I have a confession to make: I am not much of a mass tourism fan. What I like is to live like locals, a cultural immersion, I don’t want to pay to be in a place for a short while without putting my soul into it. I want to breathe its atmosphere and be a part of it.
So when a fellow French traveller (merci Ioana) introduced me to Help Exchange in Australia (Voilà), I was very interested. You see, I had already heard of WWOOFing but once in Australia it seemed a little limited. Help Exchance is much cheaper and for 20 euros you are a member for two years and can find opportunities all over the world!
So while I was in New Zealand, I was contacted by a lovely lady who needed help with the vegetarian restaurant in her father’s eco-resort. I was in Nelson at the time, suffering from hayfever and praying for the lord to take me (drama queen), then I got her message. I quickly checked the place and it seemed so beautiful.
So, I accepted right away. I was not disappointed.
Here is how HelpX works: you work a certain amount of hours per day/week and in exchange you get accomodation and food. As you can imagine, the food at the veggie restaurant was very nice. However, it isn’t the best part yet!
So at Kimi Ora the volunteers or helpers, you name us, were allowed to use the jacuzzi, sauna, hammam and the pool as much as we wanted, to get some nice rest after work. They also have a spa with lovely professional masseuses and organic beauty products. It is indeed a beautiful, peaceful place for a holiday. But guess what? I didn’t pay for any of it. As you can imagine, being a backpacker, you don’t usually pick this kind of resort to spend your time abroad, which is why HelpX is “sweet as”.
So basically what I was asked to do was to get the buffet ready for breafast every morning starting from 6.30am. Then clean up and prepare a few things for the next day. I actually enjoyed waking up before everyone else, it was still fresh in the morning and every single day I got to enjoy this view.
Now, let me show you the most amazing accomodation I have had in New Zealand (apart from a tent, I love sleeping in tents)
Yes, this was home for me and I loved every minute of it. I had the honour of being visited by loud growling Brushtail Possums almost every night. They would jump on the roof and move around to look for food, I listened to them with attention. Most of the time it was 3am so I was slightly mortified the first time it happened and their steps led me to think someone was coming into my hut. No worries, though.
Among the landscapes you can admire in Kaiteriteri are the bush, the bay and the beach. Let us be honest, everything is beautiful there. It’s a very popular spot to relax or take the boat/the car to Abel Tasman National Park. Kayaking is also a way of living there. I have seen so many guys getting right out of their van with a kayak and quickly jump in the water. And it is a lovely activity, much easier than kayaking in French torrents I tell you. There are many moutain bike roads too, so if you love the outdoors, it is the perfect spot.
Now, when it comes to wildlife I am the first one to get involved. I am a nature child, I love animals, I am the typical tree hugger and I lost it. The flowers, the birds, flora and fauna in general are unique and splendid in New Zealand. I spent countless hours lost in nature, just observing, listening, breathing. A couple of Kiwi species I discovered were the tūīs (Maori name) who belong to the honey eater family, they are vocal and colourful and carry two white feathers that look like pompoms. They are virtually impossible to photograph if you aren’t a professional, they are so fast! Here on the pitures you can see Wekas, they are flightless birds and extremely interesting. They are shy but also not afraid to come and ask for food. There was a couple with juveniles who came up to my cabin every day for oats and we hung out all the time. I LOVE THEM. They really look like tiny dinosaurs with their big feet. Don’t even get me started on the quails, they are hilarious. Look at the dark faced male and his little black tuft. The wild rabbit also loved coming by to say hi, but from a distance.
One day while I was bored on the beach I started wandering around on the rocks near the waves and heard two little girls who seemed to be in trouble. They were sisters from the Samoan Islands and had taken a young blue penguin out of its cave, they didn’t know what to do with the little guy. Their skin was sun-kissed and they had those long dark hair, they looked like little mermaids and I smiled and offered to help. It was my second encounter with a Little Blue Penguin. I was lucky. We talked for a while and I explained to them that the babies wait for hours and sometimes days for the parents to come and feed them, that it would be better to leave him in his cave and in general, not to touch baby birds too much. They listened carefully and observed me carry the little penguin back in the cave for it to hide. The penguin had blue eyes as well and blue flippers. He seemed curious about us and was at our mercy, so innocent. I had seen many dead floating bodies of baby penguins in the water while kayaking, probably starved. I chose to put him back there in the cave where he quickly hid again, hoping for his parents to come back. They have no rescue center in Kaiteriteri and he/she seemed fine so I think it was for best.
On a human level, once again I met amazing people. Especially girls. I’m a solitary person, but while travelling I have met strong and independant girls, obviously I have many common grounds with them. I had never met anyone from Latvia, I met Zane who left her office job in Germany to go to New Zealand and do all the possible treks. She loves nature and the simple life like me. There was also Claire from France, she smiled all the time and enjoys travelling in the sunshine, avoiding the winter. Talking to Brigitta at work every morning made it easy, she is such a hard worker and interesting girl who lived in Austria as well. I could go on for hours, the costumers were lovely too. They were enjoying their time on a holiday and many Kiwi visitors gave me tips for my further travels.
My best memories in Kaiteriteri were: to stare at the million stars at night that you can see so well in Australia and New Zealand, spending time in nature, floating and swimming in the fresh and wavy Tasman Sea for hours avoiding jellyfish, my many conversations with Zane and the comfortable silences too, eating kumara hummus (mmmm), observing the birds and flowers, the sunsets, listening to Nina Simone in the sun surrounded by animals, dancing carefreely to the rhythm of some funky jammin’ in Marahau, walking into the bush at night on Christmas eve to see the glow worms…
And walking barefeet all the time. Until I got stung by a bee, sorry bee.
If you wonder where I worked, here it is : Kimi Ora
In Maori it could roughly translated as the quest for health, so it suits the place very well.
I will finish on an interesting Maori legend. Kaiteriteri and its coastline are believed to be the abode of patu-paiarehe and kehua, the fairy folks and ghosts by the Maori elders and therefore are sacred. The patu-paiarehe were expert net makers and cloth weavers who taught the Maori those skills. The myth was born through the imagination of the Maori people, stimulated by the limestone rocks backed by bush clad hills.
A very special place indeed.