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The truth about WWOOFing in New Zealand

Written by 25 August 2012 11 Comments

I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up for the WWOOF program on my trip to New Zealand. Just the name is a bit off-putting: Willing Workers On Organic Farms sounds a whole lot like rural slavery involving whip-cracking task masters and a diet of tofu and herbs.

However the deal is this – you work four to six hours a day in exchange for accommodation, food and (potentially) the sharing of knowledge and skills. I think it was the desire to experience a different, more real side of New Zealand that made me pay forty dollars in exchange for The Book of WWOOF, which lists all contributing farms in the country . After all, going clubbing in Auckland can’t be everything there is to traveling through this part of the world. But there was more to it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it: That I could endure hard, physical labour, sparse food and general hardship. But boy, was I wrong. Working on a farm without getting paid is much funnier than I thought!

Most credits go to my temporary mum and dad, Gill and Graham, whom I called up after long deliberation over what kind of farm I wanted to work at (I chose them because they grow almonds, and I love almonds). The proper term for them is hosts but that just sounds too cold and impersonal to describe all the wonderful things G&G do for their willing workers: They baked me cookies and fed me hot chocolate at night, they let me use their canoe on the nearby river and lent me their best outdoor gear (gumboots – they are so much cooler than they look), and they taught me valuable farm stuff like how to avoid being peed on by a goat while you’re trying to milk it. It might come in handy again one day!

Days do begin shockingly early on a farm (we were meant to be awake at 6 am) – on the other hand I adapted to the rural lifestyle by falling asleep like a log at 9.30 pm sharp. There was really not much else to do at night: The next house was miles away, the sun was setting at six pm, and there were no street lamps to speak of, in short: No glittery city distraction could come between me and country life.

Of course it didn’t help that there was no stopping during the day – there is always a tree that wanted to be harvested and pruned, various animals that needed feeding or milking (and sometimes even killing for dinner); then there was weeding, planting, processing almonds, secretly crying in the shed over the poor chicken that lost its life just so you can have a nice roast…As they say  “There is always something to do on a farm.” Especially when the septic tank overflows. Bliss.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really have any urban cravings to speak of during my stay. Granted, on my first outing to the nearest town (to which I biked all the way, because that’s how rural I got) I desperately eyed up Thai takeaways and vending machines, but after a while I got past mundane things like that. Instead, I enthusiastically kept improving my goat-milking skills (clamp first, then press), broke my own records in wood chopping and, oh yeah, I got strong. I mean, wow: For the first time in my comfortable, non-strenuous life I was actually building up muscles. I can carry stuff now! I no longer get sore just from climbing a ladder! Plus: With working like a pack horse, I didn’t really have time for applying make-up (and I didn’t even mind!), and my arachnophobia declined antiproportionally to the amount of bugs falling on my head when I lay in bed.

The impossible happened: I became a country girl! And you can, too! There are only really a couple of things that should be considered before investing in a pair of gumboots. First, be willing to get your hands dirty. Because they will. Luckily, so are everyone else’s. Be prepared to spend a lot of time with just yourself as company. Singing songs and telling yourself jokes helps. Finally, don’t be scared to pick up weird skills! Goat-milking? Yeah, I still show off with that one sometimes.


*guest post by Louisa von Reumont

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  • Anne said:

    Very good article. I’m contemplating doing some HelpExchange when I go to Australia in a few weeks, and everytime I tell people this they try to change my mind, saying I’ll probably be exploited, so what you wrote is quite reassuring. How long did you stay there?

  • Becca said:

    I love this – I am off to NZ at the end of November and I also want to prove to myself that I can do this type of work – I can be a farming girl and do all of the mucky stuff and hard graft …. can’t I? Well the only way is to try and I’ll find out soon enough, I hope I’m as successful as you!


  • Paul said:

    Hello, i am in New Zealand for a year in working hollidays. And i would like to learn a lot of things about this country. First of all i think live in a farm and work hard is a real things to see the real New Zealand way of life. I come from France, i want to have a foreign experience to improve my english. I am 23. I learn management at school but i want to discover other things. I have erver cut the grappes in my french family, and the corn. A work outside is important for me. l earn very goog thing aboout woofing.

  • António said:

    Nice post… :-)
    Can you give please some contacts for farms you’ve been through?
    Thanks a lot!

  • danika said:

    I’m very curious how you found your farm. Ive been looking into woofing in new zealand, and havent quite found enough information! Suggestions?

  • Ashleigh said:

    Hi there!

    I am a New Zealander and reading this was brilliant! I am a farm girl by birth, and was looking into this as I wanted to travel overseas in the coming year to America. I stumbled across this article and was very proud of our little country when I read you had fun.

    I hope that more people like you come to NZ! It is beautiful here.

    Love. Ash.

  • @iamMariza said:

    Thanks for sharing. Would love to do WWOOFing someday too.

  • KB said:

    Hello! I am wondering if you had trouble with a visa. NZ’s immigration website says that you need to get a work visa since you receive free food and accommodation to be allowed to WWOOF. Thanks!

  • Penelope said:

    I am a ‘Host’ and I loved this!!
    You are all the reasons why Woofers are rewarding. Yes we all work hard and long sometimes and most every Woofer I have had does the same and then indulges in my vast library. Restricted internet here but then again all that can be done in an urban life later when there is time. Woofers who want a holiday do not last and then they miss out on the homemade bread, icecream fresh veges and homekill meat, big bed and a great clean bathroom.
    But best is that I learn so much from my Woofers. Stuff like realising I am not old, getting an addiction for Game of Thrones and new music and that I have much to offer…still.

  • Mayte said:

    Very interesting article! If anyone is interested in Woofing or having a great farming experience in Kenya, please contact me! may.toca@gmail.com

  • Brooke Vlasich said:

    I’ve been very curious about WWOOF and what it’s like. I admired how open and honest you are about your experience, positive and negative. Thanks for being so informative.

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