Berengere Vuathier and her boyfriend Ivan Gorobenko wwoofed at Anita's Garden for a week in April. Upon her return to France, Berengere kindly wrote an account of her time in New Zealand and at Anita's Garden for my blog. This is what she has to say.
Wwoofing, a precious human experience
Not long before turning 30, Ivan and I decided to take a year off from our work and daily life in Brussels. We felt the strong desire to travel around a few countries, mainly in Asia, Australia and New Zealand - our longest destination - to create memories and enjoy a slower life, by getting closer to nature and soaking up new cultures. September 2017 was the start of our so long desired journey. After several months traveling across Asia, we were longing for a more quiet, relaxed journey in New Zealand, one where we could meet locals and share moments of their life. This is where we spent our last four months.
New Zealand: A paradise for nature lovers
New Zealand is all about nature and environment. Wherever you go, wherever you drive, you will be quickly surrounded by stunning sceneries and unique wildlife. Take Auckland for example, the biggest city in New Zealand. It only takes a 30-minute ferry drive to land on the predator-free island of Rangitoto where the urban jungle is replaced by lava fields, where fantails will soon joyfully follow your steps. The pristine landscapes and the omnipresent outdoors have been the main drivers of our 4-month journey throughout New Zealand.
As keen hikers, we were eager to get as close as possible to the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps. At the wheel of our freshly acquired custom-built minivan, we drove along the scenic roads in search of the wonders of New Zealand and a real outdoor life.
Waking up facing the quiet waters of Lake Manapouri, climbing one of the Remarkables summits just before gazing at an unexpected sunset over Lake Wakatipu, enjoying the quiet countryside life on Hobbiton-like hills in the Coromandel Peninsula... These are just some of the many memories of the journey we have created for life.
Wwoofing, what’s it all about?
Throughout our adventures across both islands, our aim was not only to discover the country from a tourist's perspective - because when you’re traveling, you still remain a tourist - but also from an insider’s perspective. This is why we turned to the WWOOF organization to look for voluntary work opportunities on organic farms and urban gardens throughout the country.
« Wwoofing » is the common term to designate the 4 to 5 hours of work you do in exchange of accommodation and meals when staying at an organic farm. To us it was obviously more than that. What we were looking for when applying to hosts’ farm or garden projects was the opportunity to get a gardening experience in a sustainable way but also to share our hosts’ daily life and thus have a real cultural exchange.
Budding gardeners in New Zealand
Both Ivan and I have been living in big cities all our life until now - in Ukraine, France and Belgium - but what soon became an obvious topic for us was how we could source our food better. This is why we have been developing a growing interest into environment and health. Always living in flats, we have never had a garden before.
And here we are, at the other bit of the world, putting our hands in the soil. Seeding, removing weeds around feijoa and lemon trees, preparing compost or planting raspberry plants will soon have no secret for us.
One of these experiences was at Anita’s Garden. We chose to contact Anita as we could already feel her enthusiasm for gardening from her profile. We were also very interested to learn about her experience starting Anita’s Garden from scratch after her previous corporate lawyer career. From the very first moment we entered her house, we felt at ease. And Anita’s passion about gardening soon became contagious.
What is wwoofing really about?
What fascinates me about Anita is her very deep knowledge about urban gardening. She acquired it while starting Anita’s garden. Because Anita was much concerned about varying our work activities as much as possible, we were able to learn a great deal about planting transplanting, growing and generally tending to a garden. During the one week we stayed with her, Anita would give us small projects to achieve day after day: sowing easy peasy peas, poppies, carrots in buckets for the winter season to come, planting passion fruit vines… We loved helping her and our efforts in the garden were always rewarded with the delicious meals Anita’s mum, Sue, cooked with the vegetables coming right from the garden. How fascinating was it to witness and take part in her fantastic home garden: It is really impressive to see how much you can grow on a quarter acre around your house.
But what really made our experience with Anita so rich, is that we could engage into deep conversations and reflect it on our own lives. To Anita, working on her suburban section soon became more than just cultivating her own fruits and vegetables. Gardening can be a sort of therapy and help with all sorts of problems. It helps Anita to cope with some health problems and generally to feel better. And I can’t agree more. Working in the garden is soothing and I always feel like I am meditating. Our mind can focus on the present. Wwoofing is really about sharing your own experiences, be it in the garden or in life in general. We enjoyed to talk about her time when she was working in France, comparing our ways of life back home and here in New Zealand.
It was such an enriching experience to exchange with Anita on mind and life topics which go far beyond gardening activities. And this is exactly what wwoofing is about to us. Taking part in the gardening activities while learning and exchanging knowledge with the wwoofing hosts.Our wwoofing experiences have been far beyond our expectations. Not only have we learned a lot about how to grow organic vegetables from A to Z, but this was an incredibly rich human experience, one we are very grateful of.