So what you really want to know about is bees. Haha, no bees! We’ll get to bees next week.
Today we tackle the important contextual question: why are there bees? Not in the existential sense of why is there anything (and I’ll have to be really low on blog topics before I dare tackle that one) but more: why are there bees in my life?
I’m not talking about Casual Bees. Anyone can meet Casual Bees down the park, but there aren’t millions of them at once and they don’t make you honey and they do attack you if you try to order them around. This isn’t about those bees. This is about Serious Bees.
There are bees because I’m WWOOFing. This sounds dodgy somehow, but it isn’t (unless you really want it to be). WWOOFing stands for about five things at once, which makes no sense. In New Zealand, it mostly stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, which frustrates me, because it would be a way more sensible acronym if there was just a single W, and then it could stand for Workers on Organic Farms, which is plenty explanatory and free of patronising adjectives.
Anyway, rubbish acronym aside, WWOOFing is a tremendous idea. Backpackers and other peripatetic travellers can volunteer – historically on organic farms – in return for accommodation and (usually) food. Other mod-cons like laundry and Internet might also be supplied. In New Zealand, it counts as a job, and you have to have a working visa in order to take part, but it differs from a job in one notable way: you don’t get paid. As such, there are no contracts, and the finer points of the deal (such as how long you work and how much food you get) are rather more fluid. If it really sucks, I suppose you just up and leave: there’s nothing to force you to stay.
WWOOFing has expanded enormously since its inception in England in 1971. You can WWOOF in countries across the world and in all sorts of different industries and locations (not just organic farms). Some people love it so much that they live their whole lives hopping between WWOOFing ventures. This is surprisingly feasible: sure, you don’t earn money, but if you live simply, you can have seriously minimal expenses. In New Zealand, you pay a $40 subscription fee for access to the opportunities, and then you simply contact each place yourself to organise your work.
Benefits I’ve found so far:
- Free accommodation and food, which are the main expenses when you’re travelling
- Meet people who live in the country, of all ages and from all walks of life, rather than just other twenty-something-year-old European backpackers
- Experience a different way of life
- Learn new skills
- Do all the above in just a couple of weeks and then have the freedom to move on, rather than the commitment of a job
To be fair, I’ve gotten pretty lucky in my first WWOOFing experience. I’m staying on the beautiful island of Waiheke (see photos below), a 40-minute ferry ride North-East from central Auckland, populated with about 9000 permanent residents and another 3000 people who flock to their holiday homes over the summer to enjoy the great weather and coastline. My host family run their honey business (https://www.facebook.com/WaihekeHoneyCo) from a house that overlooks the sea and an idyllic little beach.
I have my own room and access to Plenty Of Good Food And Beer (three weeks living in 10-bed dorms and eating supermarket-brand everything means that this is enough to make me wail with gratitude). My hosts are generous and friendly and happy to treat me like one of their family. They are also excellent cooks. In return, I help with the honey business (more on that next week) but also make an effort to help out around the house: gardening, cleaning, laundry, washing up, and so on. There are two boys (aged 11 and 8) so I occasionally spend my time teaching maths, helping with homework, constructing scooter parks in the garden and seeming really good at football. Technically I have my afternoons off, but hanging around (it’s not like I’m busy) has given me the opportunity to visit the boys’ school and go on outings with the family.
The weeks have flown by and I’m sad that I’ll be leaving soon, but there’s so much more out there in the world of WWOOFing. Farming and making cheese and making wine and making gliders for hamsters and impersonating tractors and dancing on goats and maybe not. But maybe.
Snapshots of New Zealand