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Sunday, 13 November 2016

Chapter 9 ~ Blending into Blenheim

It's my first morning on the South Island, and I feel well-rested after sleeping in my own room for the first time in a week. So this is it, then, I've officially arrived on the South Island, and today I'm making my debut in...

I got off on a bad start yesterday, but the Wairau Valley, in which Blenheim is located, is actually the single sunniest place in all of New Zealand. As a result, the area is big on viticulture: Most of the sprawling valley is covered in vineyards, and the amount of different wines that can be purchased from the local vinters defies count, and while not all of the 45,000 people living here grow grapes, it certainly does look that way on first glance.

The place I'm staying at this time is located in one of the rural districts of Blenheim, which in turn is a town of about 30,000 people. My WWOOFing host lives about 10km out of town, which is only a short drive along the Old Renwick Road.

Today, the weather is nice and clear, with the sun's warming rays quickly heating up the valley. It's a great day to get started here, and the beginning of...

The Wairau Incentive

My WWOOFing host today is an elderly man by the name of Stuart, who cannot be seen in the following picture.

He is a man who values his privacy, and as such, I shall not divulge any personal information about him, apart from the fact that he enjoys the company of helpful woofers from time to time.

The Place

Stuart's house is a lovely little property which he refurbished himself. As such, it has state-of-the-art isolation, which includes double-glazed windows - the first I've seen in new Zealand.

It's located in the middle of extensive vineyards. Seen from afar, the property looks like an island of trees in a sea of grapes.

The Wairau Valley, in which the property is located, is approximately 8km wide at this location, with the mountains being about 3km away to the north, and 5km to the south. With a total length of 170km, the Wairau River is one of the longest rivers on the entire South Island, and I certainly don't plan on travelling along its entire length during my trips. As such, you can see the mountains pretty much anywhere except to the east, where the valley gradually tapers out into Cloudy Bay.

Since Stuart graciously supplies me with a bike...

...I spend some of my free time exploring the valley. My first trip takes me into the town of Blenheim...

...where I take a short break in the little Springlands Green...

...watching brave ducks scavenging around.

Afterwards, I cross a little riverside park...

...and pass through Seymour Square, where a big tower stands as a monument to Kiwi soldiers fallen in the World Wars...

...before finally turning around and returning to Stuart's house by means of a small road next to the local airport.

Another day, I set my mind to reaching the northern mountains. Unfortunately, the aforementioned Wairau River soon gets in my way... I drive along the riverside for a while, and eventually find a busy bridge to cross. Unfortunately, I can't find a convenient way to get up on one of the mountains this time around eaither, but at the very least, I've gotten close.

The clouds in the sky are beautiful, yet quite threatening at this point, so once more I return to Stuart's place from here.

This place is an idyllic little valley, and I feel right at home here. But now, let's stop talking about the location, and start with...

The Job

As mentioned before, Stuart's place has a nice, big garden, which naturally needs maintaining. As such, gardening is once more my primary duty in this place.

Among other things, that means I get to weed out a thick patch of super-prickly thistles.

Fortunately, by now I have accrued enough gardening experience that all I have to do is raise my trusty implement and say: "By the Power of Greyfork!"...

...and I become G-Man, the most powerful gardener in the universe!!!

With this power, pulling out the weeds is a cinch...

...however, there sure is a whole lot of those sticky little limpets around.

It's not all weeding though: There's also some flowers to be planted, and I use this chance to leave my personal touch on the place.

Apart from gardening, my duties also include moving a mound of ash, during which I accidentally uncover a warren of rabbits, who made their home in the pile of burnt matter.

The doe is out right now, so all that's left is the little kits. Normally, being neozoons and pests, they would get shot on the spot, but since Stuart didn't bring his gun, he instead shoots a picture of me with one of the little bunnies.

Afterwards, I let the little kit go, and it proceeds to hide in the undergrowth. One day these rabbits will meet their fate, but not today.After all, this fox has had a good breakfast.

Finally, there's also a number of windows to be cleaned all around the house. I take care of the outside windows on a sunny day, and save the insides for when it rains.

The Food

Stuart knows the importance of a good meal. As such, every day starts off with a hearty breakfast of müsli and toast.

Sometime before noon we usually take a short break and have some tea and cookies, and at noon, we sit down to have an easy-to-prepare yet delightful lunch, such as spaghetti-toast.

The biggest meal of the day, however, is dinner, for which Stuart always whips up a tasty and fair combination of meat and vegetables.

To supplement our meals, we sometimes get eggs from the place next door, be they big ones or small...

...and pour them into little metal rings to keep them in shape.

And on the one day when Stuart is late to return, I prepare some savoury Naleiayafero...

...which Stuart praises highly after arriving for dinner.

The Flair

During my trips around the countryside, there's a number of interesting things I encounter, such as fire danger indicators...

...or the relatively little-known invisible bridge.

In case you ever find yourself in need of an artist in this area, you won't have to worry. Just follow the signs...

...however, no signs will help you find the incredibly cleverly hidden Geocaches around here.

I should probably also mention that this is the first time I drive a car here in New Zealand. Stuart, wanting to enjoy a drink in a local bar, asks me to drop him off and then drive the car back home, and although driving an automatic car that has the driver's seat on the right side down the left side of the road is quite unfamiliar at first, I quickly get used to it. Okay, so I do end up on the wrong side of the road a couple of times after turning around a corner (the reflex to drive on the right side of the road after a right turn is pretty deeply ingrained even after only a few months of driving back in Germany), and since the levers for the windshield wipers and turn signals are also mirrored, I accidentally turn on the wipers instead of the indicators a couple of times. However, despite these minor mess-ups on my behalf, I still manage to bring home the car without as much as a single scratch, and as thus can safely claim to have passed the New Zealand driving acid test.

I also manage to catch a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise...

...and figure out where Hans moved to (Really bad German pun. Humour me. I can't help it. I've been to Bulls).

Also, some farms appear to have rather ruthless methods of dealing with slackers...

...just kidding. The only victims here are the rabbits which have overrun the vineyards by the thousands.

As my stay approaches its end, Stuart takes me on a little trip across the Wairau Valley.

We climb a tower from which we get a nice view on the valley...

...and eventually continue on to the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre, which is a winery on a hill overlooking hectares of vineyards.

There, he explains to me the true function of the strange, wind-turbine-like apparatuses that line the fields.

Those are, in fact, not - as I had first assumed - funny-looking wind turbines, but rather fans designed to blow hot air across the vineyards in case a sudden spell of frost threatens to ruin the harvest. It certainly explains why these things can be found neatly spaced all over the valley.

The Retrospective

I definitely enjoyed staying with Stuart. He's a kind and caring soul, and made sure to take good care of me during my stay here. He was also the very first person in New Zealand to take me on a sightseeing trip, and the fact that he supplied me with a bike meant that I had free leave to inspect the beautiful valley.

The accommodations were great too! I had my own room with a bathroom next door, and most importantly of all: Thanks to double-glazing, the place stayed cosy warm even when it was raining outside.
Okay, so it didn't have Internet, which made me realize two things: 1.) How much we rely on the internet these days during everyday life and 2.) how quickly 300 MB of purchased mobile data are gone.

The work was okay I guess, and certainly nothing to complain about, and the food was amazing, breakfast lunch and dinner. I certainly enjoyed that after my little fasting time back in Wellington.
Overall, I'm happy I stayed here and would have loved to stay longer. However, since Stuart had already made arrangements for a trip to Wellington before I even contacted him, there was nothing to be done about it, and after only five short days, I have to be on my way again. Nonetheless, I certainly enjoyed the short time I was allowed to spend in Stuart's Lifestyle Property.

The Road Ahead

It' quite literally a rainy day on which I leave. But before I do so, I gift Stuart a little picture to remember me by. The theme this time was inspired by his recounts of being a runner in his prime and running marathons, as well as his love of horses.

On the way to Blenheim, Stuart makes a little detour to show me the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre...

...before dropping me off at the Marlborough District Library in Blenheim. I still have some time before my train goes, so I intend to spend it to update my blog by courtesy of the library's free WiFi. Unfortunately, however, I soon find out that this library's WiFi sucks royally, and thus relocate my base of operations to the Blenheim Station Café, where the purchase of a cup of Earl Grey tea also gives me access to unlimited WiFi.

An hour later, I find myself waiting at the platform, watching as the Coastal Pacific train arrives.

The fare is high, but in return, the wagons are nice and spacious, featuring audio commentary along the ride, overhead displays, as well as power sockets to recharge your devices. Pretty much the only think it doesn't have is free WiFi (I'm pretty sure there's a kitchen sink in the board bistro).

My route today takes me to Waipara along a scenic coastal track, from where my next hosts are going to pick me up and take me to their remote home - the Island Hills Station - which is located about half an hour away from the town of Culverden.

It takes the train about 4 hours to make its way down the coast. Regrettably, the weather is quite rainy (like always when I'm travelling), but I manage to take some nice pictures along the way nonetheless.

Eventually, I am dropped off at the Waipara station. This is actually not so much a train station, as a stop in the middle of a field, and I'm the only one who gets off here. Still, I think its nice that they stopped at this place just for me. No one is here to pick me up just yet, and as I watch the train depart, I dearly hope that I won't end up waiting here for 2 hours like back in Bulls.

Fortunately, my hosts arrive only a few minutes later to pick me up, and after having dinner at a friend's place, and watching their son blow giant soap bubbles...

...some of which are so sturdy they persist even after touching the ground...

...we drive to the Island Hills Station, where I'm housed in a small cottage a short distance downhill from my hosts' house. It's quite chilly tonight, so I start a cosy little fire in the fireplace (which is not quite as easy as popular media would make you believe)...

...before finally curling up in my bed, wondering what sort of exciting duties tomorrow might bring.

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