Week at Ohiwa Macademias

After our roadtrip, we spent a few more days back at Fruit Vans, a familiar and friendly place.  We returned the vans, painted some signs, sold some fruit, had some laughs. Best of all, we pitched in with 3 other Canuks in the kitchen, ensuring the rest of the house could experience Canadian Thanksgiving, complete with a McDonald pumpkin pie and some Ammon stuffing. YUM! Sadly from there, the paths of 'team knapsack' have gone seperate ways, albeit for what we hope to be a short amount of time.  And so here is an entry from Amanda, and what happened at wwoofing destination #2:  Rewinding again, back to October 12th. 

Arrived by bus in Opotiki, east of Auckland in the lovely Bay of Plenty, to be welcomed into the home of Anne and Paul, founders of Ohiwa Macedemias. Nestled in a quiet spot up in the hills with ocean views, Paul and Anne have over the past 18 yrs built up an impressive orchard of macademia nut trees and replanted native bush, from land that was once overgrazed pastureland. What a beautiful place! Besides the orchard of nuts, there were also chickens, 3 cows, and a herd of sheep that lived in amongst the trees. Of course we can't forget about Smudy, the little old Jack Russel blind in 1 eye, and Lennie, the big golden lab that chases opossums up trees in the middle of the night, barking until Paul comes out to shoot them! (Australian opossums are a destructive invasive species, destroying habitat and killing many native birds, so Lennie is doing her part ;). 

As for the nuts- they made for a great week :) Everyday was a little bit different, and I basically got to help out in the process from start to finish. There was a great deal of nut-picking, along with fellow wwoofers, Tanya and Hennie from Germany, and Renelle from NWT. We laid tarps around the trees, and climbed right up into the branches with long snippers to drop the heavy bunches of green nuts from the treetops. We helped out in the husking room, where the nuts are emptied into a bin that removes the green skins to reveal the small and sticky nuts. They're then weighed, and moved to a drying room, where they'll spend around 3 weeks before being cracked open, and made into a delicious array of treats by Anne. This is by far the best part- helping in the kitchen, sampling the spreads, crumbles, and yummy chocolate-coated, honey-roasted, or salted nuts, all to be sold at the market. Talk about fantastic! There's so much more to macademias than cookies, we don't know what we're missing ;)
Other odd jobs around the orchard included shifting the cows into different paddocks, removing a fallen tree from the driveway, driving the tractor, spreading compost, and getting accidentally shocked by an electric fence in the process... owww! We also enjoyed many long hours cooking together in the kitchen, and were lucky enough to try some fantastic German dishes, healthy breakfasts from Paul, and tasty sushi by Anne.  Renelle and I found time on a clear Sunday afternoon to head out to the coast for a 4 hour hike along Otarawairere Bay to Ohope Beach. Passing up over spectacular cliffs, she was good enough to humour me in posing for frequent photos, shared lots of great stories about life in the Territories, and her love of moose ;)

I really loved it at Ohiwa, it was such a treat to feel so 'at home' so far from home, with such warm and caring people.  So if any of you ever need some quality nutcrackers, macademias, or a great place to wwoof, Paul and Anne's is the place to be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Roadtrip- Campervan styles

Oct 2nd-9th: Time for a wwoofing break to get out and see what we could see of this beautiful North Island. With Sandie, Jess, and fruitvans friend Vanessa from Belgium at the wheel, a team of 2 camper vans arrived in Cambridge to collect  Lyndsey and Amanda from the farm. Reunited again!

Day 1: From Cambridge we headed a few hours south to Taupo for the night, walked around a largely deserted downtown, had an Indian supper, and camped out in the vans in the parking lot of a hostel. Turns out we were far too early in the season for campersleeping- it was freeezing outside!

Day 2: We had a chilly breakfast overlooking the lake and snowy mountains in the distance, and made a quick stop at a Gypsy Fair- how fitting! After passing many a pastureland full of sheep, our first touristy stop was the thermal springs Orakei KorakoWe had to take a short boat ride across the river to walk amongst features like the 'Artists Palette', 'Devil's Throat', 'Diamond Geyser', 'Hochstetter Cauldron', and 'Aladdin's Cave'. Add on some boiling mud, a mineral waters that can polish silver jewelery and you've got a pretty dynamite place!   North to Rotorua, hotspring capital of NZ, we skirted outside the downtown to see the Buried Village, a museum and archaeological site telling about the volcanic explosion of Mt. Turangi that buried the English/Maori settlement, Te Wairoa, as well as 5 other Maori villages in 1863. From Rotorua we drove to the west coast, parking it in a surfing town called Raglan

Day 3: From a list at the info centre of, 'Things to do in Raglan', Sandie made the excellent selection to choose to visit a little-visited site called Te Toto Gorge Scenic Reserve. The ocean-side road turned inland and UP, pavement gave way to gravel, and signs marked only with an '!' warned of obstacles ahead. Rounding a bend we were met by a gorgeous grassy meadow high on cliffs beside the ocean. Excellect photoshoot location! Not far outside Raglan our mini-convoy got seperated through a gas station stopoff-mixup, and so with 2 in one van and 3 in the other, and only 1 cell phone between the 5 of us (with the 2 people having said number all being in the same van as the phone) we resigned ourselves to continue north to the other side of Auckland to find each other at Orewa springs. After some backtracking and more confusion, fate intervened and we happened to pass each other driving down the street! Crazy times on the road we say!         That night brought us to the quaint town of Warkworth, where we chose to treat ourselves to a proper sleep at a motel. We earned it! Pizza, beer and a warm bed can only lead to good things ahead.

Day 4: Our lovely sleep had us ready for a leisurely day to enjoy stopoffs at Mangawai Heads for views of the Hen and Chicken Islands, and nice long break at Langs Beach. One of the things on Lyndsey's to-do list was to see a winery, and so just outside Whangarei we turned off into Longview Estate Winery, for a $5 wine tasting :) NZ wines- 2 thumbs up! After a frolic in the park and a visit to an internet cafe, we stayed in Whangarei in the parking lot of the info centre- complete with showers and 24hr toilets :)  

Day 5: Early rise and coffees to fuel the day, our first stop was the Kiwi house and Bird Sanctuary. Finally we get to see a real kiwibird!  We got a short lesson about them before heading in- Fun Facts: Kiwis lay the biggest eggs of any bird in the world (going by weight ratios), and the chicks hatch fully feathered and ready to go!  Inside they had a close to genuine nocturnal environment, where we were lucky to see the little big-bummed kiwi foraging around for bugs. Very cute!  Like so many other birds here, the kiwi is endangered, and this particular one was bred in captivity. We also visited a bird sanctuary next door, where sick or injured Tuis, Pukekos, Petrals, Mawpaws and other birds were being rehabilitated to be re-released into the wild.   Before leaving Whangarei we stopped to see the Abbey Caves and clambered over some crazy rocks in the forest- rushing back to the vans early thanks to more than a few warnings about break-ins there.  Onwards to Paihia for another sleep in the vans at a nice hostel, complete with hottub and swimming pool!

6: Paihia is a small beach town, beautiful, and nice and quiet this time of year.   Sunny weather called- time for some biking! Lyndsey and Amanda headed out for ride to see the Waitangi Treaty Grounds/museum where Maori cheifs and the British crown signed the treaty in 1840, founding New Zealand as we know it. Sandie, Jess and Vanessa headed out on a bike ride through some trails along the creek, and we all met up later to drive on to Kaitaia. North north north! There isn't much to this town, so we stopped on the outskirts at the Ohaka Motel. The hotel was pretty much right out of the 60s, with plush red carpet and wood panelling in the restaurant- but the food was great and the beer cheap :) 

7: Big day today! Being the big tourists we are, we joined the Sand Safari bus tour to take us the last leg of our trip heading to the 'Top' of NZ. We visited the 'Gum Diggers Museum' to learn about the ancient buried Kauri trees there that were dug up to extract sap, or 'gum', used for lanolium and furniture polishes back in the day. Stopped for the best ice cream in the northland, before finally arriving at Cape Reinga! There were gorgeous views all around, from the forest park reserve in the south and east, the crashing waves over the cliffs below, north over a blue sea where the Tasman and Pacific collide, and west down 90 mile beach.  After a quick lunch it was on to the sanddunes, where the driver pulled our some sleds and had us give it whirl! It was worth the hard climb up the sand, and we all had a few great runs, complete with mouthfulls of sand.   We enjoyed the view all the way back to Kaitaia, as the bus drove us the entire length of 90 Mile Beach, right across the sand. We saw only a few people collecting shellfish, a lone seal, and the rusted remains of a car that got itself stuck in the sand years ago.  Wicked day!

Day 8: After a few pitstops to see some 2000 yr old, enormous Kauri trees along the way, and 4 hrs of driving our hectic week came to an end. It was back to Auckland to return the vans and move on. A sad night with Lyndsey leaving us the next day- but we enjoyed our last visit the best we could with a devilish dinner at 'Hell Pizza', and some beers out at the pub.    Off to the airport once more- so glad to have had such a fantastic adventure with ya Lyndsey!  Wind-up kiwis 4 life ;)    Great times, great company- campervan roadtrips are the way to go.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mooloo livin, the Organic way

Reeeewiiiind!  Sept 25-Oct 1: A week of wwoofing with Amanda and Lyndsey :) Beautiful rolling hills. 4 lambs. 3 cats. heaps of chickens. 1 dog. 5 kayaks. home-made cheese. 130 happy cows.

This is the paradise just outside of Cambridge is where Lyndsey and I landed for wwoofing destination #2, while Sandie and Jess stayed behind in Sunnvale for some more fun at Fruit Vans. What better place to spend a week than on the Bylands organic dairy farm? We were warmly welcomed into the bustling home of Phil and Tracy Bax, parents of 4 teenagers and owners of a working 130-cow herd, affectionately known as the 'Mooloo Clan'.

We spent the large part of our 4 hour working days helping out around the garden- weeding, trimming, mowing lawns, and planting berries and veggies. We also made it out to the local HoraHora elementary school where youngest Bax member is one of 50 students (grade 1-8 incl!), to do some planting.  Other fun included collecting eggs from the henhouse, AND we made CHEESE! Yes, real feta cheese- milk straight from the cow. Ohhhh man talk about delicious, this is something everyone should know how to do. YUM!

Our highlights were of course spent with the animals.  On the afternoon of our first day, as well as the last one, we witnessed the birth of 2 wee baby calves!  Even covered in embryonic goo, newborn calves are incredibly adorable, and we felt very lucky to be present for such magical moments ;)     Most everyday we got to go out and bottle-feed the 4 baby lambs who also called the farm home, and enjoyed thier antics almost daily, as they broke free of their paddock and ran and kicked their heels around the yard. They were like little fluffy white Houdinis!  If that wasn't enough cuteness, we also went with Tracy to feed the older calves (they're seperated from their moms and kept all together in another paddock. There's too many calves to keep them with their moms, since that would mean the moms not being milked for the people), filling up a big container of milk with teats all around the outside,

the 'Junior milk bar', or as Tracy called it, the calf-eteria. ha! It was really sweet to see how Tracy treated all her cows-- the calves are all given names, and for many of the older cows Tracy could tell us who their mothers and even grandmothers were! These people really care about their animals.

Of course we were not about to miss seeing the milking process in action. And so midweek Lyndsey and I dragged ourselves out of bed with the sun, went out to the milking shed for both a morning and afternoon milking to find out how it all worked. The first day Phil showed us how to put on and take off the 'milker', but at times we felt a little in the way! Second time around was much better, as we got the hang of it we were able to know when one was done milking, to take it off and switch it to a cow on the other side. We also sprayed teatree oil on their teats afterwards (feels better!), and watched Tracy give them different homeopathic remedies- all chemical free. Despite our best efforts at staying clean with our coveralls on, we both got thoroughly covered in poo- while on one occasion I even got sprayed in the face. Aughhh all hazards of the job!

When not working hard on the farm, we also enjoyed a bike ride through the countryside, and an awesome kayak ride down the river. Phil took us out in the evening, through the marsh and a small gorge up the river, where we stopped for a break on the bank and had a little fire. By that time it was dark, and as we floated with the current back downsteam, we were met with an army of glowworms all through the gorge! It as a magical site, and a wonderful surprise added to an already awesome trip. Had some great evenings cooking for the the family, tried our hands at homemade tortillas, did puzzles, and drank beer by the fire. This is the life :)

Awesome time in Waitopo, thanks Bax family!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fruity Wwoofing

Fruit Vans!
A week at Fruit Vans and so far our first WWOOFing experience has lived up to all expectations :) We arrived last Friday in Sunnyvale, a suburb in west Auckland, to a bustling household tucked away at a deadend street. It's a different kind of 'farming' experience- since, well, there is no farm! It's a business started 3 years ago by Taryn and Marcello, an Australian/Brazilian couple (front-right) who began with 1 van selling fruit from local growers on weekends, and has now grown to become an operation so big, that they have 2 houses full of wwoofers (up to 20 in the summer months), and 25 vans. Yay for eating locally!
The house is filled with many other eccentric travellers from all over the world. Though English is dominant, there is also a lot of French, Spanish, and Portugeuse being spoken. We are having such a great time getting to know everyone! To say it is a house of laughter would be an understatement- there always something fun going on- cooking, games, wine, you name it ;)

As wonderful as the house activities are though, there is much work to be done. Our 4-5 hour work days started with the 'mouldly' unpleasant job of van cleaning, in preparation for the selling season. Sandie and I were assigned 5 vans in the backyard parked under some trees- opened the doors and watched the mold spores fly. ACK! Being in such a state we thought for sure they'd been there a number of years-- but nope- try 3 months. Turns out mold in New Zealand is out of control- and has even been known to grow in Taryn's spice rack. Bleh! It took the bulk of us wwoofers 3 days to clean out the whole fruitvan fleet- scubbing the vans mold-free inside and out.

On one of our first nights here we were in charge of cooking dinner for everyone. Amanda thought it would be fun to bring some Korea to Sunnyvale: on the menu was bibimbap, japchae, kimchi, and kongnamul. What a beautiful meal it was! Throughout the week we have individually been in charge of lunch/dinner and have cooked up many delicous soups and salads.


Then came Tuesday and a very special arrival- Lyndsey! Amanda's good friend from home has joined in on our crazy adventure for 3 weeks. She was eager to do some wwoofing so Amanda went to collect her from the airport (beautiful sign in hand) and brought her back to Fruitvan central. Jetlag wasn't plaguing her so she dove right into weeding work. So nice to have her here! You compost queeen you.
Late Tuesday evening Taryn opened up a rather important letter- a rental house inspector was due to arrive the next morning. dun dun dun- mobilize operation house clean and evacuation... = bonus day off!

Turns out all the Canadians in the house decided we needed to do some hiking despite the constant rain. Vicky, a spunky ex-pat from Montreal, loaded us in her car and we headed to the Waitakere Ranges with a quick stop in Piha at Lion's Rock for some ocean views. After perusing a guide book we settled on the Fairy Falls LOOP- a supposedly easy trail not requiring us to drag the guide book along . The forest was subtropical, very lush. green and filled with very wacky sounding birds. The views were amazing- decending down many steps we approached a stream which lead us to the falls. (There were no fairies.) The sun joined us as we basked in the wonderment that is the fairyless Fairy Falls. A few kms later we discovered we were slightly lost- as we emerged to a small with no sign of Vicky's car. Turning back into the forest we decided to follow another trail we recognized, heading up a rather steep hill. Luckily for us we found the car within the hour... lesson learned- never leave your trail guides at home kids! Quick coffee break at Elevation cafe where we see Auckland city spread out before us, and back to the house.

Later in the week Sandie worked on : organizing the growing clutter called a kitchen, decorating the living area with global community inspired posters, and general yard/painting upkeep. Amanda worked on: dismanteling big avocado crates with Vicky which included lots of crowbar/ hammer demolition. RAWR! Also weeding, and shovelling clay and rock soil to build up the compost walkway. Lots of dirty fun ended in a trip to the laundrymat.

PS.... Oh, and top it all off-- We were both offered PAID positions selling fruit at the other Fruit Van house 2 hrs south of here, in December. Did we mention how much we love these people? EEEE!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kia Ora, New Zealand!

Wednesday September 15

Made it to New Zealand!! Auckland to be exact and let me tell you- it is cold!  So much has happend thus far that it seems impossible this trip has only just begun.  With no couchsurfing requests responded to, we headed to the YHA hostel downtown.  It really worked out for the best as we were able to recieve loads of help from the staff who are also visitors.

We didn't do any sightseeing as we were trying to set up some wwoofing, get bank accounts, and set up our IRD numbers.  Amanda took us out for some Korean food (she has been missing it terribly).  Jess enjoyed a plate of squid, while Amanda and Sandie had some veggie Bibimbap. Delish!

We are quickly discovering that the weather in New Zealand is highly unpredictable.  Day 1, and already we have been caught out in the rain without any appropriate gear. HA!  There is just no sense in checking the weather here- just go out prepared for anything, because the rain comes and goes alll day.

Turns out the weather was also matching our mood, as getting responses from Wwoof hosts was turning out to be somewhat difficult.  Naively, we thought that it would be a very simple task since our book is just jam-packed with farms!  However, it seems that most are booked many months in advance, or they don't want us.  

As our spirits were beginning to dampen and the general mood was not so good, some luck came our way. Unknowingly, the four of us (Amanda, Sandie, Jess, and Lyndsey joining in a few days) had been emailing the same place- Fruit Vans... and they pulled through!  One more quick call, and our pestering worked: they said they could take us the next day. YAY! Wine was purchased and a night of celebration was in order.  We ventured out and found a Brazilian bar with a live band and lots of happy people. Gooood night

Thanks to all the celebatory wine, getting up in the morning wasn't easy.  We spent the afternoon sorting out all our stuff in the city and caught a taxi out to Sunnyvale- home of the Fruit Vans! West Auckland suburbs here we come.