We've just spent the last ten days HelpXing with the lovely Matla family in Otaki on the outskirts of Wellington. On arriving we couldn't believe our luck when we saw our accomodation.... a cute cottage next to the veggie patch and overlooking an inhabited dove cote. I ran excitedly from room to room opening drawers, turning on the taps, laying on the bed, boiling the kettle in an excited 'we've got our own house again' kind of way. Sonja and Tim were incredibly thoughtful and had left us an assortment of home comforts including homemade bread, homemade fig and ginger jam (I shall be making this in the future), yoghurts, and homemade chocolate shortbread. Sonja had read on our HelpX advert that Dom was a bit (!) of a film boff so had sorted out a selection of DVDs and a player for us including the extended version of The Return Of The King which we had been been hunting high and low for (Dom wouldn't let me watch the normal version!) For dinner in the evening we were treated to roast pork, gooseberry crumble and custard and wine. Sonja and Tim spent two years backpacking around England and Europe on a tight budget in the early 90's and we really felt like they 'got' us and knew exactly what travellers wanted and needed... we were SO appreciative of this. We laid in bed on the first night thinking 'WOW'.
In exchange for this experience we just had to work for four hours a day. The jobs included planting some winter veggies in the veg patch (that we had earlier bought from the garden center), weeding, sawing firewood, painting the verandah, cleaning the chicken shed (which we didn't mind as I enjoyed collecting the eggs in the evening so it was only fair we gave them some comfort in return for all of their egg laying hardwork), pruning the olive grove and strimming the bank (or weed eating as they call it here) ... all pretty simple, fine tasks that we were more than happy to do. One day we spent an hour picking wild blackberries! On Wednesday my "work" involved helping Sonja make blackberry jam (from the ones we picked), cheese scones and blueberry and lemon cakes. I learnt such a lot about the process of jam making, the dos and don'ts and can't wait to start making my own when we get back (plus i've seen a wicked Cath Kidston jam making kit i desperately want). Sonja is a great cook/baker and I thoroughly enjoyed searching through her recipe books and picking up hints and tips. We've never eaten so many desserts as we did here!
The setting was picturesque; olive grove, fruit trees, chickens, doves, veggie garden, beautiful flowers.... how i'd like our garden to look in twenty or so years. Sonja and Tim have their own supply of beans, lettuce, sweetcorn, tomatoes, asparagus, oranges, lemons, figs, passionfruits, apples, pears, quince (which Sonja poached in vanilla for us to try), limes, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries to name just a few. Flin and Blaze (who has the cutest little dog fringe i've ever seen) were the family dogs.... friendly, lovable, cuddly and intriguignly humanlike. Dom has the theory that Blaze was actually a small person in a dog suit living the high life.
The combination of having our own comfortable space, lack of funds, uncertainty over what we were going to do next and general travel weariness meant that we spent a lot of time chilling out watching DVD's (finishing off about 7 episodes of the funny and sexy Californication in one sitting), reading or looking at our options. When we did feel adventurous we went to Otaki beach one day when the weather was stunning. We also took the train into Wellington, "the coolest little capital in the World". We sauntered around Te Papa museum of New Zealand and saw the collosal squid, experienced what it would be like to be in an Earthquake and learnt more about Maori history. We also took the short cable car ride to The Botanical Gardens and saw great views over the Capital. We visited the National Film Archive which houses an exhaustive collection of New Zealand's history of films of all kinds. Luckily we didn't have a whole lot of time there otherwise Dom would have spent the day watching DVD's of Peter Jackson's back catalogue on the viewing stations. One regret was that we were unable to visit Miramar, the area of Wellington in which Weta Workshop and studios are based and where (we were reliably informed) such Hollywood luminaries as Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom and Stephen Fry are currently based whilst completing filming of The Hobbit. Maybe on the way back up to Auckland.
On Saturday evening Sonja and Tim treated us to a meal at a local Romanian-run stone fired pizza restaurant, explaining that they 'know what it's like to travel around and that they know we'd appreciate being taken out'. Hell yeah we do! Afterwards we curled up to watch Cowboys and Aliens (i don't recommend watching) with the family and Fast & Furious 5 (which Dom thought Rocked) the next evening both of which they rented from the video store. They really made us feel like friends of the family who had come to stay with them rather than 'their helpxers' which we have sometimes felt in other homestays with the attitude of 'us and them'. We were sad to leave as we had become very comfortable there and shared many interesting conversations, we were just made to feel so welcome...but we knew we had another adventure to embark on....
I'm writing this whilst cruising on the tasman sea on a Ferry from Wellington to Picton as we're saying farewell to the North Island and howdy to the South. We've a long drive to Wanaka (around 10 hours) but we're hopefully going to be based there for the next few months. We've found a pretty cool sounding Scottish couple who live right next to the lake to flatshare with until we find our feet (and jobs). A stunning pod of atleast 20-30 dolphins has just been following the ferry...dashing in and out of the water so calmly and elegant just beautiful, and to think we were going to pay good money in Russel to see them, ha. Anyway, we're both pretty excited about having some more stability and earning money so we can do the adrenaline pumping activities that we came to this country for...woohoo!