It was time to consult the New Zealand travel itinerary – something I hadn’t done for a while having being stationed in the same areas for 7 months, that’s not to say I didn’t get my fair share of travelling in though. Northland and the Bay of Islands was somewhere I hadn’t ventured yet and in the free weeks after Glowing it seemed the perfect area to head. I must say that being renowned as the ‘winterless north’ too was also very appealing, given the frosts and general lack of heat in Waitomo. With a few months left to support myself, I was keen to do some paid work or at least gain experience and save funds with some more WWOOFING. Within a couple of days of leaving Glowing I had secured a few weeks paid work mandarin picking in the very north of the country, in a town called Kaitaia. Fruit picking is something I have shied away from if I am honest, hearing about slave labour conditions, poor treatment and crap money, and after the run of luck I’ve had you could guess why I wouldn’t be too keen. However, the job was advertised for just a few weeks work and a decent hostel to reside at, plus I bloody love mandarins.
I was staying up to date with Facebook posts from my new UK friend Lauren, and after a lengthy discussion about how isolated she was feeling au-pairing down near Wellington, I offered my hand out and asked if she wanted to join me on my trip up north. Very last minute, it suddenly all started to fall into place – if the work was bad at least we’d have the comfort of each other, a bit of extra monies coming in and most importantly the chance to hang out and have fun road tripping around the north. It didn’t take long to convince Lauren, and the next thing we know we’re heading to Kaitaia, a whole day travelling needless to say we were happy to hit the bed that night. We were greeted by a cheeky friendly Scot, Michael, who we’d wind up sharing a room with for the entirety of our north shore trip. An evening of Lord of the Rings based chat and Family Guy impressions with Michael, and the discovery of a ping pong table made the anxiety about the impending work the next day more bearable.
The following morning we took a short drive and were ‘greeted’ by the heads in charge at the orchard (greeted is putting it politely) then it was a case of jumping on the back of the ute or tractor and being driven down at life threatening/super exciting speed down to one of the orchards..I learned later that day there were some 60,000 trees there, we’d be busy.
Shiny luscious green leaves and pops of striking orange covered the orchards, they were a beautiful sight and happily for me, pretty small trees:
‘Grab these, stick your bucket there, don’t fackin’ cut the fruit, if it’s fackin’ cut it’s facked. Don’t fackin’ chuck it in the bucket, it’s PUFFY alright? 2 to a tree and off you go…’ – friendly Alan
The work certainly wasn’t difficult, I was happy to let my mind wander, meeting a new faces each time half of the tree was stripped. A break or ‘Smoko’ after a couple of hours, it certainly was that, about 90% of the workers smoked. I was surprised to realise out of the 50 or so of us working each day most were locals, rather than us foreigners, so it made for quite an insight in to their lives and comings and goings (whether you wanted to know the details or not!) Singing Bob Marley songs, traditional Maori songs, telling stories of drunken or drug related happenings, often in fits of giggles their optimism was inspiring.
Living a different, honest lifestyle, it was hard to connect on some levels but they were totally welcoming and accepting in other ways. The work was the most community spirit I have felt in a group of people – sometimes I’d daydream and the thoughts would wander and imagine we were all at some kind of prison camp, with the limited talking, humming, singing of songs and team attitude. There were also characters in charge that would refer to us as Jokers ‘Hey girl!’ ‘Eh Cuzzie’ ‘Auntie’ we laughed and endured a bit of shouting, getting a grilling and telling off every so often. We all soon had our established nicknames ‘Pinky’ was mine due to the pink edging on my jacket, and Lauren became ‘Magic Hands’..I’m still not quite sure how that came about. As the days rolled by in strong sunlight and torrential downpours we began to form a bit of a fruit picking ninja clan, the idea of doing this for 3 weeks became less depressing. In a weird way I quite enjoyed the discipline of it, the simplicity of the work leant itself to long moments of thought and it became an endurance test, but these tests I quite enjoy, I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself out of my comfort zone further and further to see how I will cope, pretty well it seemed. Then there came the day the heavens opened and we all got a soaking, mud, rain pouring in under waterproofs, dripping down our legs onto our socks, in to our shoes, wet foliage, slippery fruit, sharp branches, hard to reach mandarins, yeah 3 weeks was enough.
We became a great friend group at the hostel, we’d often cook meals together, play ping pong and pool and other games beginning with the letter P. Lauren hosted her Lord of the Rings film night where regulars such as lovely Italian cook Bruno and super friendly Marian amongst others would drop in. We’d enjoy endless banter from Michael, sweet if a little odd conversations with Japanese Ken, and general feel good fun with Janina and Patrick from Germany. We’d also get the occasional free day/afternoon off work together and this was the perfect excuse to go to the beautiful coast – the 90 mile beach and play Frisbee (it’s winter remember!) plus we had the beach to ourselves (I’m trying not to get too used to this feeling) .
It was a happy day when we were lucky enough to be in the presence of one of the most ancient of trees. On the weekend we took a trip south, Michael joining us for the ride. We headed for Tane Mahuta meaning Lord of the Forest, the largest living Kauri tree in New Zealand, estimated to be over 2000yrs old…what a sight! These enigmatic trees have lived for thousands of years and yet their roots are now heavily protected and so sensitive, sadly many trees have been lost due to contamination. Tane Mahuta had a beautiful glowing presence along with the damp lush forest walk to the viewing platform to the Cathedral Grove – like something out of Zelda, it captured my heart.
On the trip up to Kaitaia we drove through a small town called Kawakawa when I noticed a familiar site. The colourful whimsical curves reminiscent of the artist Hundertwasser, sure enough we’d stumbled upon public toilets (!) designed and created by himself and the local community. Little did we know that Austrian born Hundertwasser visited Kawakawa in the 1970’s and fell in love with the local area so much he moved in until his last day. The town is somewhat of a shrine to his work with it’s very own cute steam train, it all just seemed so random, but this made it all the more poignant. We’d taught the pupils in the days I was working at the school about Hundertwasser, they had a project where they created their own buildings inspired by his paintings – it was a joy to see one in real life!
The same day we also did I guided tour of the Kawiti family caves, a nice little fix and trip through a fascinating 200 metre limestone cave system.
On another free day from mandarin picking we headed to the northernmost point in New Zealand – Cape Reinga lighthouse. For Maori Cape Reinga is the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand. We were so close by and on the great recommendation from Lauren we decided to head up late afternoon to capture the sun setting. The weather wasn’t the ‘best’ in that it was incredibly windy and stormy for most of the day, undeterred we believed it would add to the atmosphere. I was also very aware that we should be kept as busy as possible in our downtime to reconnect with the reasons we’d travelled to this amazing country. Stepping out of the car for photo opportunities we were nearly swept off our feet, there was something in the air that day (starts humming Phil Collins). Peering over the cliff edge witnessing two oceans collide we discovered the place of leaping, where Maori spirits begin their final journey. It is here that after death, all Māori spirits are believed to travel up the coast and over the wind-swept vista to the pohutukawa tree on the headland of Te Rerenga Wairua. They descend into the underworld (reinga) by sliding down a root into the sea below. The spirits then travel underwater to the Three Kings Islands where they climb out onto Ohaua, the highest point of the islands and bid their last farewell before returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki-A-Nui.
Speaking of history and spirituality on site at the hostel was a gorgeously carved marae. In some modern Polynesian societies, notably that of the Maori of New Zealand, the marae is still a vital part of everyday life. A marae is a communal or sacred place that serves religious and social purposes, and in my case I used it for yoga 🙂
We’d become a bit of a family at the Mainstreet Hostel and as our last day approached we were joined by a lovely friend Rachael from the orchard and headed to the nearest pub for karaoke! Where Lauren got her song on and I well, drank more… leading to a full day of hangover…it was time to go.
Whangarei offered time to heal and isolate myself for a couple of days. Since leaving Kaitaia and dropping Lauren off in Paihia to continue her journey back to Auckland to stay with extended family, I had developed a cold and needed to rest. Whangarei offered sunshine, caves and waterfalls – just the pick me up I needed. Being a little less adventurous than normal (my temperature was fluctuating between shivers and sweats) I took a stroll around 2 areas of caving interest, Waipu Caves and the Abbey Caves. Waipu Caves were particularly flooded out, it was an unguided trip and without the proper clothing and being a bit shaky on my feet I was content venturing inside the entrance and surrounding bush walk. It was on this day that I realised how I still feel that rush when ‘discovering’ a cave entrance, so much so that venturing inside is not even the most exciting part. At first I didn’t know if I liked this feeling (!) but realised that it’s the curiosity that drives me, the shift from light to dark, a portal to another world, another time, it fires up my heart. Well rested, in a quaint little home with a comfy bed and mother figure Air BNB host I was re-energised, and ready to head back down to the sanctuary, Earthskin Muriwai…
‘There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart, pursue those.’
Soundtrack: New Zealand Folk Song – Pokarekare Ana, Bob Marley – Satisfy My Soul, Thomas Newman – Anokhi