Hey guys, before we go out with the old and in with the new we just wanted to say hello and thank you for reading our blog. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as we have writing it and we’re looking forward to a 2014 of traveling and adventure. Linds and I hope you had a Merry Christmas and wish everyone a great New Years Eve – as we’ll be working all night!
Right now we’re “working” at Punga Cove Resort and admittedly got a little bit behind with our postings because of how much we have been working. You can check out where we live at http://www.pungacove.co.nz and if you’re wondering, here’s a shot of where we’ve spent the last three weeks.
(As soon as time allows we’ll be putting up a post about our experience in Wellington, which involves lonely Russian women and gay bars, and get caught up on Punga Cove!)
So for those of you following at home, in the last 8 weeks we’ve made compost and weeded gardens, hitched our way to “Surftown” NZ, had a years-worth of (free) hangovers, and managed to create an engineering feet with a submersible canoe. Where could we end up next? Well… what goes better with beer than PIZZA?!
Our run of good luck and good karma continued when we received an e-mail from Gerlinde and Boly from the Watermill Bakery and Pizzeria, located on the Southeastern corner of the North Island, telling us to come hang out and eat their pizza for a week or two. Boly, who besides being possibly the most upbeat and energetic man I have ever worked with, is also a Master Miller by trade, having spent about two decades working as a flour miller in his native Switzerland and then as far as Africa and finally New Zealand. In the early 90’s he bought a plot of cleared farmland with a small stream running through it and almost immediately started planting trees and built a log house (which will become his flour mill). How can best you describe this guy? Even before he had a building, he purchased and shipped two containers worth of milling equipment – including massive grindstones – to New Zealand because he knew that someday he would build his own mill.
It took ten years to finish the first building project and he still didn’t have a mill set up, but he did have a traditional wood fired baking oven and the bread started coming. When we showed up, 20 years after buying the property, he had turned 40 of the 60 acres into a purpose-made forest with specific trees planted in groves which he can now harvest to make firewood and log building components. There is a booming bread/pizza business coming out of his original log structure and a house for the family just a quick walk up the hill that is powered exclusively by solar and a mini-hydro. Though he still hasn’t unpacked his millstones yet.
So how did we fit in? …Besides eating some of the best pizza we had ever had you mean? We spent 10 days working and learning as much as we could: Lindsay made some of the sweets the bakery sells, Clay finished hand-made hardwood cutting boards, we picked raspberries for desert pizzas, and we prepped cut logs for future building projects by peeling and sealing them.
The most memorable experiences we had though were working the pizza nights and the farmers markets. The bakery would make pizza every Friday night and it definitely embodied the phrase “if you build it, they will come”. The place was at best 20 minutes from any population center, stuck out in them middle of nowhere, and yet we would turn 120 pizzas on a Friday night. I cut and Lindsay served them one after another. We participated in two farmers markets, and we luckily had the ‘big monthly market’ while we were there. We sold bread and sweets and about 150lbs of a traditional Swiss breakfast hash brown called Rosti. I flipped, cut and served frying pan after frying pan of Rosti on our little assembly line while Lindsay happily took their money and sold them the Lindstorten that she made the day prior.
…All of that and then the board game Carrom. This one is worth learning in person – come visit us and be prepared to drink beer and play lots of our new favorite table game!
Before I end the post I’m not sure how I could forget our Swiss logging experience. I (Clay) have more experience with tree harvesting than the average bloke and, while not a professional logger, I know how it’s done as I did it for much of my time through high school and university. With that being said, we learned a unique and highly inefficient way to bring logs to a processing area. Boly had a few cedar trees high up on a hill that were missed by the excavator when it came to do some dirt work and the truck couldn’t make it there to drag them down. So what did we do? (This is almost as ridiculous as Hunter and the Buffalo so I’ll try to paint the picture):
We started with a 30 year-old rusted trolley (hand cart… think of the two wheeled cart that the UPS guy uses to move boxes) that in a past life held the gas tanks for a cutting torch. We rolled one log onto the long part of the trolley (which was lying on the ground, handles digging into the dirt) and attempted to secure it with two worn-out ratchet straps. This gave the butt end of the log “wheels”. Then, by taking a second trolley and levering the other end of the log, we raised it up on four “wheels” with the top end completely unsafe and unsecured but able to pivot and steer the log-on-wheels. At that point we were forced to let gravity and health insurance do the rest of the work: the lucky two held extended ratchet straps on the uphill side of the log, while the other poor bastard held onto the unsecured trolley on the downhill side. The guy on the bottom tried to steer down a narrow and winding 200m hill while he hoped like hell the two people on the top half would slow the log down enough that it didn’t run him over. When I write a book this might have to be a whole chapter, as we performed this exercise four times with 1000lbs (+) logs and I honestly still don’t know how it worked… I just know I’m never ever inviting a European baker to help me cut logs.
What do you get when you put an American, a Canadian and a Frenchman in a canoe (Besides the start of a really bad joke)? An incredible trip floating down a beautiful river with memories that will last a lifetime, and a green submarine.
After our bodies hit their binge-drinking breaking point at the brewery, it was time to get away from things for a bit. Where better to go than out in the woods for 5 days on one of New Zealand’s 10 “Great Walks”. The “Great Walks” are the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) way to highlight some of the epic backcountry that New Zealand has to offer while also corralling tourists into manageable, safe and supervised areas to reduce personal injury and the impact on the environment. 9 of the Great Walks are done by foot with one unique trip, a 5 day, 150km float down the Whanganui River which is located in the central part of the North Island. We knew this was going to be one of our more expensive tourist to-do’s while in New Zealand but rather than renting a canoe at $200/person we bought a $1550 Subaru Legacy which we named Mushu after Mulan’s Dragon (another story for another day) and rented a canoe from a local outfit near the brewery for just $125/person.
Before embarking on our adventure we were able to goat-rope one of our fellow brewery wwoofers into making the trip; Emilie from France who brought all of her trekking gear with her to New Zealand. It is quite uncommon for “backpackers” to bring actual backpacking equipment with them here in New Zealand and Emilie had her camp stove, sleeping back and a tent and wanted to go on a river adventure! We drove to Tauramanui which is where we put in to start the river and left the car outside the Police station – hoping if anywhere in town was secure for our priceless ’96 station wagon it would be the police station!
The start of the trip seemed to be relatively eventful, encountering more rapids than we bargained for and after only an hour on the river, thunder could be heard over the mountain and we quickly tucked into some trees next to a sheep paddock to spend the night in the rain under our tarp. Day two we covered the most distance thanks to some fast flowing water, as the top half of the river is the steepest and most eventful too! In all of the chaos of going into rapids and trying to avoid trees the river took my Red Sox, which I’ve had for years and taken everywhere with me, off my hat with a tree branch and down to the deep, murky depths for eternity… or to wash up on a bank and have a goat eat next week. What is an epic river odyssey without trials and tribulations though, right?!
Days 3-5 encountered much more tourist traffic, as it is more common and much easier to put in 60km downstream and turn the trip into a 3 day with less rapids, more epic scenery and of course lower cost. We tried to camp one stop ahead or one stop behind the major groups which let us do our own trip at our own pace and relax at night rather than worrying about sharing a cooking space with 25 other people. As the river slowed down the clay and limestone cliffs became tighter and tighter, eventually towering over us 150ft above. It truly felt like we were going back in time, floating in a canoe in what would’ve been prehistoric times when the dinosaurs ruled the land as we felt like tiny specs on Mother Nature’s canvas. The Jurassic, jungle feeling really sunk in at the end of Day 3 when the clouds opened up and poured down on us in a monsoon-like fashion. Thankfully. we were the only ones in the campground and could set up our sleeping area in the little cooking shelter (see photos).
The trip finished with some less-than-epic rapids that we had been warned about from the start of the river – probably lessened due to the intense rain from the days before. After getting out of the river, taking a quick swim and putting on clean clothes I had the most difficult task of the whole 5 days; hitching back to the start point, two hours away. The town that marked the finish point of our trip was sleepy to say the least and it took two hours just to get a ride to the main highway. As evening approached and Lindsay and Emilie started to get worried if I would make it back or not, the blue Subaru roared around the corner into town to strap the canoe back on top, a job well done and an incredible journey complete!
Oh and the “Green Submarine” you might ask? Allow me to set the scene; morning of day two so we still had plenty of food and beer (of course) weighing us down plus the gear for three people and the bodyweight of all three. Needless to say, our Old Town Canoe was riding pretty low in the water and on top of that we didn’t have our center of gravity low enough nor enough weight in the back of the canoe so that the person in the back could effectively turn in choppy water. So since we were camping 100m shy of probably the biggest rapid on the river what did we do? Put in right from our campsite rather than portage past the big water, naturally! We hit the first drop and started to list sideways in the water, allowing many liters worth to pour into the canoe. After that we were done, tippy because of the top-heavy loading and low in the water due to weight we became a lost cause with every wave, rock and spray dumping more water into our boat. No one panicked, no one jumped out, rather we held onto our paddle and the canoe in our other hands and simply sat in our, now submarine-d, green canoe. The canoe was fully under water with the bottom gently bouncing off the rocks at the bottom of the river while we continued on with the flow of the water and three people in a submerged canoe happily floating along in the whitewater. It all went wrong when Lindsay’s morning snack, a banana, started floating out of the canoe. She abandoned the rest of the team and her ship and bailed out after her treasured banana… after which chaos ensued. My shoes started falling off as I tried to hold onto the canoe, Lindsay was gone chasing a banana, Emilie floated away holding onto Lindsay’s paddle and down the river we went. Fortunately 100m after the white water ended a little beach stuck out from the river bank and there we went to collect ourselves and our boat… and sing the New Zealand rendition of the classic Beatles song.
“We all sank in the green submarine, the green submarine, the green submarine…”
After our two-day holiday in Raglan it was time to go back to work. So where did we go? … A brewery of course! (Rough life, we know.)
We traveled to Mike’s Organic Brewery, a small craft brewery located on the south-central west coast of the North Island near the picturesque Mt Taranaki. There we spent 10 days working, drinking, and playing cards. Most wwoofing schemes are simple; you work 4hrs/day in exchange for food and a place to stay while potentially learning from the people who are hosting you.
The Brewery, however, expected a back-breaking 6hrs/day. And why the extra hours, you ask? Well that place IS a brewery after all, and two extra hours in exchange for some pretty good beer at the end of the day isn’t too bad of a deal! Life at the brewery became a version of Groundhog Day – sometimes a good version sometimes a hungover one. It seemed like every day for 9 consecutive days I woke up with a hangover, and if I didn’t have one when I got up for breakfast (7:45am at the latest) then it hit me hard by lunch. The skill of productively working through a hangover is one that I practiced in university, and it’s a good thing because my 9am to 3pm work was completed with a queazy tummy while trying to hide from loud noises and sunlight. Lindsay, who has always been the lucky one when it comes to hangovers, rarely had the effects of the night before and never developed much sympathy for my self-inflicted morning condition. We spent the days doing simple tasks like labeling the bottles, boxing bottles, washing the spent kegs (inside and out), milling barley, preparing and serving food in the cafe, gardening, disassembling picnic tables and a multitude of other sometimes monotonous but still simple jobs.
The harder you worked the more beer you would generally get from the staff at the end of the day and despite our required work ending at 3pm we would often help out wherever we could until the end of the day – which normally resulted in a few pints of beer shared with the staff between 4pm and 5pm. The number of wwoofers working (we had up to 9 on some days and a few as 3 on others) directly correlated to the amount of beer we had in the fridge at the end fo the day. Normally we would get a 2L bottle of whatever they were bottling that day, plus 1-3 other bottles filled straight from the 1000L tanks with whatever we asked for. And then came SAIPA. One of the consequences for an organic brewery by not using preservatives is that the beer has a short shelf life, and when it comes close to the expiry date it can no longer be sent out to the distributors. One of the consequences for wwoofers at an organic brewery is that when the cases are about the expire, we get them – one case of 12x 500ml bottles per day. We were graced (or cursed…) with a case of Single American India Pale Ale (SAIPA) each day being only a month from the expiry date. To be honest, it was expiring because it really wasn’t that good and I don’t blame people for not buying it, but then again there is no such thing as BAD beer when it’s free!
So by the time the day ended, the employees responsible for the wwoofers filled the fridge with food, the brewery staff made sure we were well stocked up and once they closed for the day it was every university student’s dream come true: food you didn’t have to buy, (expensive, craft) beer that you didn’t pay for, music, cards and your bed within walking distance. Well by now it shouldn’t be hard to figure out how I ended up being hungover each morning… a normal night involved drinking about 2L(+) of 6% beer and playing cards until midnight, going to sleep and doing it all over again the next day!
And as if that wasn’t enough, I got to learn about the brewing process from actual professionals, including from an Austrian brewer with a German degree in brewing who is in New Zealand on an exchange program to further his knowledge of brewing. He would make experimental homebrew-sized (50L) batches a couple of times each week in an attempt to make better beer with the ingredients they had at the brewery. Not only did I get to watch and learn, but I asked nearly 1000 questions about the science and art of brewing which he (surprisingly) happily answered.
Once we get settled in a place and have the proper location to make homebrew, experimenting will be one of my top priorities. The fact that I had the fortune to learn from a team of knowledgable and friendly professional brewers will remain one of my highlights of the New Zealand experiment (even higher than SAIPA).