Well, I am most definitely still playing catch up with this blog. Meg and I have traveled and done so many things in the three months since we’ve been in the country that it has become hard to look back and decipher what I should begin writing about again. In this respect the trip has been amazing and it’s certainly a great problem to have. It feels like we’ve been truly living and our time has been full with memorable excursions. I am sure this year will be gone with a blink in retrospect but right now in the moment it feels like we’ve been here for at least a year already – and I mean that in the best possible way.
So, we last left off having toured Alexandra and the Catlins. Having explored for the week we decided to settle down for a few weeks and WWOOF at a couple of different spots. Our first hosts were Graham and Sandi who ran a bed and breakfast in the countryside and speaking with Graham on the phone the night before we immediately got the sense that they were welcoming, kindhearted people. Pulling up the long, winding gravel driveway to the Mainholm Lodge the victorian style gardens and stone walkway led up to the third rebuild of this beautiful brick building set in the vivid green fields of the Otago countryside we’ve come to love so much.
Graham and Sandi had us in for a cuppa (slang for a tea break here in New Zealand) and some biscuits to get to know one another a bit. Not from Britain as I originally suspected, Graham was actually Welsh but still knew the finer points of tea making. They told us of their past WWOOFers and the interesting people they’d met from around the world because of it. I hope we too are now among those happy memories of theirs. Planning to sell the lodge, they were now working on upkeep and maintenance projects. This is where we could fit in by helping with some of the landscaping and garden work. First thing was first though, a tour of the house. Graham was clearly used to leading such tours and he got into the specifics of the design, building history and interesting facts such as a horror / love movie named ‘The Returning”. Quite dreadful really, he told us but a large framed movie poster still memorialized it in a small pantry room near the kitchen. Another Hollywood connection was the movie ‘Pete’s Dragon’ that was filmed just down the road in the town of Tapanui. Legend has it Robert Redford rented three rooms at the Mainholm Lodge just to store his hair products! That legend was also created by me just now for this post.
Landscaping was the name of the game for us as we helped prepare the grounds for visitors. Sounds very Downtown Abbey doesn’t it?
“Your grounds are prepared, Sir.”
“Thank you David, please sequester yourself to the servants quarters until I require something of you once more.”
“Hmmmm of course Master Graham.”
Jokes aside I had a lot of fun doing some chainsawing, hedging and building a little garden bed in the backyard. Graham asked me if I had experience with the heavy duty weed whackers. Of course I did (I did not). So I went to town on some filthy weeds along the driveway with my new toy. With so much manly stuff to do it’s a wonder how Meg kept her eyes off me and got anything done at all but somehow she managed.
After a couple weeks of gardening and yard work we got to end our stay by helping to host a murder mystery night. We didn’t get to see much of it unfortunately but it was entitled “Death By Chocolate” and although Meg volunteered to eat all of their chocolate and be the murder victim she sadly did not get the part. We did however meet the very friendly hostess they had hired who lived nearby and she told us something quite interesting. Meg had shared her love of ghost stories and haunted lore while asking about anything potentially spooky about Mainholm. Well, the hostess said, the room at the end of the hall upstairs has supposedly had reports of having the silhouette of a man standing over the end of the bed by some guests that had stayed there before. This was of course the room that they had chosen for us to use while we were WWOOFing there. I mean, why sacrifice paying guests when some transients could alert them to any murderous spirits? We later joked that we were both eighty year-old’s trapped in soon-to-be thirty year-old’s bodies and our bedtime was usually 9pm. Once the old cuckoo clock struck this hour, we would put on our full length silk pajama’s, brush our teeth and put in our ear plugs and sleep masks (only the pajamas is actually a joke). This meant that the devilish black silhouette man was probably trying to do terrifying things at the foot of our bed while we couldn’t hear or see a thing. Must have been extremely frustrating. Blood pouring from the walls, his head spinning around, speaking in tongues. Nothing. Sorry ghost, this couple needs their beauty rest.
In the end our time at the Mainholm was wonderful and easygoing. It was tough work some days and I don’t know if we’ll ever get use to the heat of the sun here but afternoons in the shade spent reading and the wonderful meals under the ole eating tree certainly rewarded our efforts. It was very peaceful. I’ll never forget the red glow bathed on the hills the evening of the murder mystery night while Meg, Graham and I sat on the front porch with a beer and some cheesecake (perfect combination by the way). It felt nice to ‘take some deep breaths’.
Waving goodbye to Graham and Sandi, we wished them the best of luck with everything in the future and that we were happy to help in our small way. Turning the key, Chunk (our van’s name is Chunk from the Goonies FYI) chugged to life in that graceful chug only an old diesel engine can produce and before we knew it we were heading back towards Queenstown, where we had started this adventure, and the site of our next hosts, Monica and Grant.
The Tui House
The Tui House is a little lodge just outside of Queenstown that has a room for visitors on the lower level. It is right beside Wilson’s Bay on Wakatipu Lake. It is a very sought after spot for WWOOFers as it is right near Queenstown and the home itself is absolutely amazing. Turning their property into somewhat of a tui bird sanctuary, they have set up sugar water feeders along their deck to attract them. Quite a territorial bird they do not usually live in close proximity to one another and although you see some of the bigger birds bullying others away sometimes, they mostly seem to enjoy the area peacefully. They also make some of the coolest calls we’ve heard and sometimes sound very robotic and R2D2 like. Mimickers, one of our hosts, Grant, had taught one of the birds to answer a specific whistle he had come up with. It’s a beautiful sound to wake up to I can promise you that.
Meg and I were lucky enough to hear back from Monica after we messaged her and it worked out that they could use a hand the week before Christmas so after Mainholm we pretty much made our way straight there with a day of hiking in between.
After finishing a beautiful hike in Glenorchy, we pulled up after dinner one evening to meet Monica and her husband Grant. Monica was born in Canada as it turned out, another Canadian connection, and had traveled to Australia where she had met and worked with Grant. Doing well for themselves and Grant being a Kiwi, they decided to settle back in New Zealand near one of their favourite places. Monica now manages one of the tourism offices and was gracious enough to help us with some of the deals and packages for our travels further down the line into the Fiordlands. Grant had been a diver for Paua fish, a large export to China mainly, and now lead luxury tours for a leading travel company (pretty sweet gigs if you ask me).
He had an awesome sense of humour and we would all be cracking up over the dinner table many nights trading stories, answering Meg’s interesting questions or getting excited about the night’s big slay up he had in store for the pesky possums surrounding the house. As for Monica, she was a sweet and gentle person who you could instantly tell was a very giving, kind person. She spoke passionately about books and art and the people lucky enough to be in her inner circle. We had lucked out once again and ended up in a fantastic home with more fantastic people.
Inside their home was decorated for Christmas. A different kind of Christmas than we were use to, a Kiwi Christmas traditionally involved sun, BBQs on beaches and travelling the country. Beautiful wood rafters and bay windows hung above their wooden Christmas tree and decorations.
The first day we did some landscaping and gardening which we were now pros at. The garden never new what hit it. I got to pull on some overalls and those hard hats with ear protectors again for some weed whacking adventures around the property. I was also used for my expertise at being tall and removed some of the overhanging branches along their driveway. We were still enjoying putting on some podcasts and getting to do some manual labour. Working with our hands and seeing the results right away wasn’t losing its effect yet.
For the rest of the week we got to re-stain their deck and build a rock pool for their gardens. This was a bit monotonous but with the sun, the views and the robotic calls of the tui birds drinking around the deck it couldn’t have been a better setting. Also, I’ve gotten pretty good at repetitive tasks with my time in the army and even find joy in turning off my brain from time to time.
The rock pool was a fun project and one that Monica had wanted to do for some time we were told. They had a wonderful little stream that wound its way through their garden which she wanted to create a little waterfall and pool area you could sit by. It was the perfect spot for something like this and we told them that our combined experiences of digging trenches in the army would now be put to use on something practical.
After we finished our digging, we started to find the largest, flattest rocks around to line the bottom and make a couple of lips where the water could majestically spill over into or out of our little paradise pond.
We think it turned out pretty well in the end and to add a touch of Canada, we made a little Inuksuk to watch over it. Monica seemed to really like it and we were promised a picture of how it looks once they get some more rain and the stream starts flowing again. After all our hard work digging and shifting some decent sized rocks, Monica and Grant told us they wanted to treat us to a night in Queenstown for dinner and to see the new Star Wars movie. A great ending to another awesome week.
Grant told us about getting Maggie to be his great possum hunter dog. After the first night seeing her curled up on the couch in Monica’s arms we knew that his search for a hunting dog was not over.
As for their cat, Grant told us Oscar was an explosive ball of energy with the nimbleness of a panther but the bite of a jaguar. He told us to take care and not disturb the great beast as it could mean our lives.
When I think back to the Tui House I love remembering big, freshly picked garden salads for dinner every night, stunning hikes just a five minutes drive away, epic mountain biking trails literally across the road and two of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. It was an incredible leg to our trip and not sure if we are getting lucky but talking with other WWOOFers we’ve met along the way – I think New Zealanders are just that nice.
Parting shots from some of the hikes in the area we got to enjoy during our stay:
After two more inspiring stays with local hosts, Meg and I packed up and decided to take a couple of weeks and explore the Fiordlands. This is the site of the famous Milford Sound and is lavished with rainforests, stunning mountain lakes and marvelous waterways out into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Here we began to meet fellow travelers, had an orphan’s Christmas in Te Anau and got some once in a lifetime exposure to some of the most serene natural landscapes we had ever seen. This however, I will save for another story. Until then happy travels!