My choice to WWOOF in New Zealand was impulsive and uninformed, at best. Upon learning of the WWOOF program I quickly visited the WWOOF New Zealand website, saw a beautiful picture of a young WWOOFer in New Zealand working proudly in a garden, and was hooked. I sent in the small fee and became a member of WWOOF New Zealand. I envisioned roaming the picturesque New Zealand countryside, living cheaply on farms, and spending my days happily sweating in the sunshine with like-minded people.
Having just graduated from college and feeling completely unready to do the real world thing, this seemed like a great adventure. Though I was by no means a farmer (my parents love to remind me of my total disinterest in their large garden, and my amusing inability to discern the spinach patch from the beet greens), I had raked blueberries and de-tasseled corn with enthusiasm, and I knew that I would enjoy any task which involved getting dirty and being outside. So I was off to New Zealand!
My first WWOOFing site was with a family on an eco-village. Arranging this couldn't have been easier—I sent them an email (the address attained from my WWOOF-NZ directory) while I was still in the U.S., then called them once I arrived in Auckland. They were extremely kind and hospitable, and even picked me up from my hostel in Auckland and brought me to their home in Northland. Their generosity was shocking (nearly uncomfortably for this American)! They gave me the first few days off to rest up; set me up in their daughter's bedroom while she moved onto a cot in the parent's bedroom; took me to beaches and museums; and refused to let me help with anything. It was strange.
The experience was new to both of us; they had never hosted a WWOOFer before, and I had never WWOOFed before, so we both were on uncertain ground and I often felt they didn't know what to do with me. As it worked out, I worked for about six hours each day doing odd jobs around the house (bush clearing, weed pulling, painting, sanding, even babysitting) and then would have the rest of the day off. It was a fair arrangement and I was treated wonderfully, but I was quite lonely (being miles from anything with no email/phone, and never seeing anyone else my own age). I stayed there for three weeks, and then called another WWOOF host and arranged to move on.
My next WWOOF experience was radically different from my first. Radically. I ended up at a beautiful bed and breakfast/horse farm, where I was expected to work all day riding horses and cleaning the guest's rooms. The work was not particularly hard and I loved riding the horses, but it was not a fair arrangement and I encountered many other very disgruntled WWOOFers there.
I must say that I had a lot of good and interesting experiences at this farm, and for the most part enjoyed the work, but would not have been able to deal with the constant work (and the incredibly zany host) if I had not maintained a strict 'go with the flow' attitude about it. Most other WWOOFers stayed for only a day or two before leaving in a huff. After a few weeks, I, too, was glad to leave.
The third, and last farm I WWOOFed at ended up being the best. I felt very fortunate to have found it, and WWOOFing there helped me to understand what WWOOFing should really be. The hosts were exceptionally nice and fair, the work arrangement was clearly defined, and there were always at least five other WWOOFers also working there. Upon arriving, I became instant friends with the other WWOOFers (we still keep in touch) and felt very comfortable with the whole situation. Our duties were to keep the house clean, to care for and ride the horses, and to do various tasks in the garden. After our work was finished, we were encouraged to go off on our own horse rides, explore the town, or just relax in front of the television. The combination of enjoyable/hard work and meaningful friendships made this experience memorable and fulfilling. This, truly, was what I had envisioned WWOOFing to be.
My advice for future WWOOFers—at least those going to New Zealand—is to be ready for anything. Of course, everyone (like myself) has an image of what WWOOFing will be, and while this image should be used as a guide, be careful not to reject any experience that doesn't measure up to your expectations. Even my worst WWOOFing moments taught me something, and, if nothing else, make for really interesting stories to tell people back at home. I do suggest, however, trying to get a feel for a place before agreeing to WWOOF there. Every WWOOF host is different, and there is really no way of knowing (via one phone call) what the realities on that farm will be.
Here are some great questions to ask a prospective host:
I HIGHLY recommend going to farms with other WWOOFers—not only will you have more fun, but you are also less likely to be exploited. Farms who depend on WWOOF labor will be well set up to host WWOOFers, and will probably have a clearly defined (and fair) work arrangement. Also be sure to ask about the diet of the host—some farms do not like vegetarians and will not provide vegetarian fare, while others only accept people willing to give up meat. Finally, you may want to ask about the town and about your access to it. Lots of hosts will provide bikes and even cars for WWOOFers, but some are VERY isolated (meaning you should stock up on shampoo and chocolate before arriving).
All in all, I was very happy with my time WWOOFing. It enabled me to travel all of New Zealand for little money, helped me to sharpen my horseriding skills, and introduced me to many great people. Though I still have trouble telling spinach from beet greens, I know a whole lot more about New Zealand and the world. I don't know if I'll ever WWOOF again, but I am glad to have done it once, and I think that for a hasty and impulsive decision, it turned out to be amazing.
Article contributed by Rebecca Morey
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