B: Our first wwoofing location was on the North Shore of Auckland at the Italian home of Raffaela and Paolo Delmonte. So much for an authentic kiwi experience! Raffaela picked us up from the bus station and took us to her beautiful home on 7 acres of land, quietly tucked away in the suburbs with a view of the ocean, appropriately called Villa Romantica. This wasn’t a typical wwoofing experience because we weren’t working on a farm, but rather helping to maintain her land and clean up around the house. There is also a small cottage next to the house that the Delmonte’s rent out for weeks at a time.
The home was made of dark wood with lots of natural light and open space. The wood provided just enough insulation that no HVAC system (heat and A/C) was needed, but the acoustics were terrible and every creak could be heard throughout the house. Our room was a large and sunny bedroom with a glass-sliding door leading to the backyard and our own newly-remodeled bathroom down the hall. Quite a treat after coming from some poorly maintained places in Asia!
G: Don’t forget the house cats: Giggo and Briccola! When they weren’t busy cleaning each other, I definitely got my fix of kitty love from them.
Our work schedule was broken up into four 4-hour days and one 8-hour day for a total of 24 hours per week. The jobs bounced all over, but mainly involved weeding, spreading compost, and relocating native bushes. To Raffaela’s delight, we worked fairly quickly and moved through many projects. We were the last wwoofers she would host before the holidays, so there were many loose ends to tie up.
One of my favorite projects was the garden out back, facing the ocean in the distance. We landscaped the area to create levels along the slope and dug up various plants to move them using creative aesthetic. The permaculture varied from simple herbs like chamomile and parsley to cosmo flowers and olive and lemon trees and a blueberry bush. We found out pretty quickly that the soil in New Zealand is full of clay and farmers have to work hard with companion planting and composting to break up the clay in the soil. Later, we found out that planting chicory is a great solution for this. Often times, Blake and I would be working on different projects and there were times when I wished I were doing what he was doing. Like when it came to cleaning the chicken coop—ick!—he was fixing an enclosure for the new ducklings that would soon hatch. Or when I was clearing the thick jungle of shrubs and weeds by hand, Blake and his new best friend, the weed whacker, were bulldozing thick grass in no time.
B: You really wish you were swinging around that obnoxious thing?! I had to wear two pairs of ear plugs and even then I couldn’t hear myself think! I was probably weed-whacking over half of the time, while the rest involved hauling the wheel barrow somewhere.
I think the most interesting task was trimming the wings of the chickens. We had to sneak out to the chicken coop just after dusk when they were all settling in for the night. With Raffaella and Paolo’s help, and my creepy red headlamp, we would quietly snatch one chicken, trim the feathers off of one wing, and then put it back inside. The chickens quickly figured out what was going on and it became harder and harder to identify which ones were already trimmed because they would move around and hide. The objective was to make sure that they wouldn’t fly out of their enclosure, and by only trimming one wing they couldn’t fly straight with lopsided aerodynamics. It doesn’t hurt the chicken; it’s like trimming your fingernails.
G: Yeah, I wasn’t too crazy about the idea upon hearing it, but thankfully it really was harmless. It was also fun the day we helped Raffaella prepare for the launch of a new cookbook that used some of her recipes. The book was made by Ceres, an organic foods company, so all of the ingredients were amazing. We helped prepare four dishes that would serve 200 people! It was much better chopping, mixing, and tasting than working outside. Unfortunately, she did not host too many of her Italian cooking workshops while we were there, but I still learned about new products and a few cooking tips just from helping her make the nightly dinners.
A special treat was helping her make natural skincare, too. One afternoon we harvested rose petals from four varieties of rose bushes in the garden. It was a bit of a science experiment to put it together but the end result was truly sensational. It was one thing expecting her to be a chef and learning new things in the kitchen, but it was the cherry on top to make and have an additional cleanser, moisturizer, and lip balm with all natural ingredients. Her big tagline was making “edible cosmetics”! It doesn’t get better than this! 😉
B: We had our fair share of ups and downs though; with the birds in particular. One day, a neighborhood dog wandered over to the property and jumped into the chicken pen. He thought the chickens were toys and pounced on one after another until Raffaela saw what was happening and chased him away. By then, 3 chickens and the lone rooster had lost their lives, leaving only 4 chickens left. It was quite an ordeal and very dramatic. Animal control came and the owner eventually agreed to replace the chickens.
On top of that, one of the ducks gave birth to 6 little ducklings a few days earlier, but the little yellow fuzz balls didn’t last long.
Unfortunately, one by one, they were found dead or went missing day after day. By the time of the chicken fiasco, there were 2 left, but they died the next day. It was suspected to be the work of the pukekho, a notoriously vicious bird found everywhere here in NZ that looks like a black chicken. I guess that’s just the reality of living with farm animals. Another duck was also sitting a nest of eggs for which I was building the enclosure, but we didn’t stay long enough to see them hatch.
G: All in all though, it was a good start to our wwoofing days in NZ. It was certainly an adjustment coming from Asia, with colder weather and a working schedule again. How lame does that sound, right!? We would soon find out how generous Raffaela was with keeping our tummies full, too.
B: Absolutely. It was quite a humbling experience to go from being a big shot in Asia with our own hotel near the beach, eating out every meal, and doing whatever we felt like doing, to a schedule of manual labor in an expensive country having to clean up after family dinners. We were so grateful to be accepted into the Delmonte home though and given the opportunity to learn and experience New Zealand (and Italy). Raffaela was great about taking us out in the afternoon to go on walks down the coastline or go shopping so that we weren’t cooped up in the house all week. I think this was the best place we could have landed to readjust to life back in the developed world.