Foraging the Food Forest

G: After our solid three-week tour of the North and South Islands, it was time to rest our bones and give back to New ZeaLAND for a while. We wanted to go somewhere remote and live with the locals for our last WWOOFing experience. It was to be the longest we would stay in one place out of our entire year of travel; three-and-a-half weeks.

Our host, Robert Guyton, picked us up in Invercargill, 40km east of the tiny town of Riverton. Thirty minutes later, as we drove through the town center on a narrow two-lane road no longer than a kilometer without a building higher than two stories, I thought, ‘Oh god, is this a mistake!?’ When we arrived at the Guyton’s home we met Robert’s lovely wife Robyn. Within moments, in her quick and confusing kiwi accent, she welcomed us to get comfortable and settle in. She gestured to our accommodations, a short climb up a wooden ladder to cozy loft space above the garage.

B: Things were looking up!

G: As I climbed the ladder and poked my head into our bird’s nest, it was like a time warp—the space was filled with woven baskets of all shapes and sizes to the left, a small library of books on the right, stacks of photos, old lamps, one double mattress lying flatly on the ground, and lots of dust! The A-frame only allowed for proper posture in the center of the room and insulation was installed with single-size mattresses between the framing held in place by strategically-placed tree branches.

Also staying with the Guyton’s for a few days was Daisy, a sweet 22-year-old from Devonshire, England currently studying at the University of Dunedin. This was her second stay with the Guyton’s and she was envious we had plans to stay for several weeks. Little did we know just how famous the Guyton’s are and what an amazing place we had stepped into. Their home was built in a very rustic and sustainable way. Most of it was made from recycled material including a 150-year old sink in the bathroom, old light switches, two faucets at every sink (hot and cold), only one bathtub (no shower), and an old scale with iron weights for baking measurements. I was in rustic heaven.

On their two acres of land, they have the most developed food forest in the Southern hemisphere. It all started 23 years ago with the planting of their first apple tree. Since then, their permaculture forest has flourished into multiple varieties of apples, plums, and berries, beds of leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs, a greenhouse full of seedlings, a chicken coop, and more. In the last few years, it has attracted tourists from all of New Zealand and has even gotten global recognition in several books and documentaries.

When Robert wasn’t maintaining the food forest, he was either inside writing articles for the ‘New Zealand Gardener’ magazine or serving on the Invercargill City Council for environmental issues. He’s built quite a reputation of fighting for sustainable farming practices and environmental issues across NZ. Robert and Robyn also host a weekly radio show about gardening and sustainability. They invited us to be guests one week to speak about our farming experience in Hawaii and natural skincare alternatives.

B: Enthusiasts often visit Riverton specifically to meet the Guyton’s and tour their land, some more shy than others. One day, Robert walked out to the curb and saw a couple in their campervan parked across the street. As he walked over, they immediately grabbed a map, pretending to be lost. Robert politely asked where they were going, to which they replied with a location that was at least 30km away (yeah, right). They tried to remain oblivious until asking, ‘Oh…aren’t you Robert Guyton with the food forest?’ He kindly replied, ‘Yes, of course. Would you like me to give you a tour?’ This wasn’t the first time… 😉

Robert and Robyn also founded the local Environment Centre in town. It’s a hub for the environmentalist community, offering local and organic food, natural house-hold cleaners and skincare, gardening tools, etc. It also offers educational resources for children and adults about sustainable farming, seed saving, and protecting native bush. It has become the primary source for sustainable living in all of Southland. Employees are mostly volunteers and get 1% discount for each hour they work during the week (up to 15%). Sometimes we would spend a few hours overseeing the shop instead of working outside. We spent three days sprucing up the kitchen—fresh paint, linoleum flooring, and new shelves—which Robyn and the employees were thrilled about.  We also hosted a movie night to show the documentary ‘Thrive’, which I suggest you all watch. (

Most of our time was spent on projects in the food forest: creating teepee-like structures for grape vines to climb, clearing wild weeds by hand to form paths in the permaculture, trimming and transplanting native flax bush, netting plum trees and berry bushes from the birds, building a gate within a wooden fence, and harvesting lots of apples, plums, berries, leafy greens, root vegetables, and eggs. There were so many plums that we took the opportunity to learn how to make plum sauce, plum jam, and preserves to keep in the pantry for the winter.

We also did some bee-keeping, which was pretty awesome! We suited up in full bee-keeper gear from head to toe. Gabriella controlled the smoke while I did the dirty work. The smoke makes them think the hive is on fire, so they quickly rush inside to eat as much honey as they can, then become tired and passive with a full belly. The Guyton’s have about 10,000 bees working in a stack of three boxes. I removed the lids, cleaned the frames, looked for disease, added another box and screen, and got the hell outta there! The buzzing got louder and louder the longer I stayed to work and it was difficult to hear Robert’s instructions. I stayed calm throughout, because bees can smell fear (like panthers), but unfortunately one bee made its way inside of my face mask and stung me on the neck as I was retreating back to the house. Bee-keeper initiation complete! We waited four days for the bees to transfer their work down to the new box before returning to take the top box full of fresh honey. We absolutely look forward to having our own honey-making operation one day!

G: Next time you can do the smoke! Robert said I hadn’t quite become a true beekeeper since I wasn’t stung. I must say, it was quite impressive how quickly Robert moved to pull the stinger our of Blake’s neck by scraping a large knife across the skin. Blake – our true beekeeper. What a trooper!

Another cool story: One day, Daisy wanted to make real English scones and needed buttermilk, but we didn’t have any in the house. Jokingly, I told her to just mix some butter and milk! When Robyn heard that she shook her head and smiled. A few hours later, she called to us in from the garden to come learn how to make buttermilk. In the kitchen were three jars with a half-cup of cream inside each. She told us to shake the jars rapidly and it would eventually separate into butter and buttermilk. Aaaand…it was a competition! Within just a couple of minutes…voila! A chunk of butter began to form and we kept shaking faster until there was no more cream. This was a great example of Robyn’s spontaneity when she wanted to teach us something. It was perfectly normal to interrupt pulling weeds to make some buttermilk or come in for a cup of tea. No stress!

B: One weekend, Robyn took us to help her out with a children’s games day in Tuatapere, another small town about an hour away. This was yet another great example of Robyn’s love for simplicity and sticking to tradition. When we arrived, we quickly noticed the paintball section was receiving the most attention. We rolled up with stilts, quoits, puppet theatre, and potato sacks. I made one hell of a proscenium theatre for those puppets that about 3 kids enjoyed. Gabriella and I had fun tossing quoits and doing the sack race while other kids stayed at the dunk tank and pony rides. We had a blast and got to enjoy the simpler things in life. On the way home, Robyn gave us a tour of New Zealand’s southern coast stopping at Monkey Island, Gemstone Beach, and other scenic lookouts along the way. It was an absolutely beautiful day venturing outside of Riverton.

G: Some other perks at the Guyton’s was their fire-bath, which is a claw-foot bathtub in the middle of the forest with a chamber to light a fire underneath. Once it’s heated up, you can relax in the natural surroundings. Just make sure to sit on the slab of wood so you don’t burn your bum! 🙂 Without a doubt, I am going to have one of those someday… They also have an outdoor pizza oven built from scratch, which we used a couple of times. Much to my dismay I was my unable to sustain a fire every time I tried. Sorry Dad, I know you’ve taught me a million times!

B: Despite our initial apprehension, we had an incredible time in Riverton with the Guyton’s and their amazing food forest. Every day was a new adventure. I had the kitchen to cook and bake to my hearts delight (which was also heaven for Blake) sharing many amazing meals and talks. They even found time to move their youngest daughter (Hollie) off to college just a few days after their eldest son (Terry) brought their first grandchild into the world, baby Leo Archer. Surprisingly, the Guyton’s have never left NZ, nor do they intend to, finding comfort and excitement each day in their town of 1,200 residents. (Well…Robyn still wants to go to Paris…) We learned more in three weeks than I would have ever expected, for which I am eternally grateful. I can see why they have long line-ups of tourists and WWOOFers waiting to experience life with the Guyton’s!

Buongiorno, Villa Romantica!

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.

Giggio and Briccola

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! 😉

homemade rose water

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.

Blake, Paolo, Raffaela, Gabriella

Blake, Paolo, Raffaela, Gabriella

Kia Ora Mates!

Thanks for checking out our new blog! After our 8-month adventure through India and SE Asia, we thought it would be best to create one unified place for everyone to read about what we’re up to.

Actually, we didn’t even plan on coming here when we first left home. We met quite a few travelers that spoke highly of New Zealand and Australia, and we thought, “Well since we’re this close…” We’re both fortunate enough to have the time to spare right now, but financially we knew it would be a bit tricky. Some people told us about the Working Holiday Visa and it piqued our interest. Basically, anyone under 30 can apply for a visa that allows you to work legally for one year in either Australia or NZ. Many people echoed the idea, “NZ is better for travel, Australia is better for work.” We did some research, crunched the numbers, and figured that we could WWOOF throughout NZ, and then get jobs in Australia to continue funding our travels. We applied for the Australian visa, got approved, and booked some flights!

For those unfamiliar with the WWOOF program, it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Several countries have their own network of hosts that teach the ways of sustainable living and organic agriculture. The wwoofer (that’s us!) agrees to work a certain number of hours per week in exchange for food and accommodations. It’s actually how we met on a farm in Hawaii last summer. We plan to be wwoofing for most of 3 months throughout NZ (Dec-Feb), and then fly to Australia to find some temporary jobs. We’ll settle down in Melbourne for about 6 months, then travel a bit more before heading home. It’s hard to stop seeing the beautiful places of this world when new opportunities present themselves.

By now, I suppose you’re wondering what “38 below” means… No, that’s not how cold it is here. Although maybe that’s how cold it is for the Sikorski’s back in Edmonton! 😉 Thirty-eight is how many degrees we are below the equator (specifically Melbourne), which means it’s summer here! Wooo!! It hasn’t been as warm as it was in Asia, but it will only be getting better.

We’ve lined up a few farms to work at in New Zealand, but the real adventure will come next week when we rent a car and explore this beautiful country on our own. We’ll do our best to post updates as soon as possible and the pictures are sure to amaze. Stay with us, post comments, and don’t forget about your friends down unda!


Gili Air 008