When I graduated from college in Colorado, USA, I decided I did not want to jump right into starting my career path. Instead, I chose to move back home to Ohio with my family and save money for a year of travel. A friend of mine, called Sara, also had a desire to travel so we decided to avoid post-college real life together and work on farms in New Zealand through the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Working in New Zealand for a year is easy if you are between the ages of 18 and 30, as a working holiday visa can be obtained online for free through New Zealand Immigration.
When I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, I held no expectations for my time in the land of Kiwis and no return ticket. Many of my friends and family members found it quite comical that I wanted to work on farms, considering I did not like gardening, I was not crazy about animals, and I was incredibly clumsy. I did not ponder any of this since I never met or talked to a WWOOFer before becoming one myself; I entered into the experience blindly. With a degree in environmental studies and Sara with a degree in animal and psychology studies, we appeared on paper as decent candidates for organic farm employment. However, neither of us possessed much experience in gardening or farm work; we realized we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into.
We spent a total of six months in New Zealand at five different farm locations, scattered around the North and South islands. We performed a myriad of interesting and crazy jobs and worked with many kind and hardworking people. At our first location, one job involved cutting hundreds of agapanthus flowers along a long and winding driveway. Sara and I thought we were making great progress, until the woman we worked for told us that her husband once cut all of the flowers in four hours. We finished the driveway, which spanned about a mile, after about two weeks of working on it for a couple hours each day. We learned that in order to be a good WWOOFer efficiency is a key skill.
While living at a vegan animal sanctuary in Dunedin, we met the family of a successful Kiwi male model and their pet magpie, Winston. Sara and I were tasked with house sitting for a weekend while the family visited their “bach” (holiday home). This involved calling Winston inside the house in the evening and putting him into his cage. Neither of us had any experience handling birds and the model’s mother, Pippa, told us he was incredibly calm and loved to be held. Our experience with Winston involved chasing him around the kitchen, terrified to pick him up, and attempting to lure him into his cage with food.
In between jobs and on weekends off, Sara and I explored the beautiful cities and rolling hills of New Zealand. We trekked across an active volcano field in Tongariro National Park, breathed in the salty ocean air of Tunnel Beach in Dunedin and reveled in the nightlife of Queenstown. We primarily traveled to New Zealand to work but we made the most of the free time we had, tasting different foods and coffees and meeting other young international travelers. Some of the most exciting moments occurred at unexpected times, for example, when we stopped in Lake Taupo for the weekend and stumbled across an Iron Man competition, where thousands of people had amassed.
Although we were not the best WWOOFers a hosting family could hope for, we built great relationships with the Kiwis we worked alongside and created amazing and hilarious memories. Additionally, we learned about life in the Kiwi agriculture industry and the immense hard work and dedication it requires. Working unique and difficult jobs in New Zealand was a rewarding and life-changing experience, which helped me to appreciate the life I have and realize the future I wanted for myself.