New Zealand North Island

First helpX at Anne’s place in Kawerau

12 April 2017

After two weeks in New Zealand doing some administrative papers and wandering in the Northland, real immersion in kiwi life was about to begin. It was the beginning of July and we were driving to our first helpX at Anne’s place in Kawerau. At this time I was a bit nervous: we will spend two weeks with a family we don’t know at all. I hope we will get along easily with each others.

When we arrived Anne was not there. She made a mistake and though that we were supposed to arrive the day after. A phone call and ten minutes later she is back home to welcome us with a great smile, six dogs and two cats! This beginning reflects perfectly the two weeks coming: warm and disorganised. We also met Jasper and Gracie, Anne’s children who are respectively two and four years old. Anne also introduce us to her husband Stephen… by skype! He works in Australia and doesn’t come back often at home. The rest of the evening goes so fast: we get to know each others during a dinner and we discuss about how we will work during our stay here. 

The work

Anne is not a very organised person so she didn’t really decide what we have to do during our stay at her place. She tell us about many works we can do and let us choose what we prefer to do. She is very flexible. We also can choose between working during all the day and having a day off or working half the day everyday. She even offers us to change our work schedule depending on the weather if we need to. For exemple, if today it is a rainy day, we could work full day to have a complete day off the day after, even if it was not planned this way. That is totally ok. It is so enjoyable to be able to do that : we don’t want to miss any sunny day during the winter!

Working in a farm.

Working in a farm.

Having a lot of freedom can also means having to deal with a lack of organisation. I am a very organised person and I often plan all the tasks I have to accomplish. Anne doesn’t work this way at all! We wake up in the morning and we decide what we are doing as we go along the day. Sometimes we even start to do something else before ending what we began. That is not easy for me to work this way but that is a really good exercise to learn how to adapt myself to a different situation and live in community! After all that is also one goal of doing helpX: discovering and sharing the hosts ways of life.

During our stay with Anne we works on many different things: taking care of the children, sorting papers and mails piled up for five years, sorting clothes that kids are not wearing anymore to sell them, cleaning (windows, kitchen, car…), moving haystacks into fields.

During these two weeks we learnt a lot. Franck built outside staircase, fixed a sink and a part of the kitchen ceiling. As for me, I learnt how to dye leather sofas in order to sell them. I really liked to do that! We also discover a bit of farming work as I fed calves sometimes with another helper. Franck also had to fed the horses every morning. I can tell you he wasn’t a smartass as the youngest horse were trying to jump at him as soon as he arrived every day.

First dying test on a couch.

First dying test on a couch.

The meetings

Doing some helpX at Anne’s place wasn’t just about work. That was also a lot of sharing and meetings. During these two weeks we met two maori friends of Anne who she hired to help her with the construction works in the farm. At first sight I just though : don’t annoy these two guys! Even if they are a bit old they still are so strong! Fortunately they are not bad men at all, on the contrary! And what a pleasure to hear this maori accent, especially when they say “coffee”. I love it!

We also met Alan, a fourteen years old maori teenager. His father is in jail and his mother is not here for him so Anne took care  of him during two years. When he was nine years old, even if he didn’t know Anne, he just arrived to her home on a back of a horse and asked her for help. Now he still comes sometimes when he needs some advices. Despite his bad boy side this lad is very touching, trying to stay away from his weaknesses (gangs, drugs…).

Oh and surprise! Surrounded by all these Kiwis we found a French guy! Jérémy stayed at Anne’s home as a helper for two months and left just before we arrived but he came back! He is a great guy, we had good laughs. Especially the night where Anne decided to cut our hair off!

Luckily Anne was a hairdresser!

Luckily Anne was a hairdresser!

Anne is a very generous person who wants to help people when she can. So when she understood that wheelchair strolls in woods are complicated she put us in touch with his friend Steeve. Steve is a cars radiators mechanician and a huge fan of Jeep! He is a very good and generous handyman. Anne told him about our journey in New Zealand and asked him if he could build a kind of third front wheel that I can add or remove from my wheelchair whenever I want. This way I would be able to roll on more uneven grounds. We want that the little front wheel do not touch the ground are they are the ones which get stuck on obstacles. After  a few days working on it Steve delivers this new wheel to me for a ridiculously low price. Verdict: it is less manageable by myself but Franck doesn’t need to put me on my back wheels in forests. Our bush adventures will be easier. A few weeks later we try the wheel on sand at the beach. Huge disillusion: too much weigh on the back wheels so it is even worst! I am really disappointed as I would love to be able to roll on sand by myself. I so much love beaches… Well that was a good experience and it’s also that to be a wheelchair explorer! 

Good moments together 

This first helpX experience really convinces me that this is the best way to discover a country! It made me feel really good to share and learn about each other. Sharing a meal, devouring an ice cream block, watching a movie, failing a pavlova, playing backgammon and rummy: I liked all of these moments as trivial as they may appear.

Playing backgammon with Jérémy.

Playing backgammon with Jérémy.

Anne always wanted to us to feel like part of the family. One day we went all together to Mount Edgecumbe (Putauaki in Maori langage) for a walk all the way up to the Tarawera Falls. We attached my wheelchair on the car roof as it was already packed with all of us and we drove! I was a bit afraid about the wheelchair but everything went well despite of the gravel road we had to pass through!

After a walk al together we reached the waterfall. How beautiful it is! We had a picnic just in front of it and then Franck and Jérémy went for a walk to reach the summit. That has been Jasper first volcano climbing! Carried by Franck everything is possible! During this time we went between girls to Tarawera lake where the guys met us. I had a wonderful day!

What a good team!

What a good team!

You want to read more about HelpX adventures? Here is my post about our wonderful helpX in Matamata, just near Hobbiton.

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