Alcohol - the cause of and solution to all life's problems.
Whitianga, New Zealand
After being soilt at warkworth Lodge we left once again looking forward to our next HelpX experience, this time at a place
called the Purangi Winery Cafe/Bar. We were quite frankly unprepared for what we encountered. Rustic is the misnomer you
might use to describe the ramshackle, positively run-down first impression we had of the place. Our accomodation consisted of
a recently hobbled together room containing two old single beds that based on a quick visual assessment I felt obliged to
check for bed-bugs (none were found). An old bed sheet nailed to the wall was to be the curtain shielding us from the sun and
bugs outside. Once we had been shown around an emergency drive-and-chat was required to persuade ourselves to at least give
it a chance, we could always leave the next day if it wasn't working out. This decision proved the vailidity of that famous
saying about books, covers and judgment. We ended up having a blast and had largely forgotten our initial misgivings after a
couple of days. Indeed, when we first arrived we were warmly greeted by Danny who runs the place and who does a roaring trade
working on the wine tasting bar with his remarkable salesmans patter. We were offered a sample of their home-brewed Feijoa
liqueur and the two other helpxers prepared for us one of the estates locally reknowned, wood-fired-oven-cooked pizzas (the
first of many).
The work consisted of cleaning and relabelling old booze bottles, filling them up again with the newly brewed liqueurs and
wines, preparing food (mainly the aforementioned delicious stonebaked wood fire pizzas) for the customers and manning the
bar. Really tough stuff! Although long hours it was chilled out and and even fun with an excellent selection of alternative
tunes playing through Danny's ipod and plenty of opportunity to play table tennis and hake-sak. We could help ourselves to
food and drink including the home made liqueurs and cider. Win! Danny is a local lad who has many fishermen friends so we
were spoilt with freshly caught scallops, crayfish and snapperfish. Even the odd oyster freshly scooped from the river at the
back of the winery. We also got to meet Danny's parents Bob and Anneke, two of the most knowlegable people we've ever met.
Mellissa ended up having daily cooking masterclasses from Aneke to make, for example, simple but delicious hummus, pesto and
guacomole. The recipe book is fast filling up. Meanwhile, I had what felt like almost daily schooling from Bob in a range of
subjects ranging from the current problems facing NZ farmers to a potted history of China and what is now believed to be the
sheer scale of their early exploratory endeavours and influence on worldwide civilisations.....
We were not the only helpers there and it was great fun to hang around with the others; Mareike from Germany, Alice from
Belgium, Eddie and Devon from California, the truly lovely Roxy from Hong Kong, and another US traveller called Eric who
didn't actually work at the winery but would pop in every other day. In the evenings we sat around drinking, chatting,
watching Flight of the Conchords, trying to learn some guitar basics (and in my case buying the guitar from the 'soon to be
leaving NZ' Roxy) or playing poker at the seemingly tri-weekly tournaments. These were intimidating at first, being populated
largely by local regulars (all either farmers and/or surfers who have known each other for years) but I kept going back for
more, learnt a lot and lost little. Never again will I bet significant chips on a two-pair, it's a deceitful b****** of a
One morning we got up early to watch Danny and Mareike go surfing. Unfortunately Mellissa, whilst crossing a stream, tripped
and dunked our phone and my camera in the water. She initially, in a fit of panicked self preservation, flatly denied that
she had saturated my beautiful, expensive SLR camera. But the dripping wet item held now at arms length told the real story!
Sure enough it was b*****ed in that uniquelt electronic way where it worked but was operationally unusable. I remained
silently furious, both at Mellissa for her lack of care for my baby and at myself for not having insured it. After some Zen-
like meditation I resolved myself to accept what had happened and move on with my life. Thankfully after drying out in our
sauna of a van for a couple of days it returned itself to perfect working order.
The winery often holds music nights and on our first Saturday a blues band were playing (the entertaining Tom Rodwell and
Storehouse). This ended up being a long day for us, working from around 10am until close of play at about 2am the following
morning. Again though it largely didn't feel like work (although Mellissa did spit her dummy out for half an hour or so
around about 11pm) and we had a great time working the bar serving the gradually more intoxicated locals. Being able to drink
on the job certainly helped the night go quicker, gotta be sure of the quality of the goods your selling right?
We had to share the winery with 8 feline friends. Mellissa and my differing views about cats are well documented. This schism
was deepened when Mellissa's attempt to befriend one of the cats backfired. After a few positive minutes of sitting on her
lap the cat in question fell off and dug it's claws into Mellissa's leg, which instantaneously flared up with some
disturbingly large welts. Luckily the rapid intake of antihistamines and the application of antiseptic sorted them out, but
Mellissa's relationship with cats will I fear never be so easily fixed. Really though the cats aren't there as house cats but
as rat prevention devices and as such are relatively wild. Sure enough one of the cats left a thoughtful present, maybe as a
way of saying sorry to Mellissa, of a 30cm (ish) rat for us one morning which I eventually dealt with by scooping it up on a
spade and flinging it deep into the undergrowth.
We were once again able to make the most of the local knoweldge at hand to see things we would otherwise never even know
about. One such occasion was when Danny took us on an evening to a spot deep within one of his families patches of land that
contained a small but perfectly formed glow-worm cave. We reached it via a visit to a gnarly local couple and their scary
looking but friendly dogs, a treacherous (in the dark) climb around a waterfall and accompanying pool containing eels. The
cave was small but impressive, they eventually hope to turn it into a tourist attraction but for now it was and is a magical
excursion just for the lucky few.
Danny's local expertise also came in handy when planning our trip to the nearby hot water beach, so named because of the hot
springs of water that lie just below the sand. A hole dug in the right place at the right time gives you your own personal
hot tub and Danny was able to advise us where and when to do it. To avoid the summer crowds we went at night, arriving about
9pm for the start of low tide about 11pm armed with a hefty spade. Things weren't looking too promising until we fell in with
an english and canadian couple, both of whom's men worked in construction (bonus). In no time we had dug ourselves a sizeable
and rather professional looking pool and were able to enjoy laying back in the warmth of the water whilst mavelling at the
incredibly clear and starry night sky. We were both taken aback by just how hot the sand could be, almost scaldingly so in
places. Some of the other daytrips we were able to make included swimming and frisbee at nearby Lonely Bay with Roxy, an
afternoon trip to the impressive Cathedral Cove with Roxy and Alice, a walk up to Shakespeare cliff and it's stunning
panoramic views of Mercury Bay and Hahei beach.
All in all a great experience and I guess just the sort of thing we were looking for on our travels. Cool beans.