How to WWOOF in New Zealand
By Antonia Murphy
Living on a farm, working in a hotel, it’s a great way to live and work with the Kiwis. Try WWOOFing!
Come be woofer in New Zealand! No really, that’s not a sexy dog fetish thing. WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) are flooding the country in droves at this time of year, and most of them have the time of their lives. (There is also the odd scary experience, but we’ll get to that later.)
Those spectacular mountain lakes from Lord of The Rings? Not Photoshopped.
I personally live at the top of the North Island (Or as I like to call it, “the Shire”) and though we may not blow smoke rings in the shape of dragons, it truly is as lush and beautiful as Hobbiton here. Elves and talking trees?
Not necessarily, but I have been to Ulva Island, a magical place where endangered birds are unafraid of humans, and will sit on your shoulder like you’re Snow White and the world is a Disney cartoon.
So how to make this happen? New Zealand doesn’t need to be expensive— the priciest part is getting here. I’m an old lady of 40 who requires direct flights, but my niece traveled here from the US East Coast last year, took five airplanes and paid just over $500.
Then, about that WWOOFing. The most common arrangement in New Zealand is for travelers to work 3-6 hours per day in exchange for three meals a day and accommodation. Within those parameters, the deal can vary widely.
Personally, I’ve hired people to work on a farm and a sailboat, and the sailboat trip was super-fun until we nearly sank in Cook Strait.
Awful, you say? At the time, we were cold and wet. But we all had the adventure of a lifetime, and frankly, you haven’t seen Cook Strait until you’re in a small sailboat in a major storm. More common tasks for WWOOFers are picking fruit, working in a garden, milking cows, or childcare. The accommodations can run from very comfortable to—ahem—sparse.
But as my good buddy Galdalf likes to say, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. “ So go on, take a chance! And if you’re not having a good time with your hosts, you can always hit the road.
Best Case Scenario
Best Case Scenario: we know a lovely family where the father is a luxury French chef. They offer a private bedroom for their WWOOFers on their charming little farm, no one works too hard, and the food is worthy of a Michelin-starred hotel.
Worst Case Scenario: I have one friend who found himself staying on a very remote farm at the bottom of the South Island. The accommodations were primitive, and the host was an Orc-like beast who wandered around muttering to himself.
Worst of all, when he wanted to urge his cattle forward, he would (cough!) sexually assault them with a stick. The whole scene was super-creepy and my friend escaped as soon as possible.
So how do you make this WWOOFing thing a reality? There are a few sites you might want to check out when you get to New Zealand. (Don’t bother making contact with families before you get here—there usually isn’t much lead time and people need help right away.)
Resources for Working in New Zealand
This is the main WWOOFing database for New Zealand. For $40/year, you get access to the full, ongoing listing of farms and families looking for assistance. This site is supposed to be limited just to organic farms, so personally, I don’t post here. (I sometimes spray for bugs and this makes me EVIL.)
HelpX: This is a free site, and you’ll find all sorts of set-ups here—not necessarily organic farming. It’s also free to use— bonus!
BackpackerBoard: This is a terrific free site where you’ll find all kinds of opportunities— both paid and “work in exchange for accommodation.” This is the one I use the most to find travelers, and it’s where I listed my sailboat opportunity.
Keep in mind, if you’re under 30 years old, you don’t need to restrict yourself to volunteering. Most people under 30 qualify for New Zealand’s Working Holiday Visa, giving you the right to live and work in New Zealand for up to a year.
So now you’ve worked out food and accommodation, how do you get around while you’re here? Lots of people buy a used car or camper van, but that’s not necessarily the best value. Naked Bus is a cheap and reliable bus service, and you can occasionally pick up a long-range fare for as low as a dollar.
Companies like Transfer Car will let you rent a car for free, one way— and they’ll sometimes let you negotiate cheap rates to keep the vehicle a few days longer. (This is for locals who want their cars moved around the country— essentially, they get their car moved, and you get free transportation!)
Sounds good, right? Ready to come to the land of lamb and manuka honey? CHOICE! (as they say in Kiwi land) So just before you embark on your adventure, here’s a few tips to make your trip “Sweet As”:
*DO write a little note to potential hosts when you make contact, including a friendly photo if you can. These people are inviting you into their home— they want to get a sense of who you are. (Sometimes people send me their CV with no note, and I just throw it away.I don’t care about your marketing job in Belgium, I want to know if you’re reliable and fun to hang out with!)
*DO look for ways to take the initiative and help out, even when you aren’t specifically asked. WWOOFers are kind of like roommates— you should help out with the dishes just because.
*DO play with the kids and enjoy them! New Zealand is a super family-focused place, and many families take on WWOOFers because they want their children to be exposed to travelers from all over the world.
*But DON’T (oh God, don’t) flirt with their pre-teen daughters. Remember that French chef I mentioned? He doesn’t take in WWOOFers anymore, because their daughters grew up beautiful and backpackers started giving them the eye.
Which is creepy. Like, almost as creepy as that cow stick thing.
Antonia Murphy is an American author, adventurer, and journalist from San Francisco who immigrated to New Zealand in 2007. She currently lives on a small farm in Purua, just outside of Whangarei, with two children, a husband, and a rotating menagerie of animals. Her wacky memoir of farming disasters is called DIRTY CHICK: ADVENTURES OF AN UNLIKELY FARMER. Have a question about the Shire? Reach out on her website, www.antoniamurphy.com.