After returning Winnie, our little campervan, last week, we caught a ride an hour North of Auckland to the small town of Matakana. Nestled in New Zealand’s coastal wine country, Matakana is only about 300 meters of small organic restaurants, expensive designer clothing stores, and fancy chocolate/candle/pillow boutiques catering to the weekenders that drive up from Auckland for a country escape.
However, we did not come to Matakana for a fancy wine-filled weekend, we came to spend our final week in New Zealand WWOOFing. Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is more than just a fun acronym—it is a world-wide organization that pairs travelers with organic farmers that need a few extra (inexpensive) hands. Typically, WWOOFers work 4-6 hours per day in exchange for food, a place to sleep and hopefully, to meet local friends. Although you may not have heard of it, WWOOFing in New Zealand is a common way for young adults to travel longer than their wallets may allow.
After we paid $40 USD to get access to the official New Zealand WWOOF website, we created a snazzy profile highlighting our outdoorsy sides and started messaging hosts in the Auckland area that ran wineries. But isn’t WWOOFing about farming, you ask? Yep, but vineyards totally count and since we have a bit of experience working on Andrew’s parents’ vineyard (and because I just really wanted buckets of wine), we decided to be picky. Fortunately, the first couple we contacted immediately invited us to stay for a week, so off we went! (I have heard it is not always easy to find hosts. We probably just got lucky since I sent the message while cooped up during a cyclone. Thanks Universe!)
Justin and Cynthia are an international couple (Kiwi and American) who run Te Rata Wines from a handful of vineyards scattered around Matakana. They have a large house on a huge property that comes complete with a cat, a dog, two pigs, and four roommates. Including Andrew and I, that makes 12 mammals living on the property. It may sound hectic but this wonderfully diverse group made our time there so fun and special.
In addition to Justin and Cynthia, here is the cast of characters we spent our time with. Scott is a local brewer. Russell is a local brewer. Johan is a local brewer. No, I did not accidentally copy and paste that sentence, they are all three brewers living under the same roof, working for Sawmill Brewery, 8 Wired Brewery, and Deep Creek Brewery respectively. The fourth roommate, Dakota is an American who originally traveled to New Zealand to WWOOF but never left and is now engaged to Johan. We spent a whole week getting to know our WWOOF-mates and left feeling like we made lifelong friends.
Last but not least, the animals. The two pigs—Poppy and Davey—have been on the property longer then anyone can remember and serve as the living garbage disposal for all the food scraps. Jakka, the cat is new to the family and spends his time intimidating the dog whenever possible. And the dog, Bailey, is my favorite. She loves to cuddle on the couch at home unless she gets too hot. Then she will happily jump in the pool for a swim. She even helped us work on the vineyards.
Most mornings, we (Justin, Bailey the dog, Andrew and I) were at the vineyard by 8 am and worked until noon. I stapled nets around the vines to stop birds from eating the grapes while Bailey patrolled the rows. At one point, some birds got tangled in the nets so Bailey gave them each a quick chomp to guarantee they would not bother us again (I know, gruesome.) While I was stapling the nets, Andrew weed whacked and whacked weeds until his arms were about to fall off. It was nice to be in the sun and feel useful, but the highlight was the weekend.
On Friday, we drove all the way into Auckland with Dakota to help pour Te Rata wines and some local beers at an evening food truck market. We sampled poutine, tacos, burritos, pizza, and crème brule from the other vendors in addition to partaking in the beer and wine we were happily serving. At the end of the night, we luckily still had some half empty bottles of wine to bring home and finish off while watching the Winter Olympics with our temporary roommates. (By the way, it is a bit odd to be in summer down here watching the winter sports.) On Saturday our only work requirement was to take care of Bailey while Justin and Cynthia went out of town. So, we spent the day at the beach watching Bailey expertly leap over every single wave she could find. She could do this for hours.
During our brief time there, we really felt like we were at home. Our roomies ranged in age from 20 something to 40 something, and were a variety of nationalities (Kiwis, Americans, a Swede, and a Scott) but together, make up a warm and loving unconventional family. Each evening we had the privilege of joining this group for a home cooked meal where the conversation ranged from US politics (which comes up a lot in our travels) to riffing with puns using “in cider” (just say it out loud). We learned and laughed, ate delicious food, drank incredible wine, made new friends, and hungout in a beautiful home. This week was all too short but it was a week we will always remember.