On the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island is the sunny region of Hawkes Bay. This is wine country, and descended upon in the summer by hordes of penniless backpackers looking for seasonal work. Most of these backpackers head for Hastings, the epicentre of the fruit-picking craze, so I head to Napier, a little further north and nestled against the coast.
The bus from Taupo to Napier rolls through green fields, forests and hills. When we leave Taupo, it’s windy, rainy and rather cold. By the time we reach Napier we could have teleported to the Med. Tall palm trees line the roads, swaying in the sea breeze, while the smell of salt drifts through the cloudless sky. Napier hugs New Zealand’s eastern coastline, snoozing on the very banks of the Pacific Ocean. There’s nothing but sea between us and South America. The climate here feels almost tropical, a significant amount warmer than the parts of the island I’ve experienced so far. Despite the strong winds, it’s definitely shorts and t-shirts weather (and hey, may as well start preparing for the Wellington gales).
Napier was almost totally levelled by a devastating earthquake in the 1930s and the city was rebuilt in the midst of an art-deco craze. As such, the city centre is something quite unique, and a far cry from the American-style grid centres of Rotorua and Taupo. Vintage cars roll through the streets, adding to the anachronistic feel: this could be a lazy beachtown from almost a century ago. You can see the ocean from my hostel, and a short walk takes you up to Bluff Lookout, with views along the coast and back into Hawkes Bay.
The days I’m in Napier, backpackers are buzzing with the news that 600 blueberry pickers are being hired that week. Leaving them behind, I head to the outskirts of Clive, a small town (which in NZ terms, basically makes it a village) between Napier and Hastings. Just outside Clive is Hohepa Homes & Farm, where I’m continuing my WWOOFing adventure for the next two weeks.
I’ll discuss my experience next week, but for now, let me tell you something about the place. (Or don’t let me, whatever. I’m going for it anyway.) Hohepa Clive is a community for adults with mental disabilities, providing a structured but independent environment that supports them in seeking fulfilling and productive lives. The residents are involved with all aspects of the work that takes place on site, including gardening, farming and making cheese. They are guided and managed by staff who work alongside them, some of whom also live on site. Nearby Hohepa Poraiti runs a similar community, but for children and young people.
There’s a network of Hohepa sites across New Zealand, guided by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, an often radical Austrian philosopher. My fellow education professionals may well know of him through his development of Waldorf education, which has given rise to Waldorf schools around the world, as well as influencing more ‘mainstream’ schooling. Both Waldorf education and Hohepa communities are (at least partly) founded on and influenced by the idea(s) of anthroposophy, which (although fascinating) would be a huge digression to discuss now. I suggest you Google it. 🙂
In Hohepa Clive, this manifests as a positive, inclusive, integrated community, where residents, staff and volunteers all play a valued role. Many staff are employed for their primary skillset (eg. gardening) and are not expected to have experience of working with ‘special needs’, which normalises staff-resident relationships in a quite wonderful way. Residents are given as much responsibility as possible, and pushed to be active, giving members of the community. One of them drives me around on the tractor, while another one teaches me how to milk a cow.
Living in this place for two weeks is an unwinding and a grounding, a tactile experience that demands you live in the present. I’ll talk more about it in my next blog entry, but basically it all comes down to free cheese.