This time, I'm staying on a 13-acre (that's 5.4 hectares) big farm on the outskirts of Christchurch, which goes by the rustic name of Thornton Grange.
My hosts are Bryan, who is not only surprisingly active for his age (And I mean it. His hyperactivity puts even me to shame)...
...but is also a race car and motorcycle driver, who is still active on the track...
...as well as his lovely wife Franziska, who is originally from Germany, and teaches Nia dancing.
Also, for about a week I get to enjoy the company of Kathi, a WWOOFer from the USA, who has her final WWOOFing stay in this place before meeting up with her family and eventually returning back home.
It's up to us to take care of this substantial property, and while I was consciously aware that life on a farm would be physically demanding, I'll certainly never forget...
The Thornton Training
Apart from my hosts and their children - most of which have already left the nest and are dropping by only sporadically - Thornton Grange is also home to two lovely cats: Prince and Totoro (Bryan is a Miyazaki fan)...
...a total of six horses: the mares Lola and Paloma, the geldings Olly and Jimmy Hawke, the dwarf horse Romano, as well as the pony Wolfe, who regrettably is blind, and thus has to spend most of his life inside a small corral.
Allamingly, there is also a trio of South American camelids around, three males who go by the names of Humphrey, Obama and Bobby respectively...
...as well as about a dozen chickens, who provide us with fresh eggs on a daily basis.
Occasionally, we also get a small house guest in the form of Koko, an energetic little Yorkie who for some reason loves stealing Prince's and Totoro's cat food.
Now that you know about the inhabitants, let me tell you a little bit about...
While it's not quite as big as the Island Hills Station, Thornton Grange is still significantly larger than the Renegades Community Centre. Why don't you join me for a tour of the place?
Going more into detail, this place is a large countryside house...
...featuring a concentric vegetable garden and orchard...
...and a cute little WWOOFer's shack...
...as well as many lush pastures to feed the livestock.
Then, there also is the treehouse...
...as well as the fire heap, which is where all the burnable waste goes.
And then, there's also the neighbour's place, which appears to be more influenced by the medieval European style.
Overall, this place is quite idyllic...
...and I can easily understand why Franziska and Bryan have chosen to vile here together with their horses and surrounded by greenery.
Quickly summed up, there's a LOT of work to be done on the Thornton Grange, and Bryan keeps me quite busy all day around, making this my toughest workout so far, with an average of 7 hours of work each day - including weekends.
Going more into detail, the first major challenge I face is cleaning the roof of the greenhouse, which has not been properly attended to in ten years, and as of thus has acquired quite a prosperous civilization of lichen and mould. Naturally, I still manage to get it clean - much to Franziska's delight, who is happy that the tomatoes are finally getting enough sun again - but not without diligently working on it for three days straight.
An even bigger task is weeding the paddocks. If weeding a garden measured in square metres already sounds like a pain to you, just imagine weeding several acres of greenery - and all of that with my hay fever!
Bryan's biggest enemy is a plant known as "dock", which sometimes has the grace to alert the attentive weeder of its presence with a conspicuous reddish colour...
...but at other times mixes in neatly with the other grasses, and can be quite difficult to spot.
And then, there's also thistles, as well as the mother of all thistles, the knotting thistle (or, as I like to call it, the elder thistle).
Another personal favourite of Bryan's is the wild turnip which - unlike the dock, which frequently requires a spade, or the thistles, which make a double layer of tough gloves all but mandatory - is quite easy to pull out by hand.
My job is the straightforward, yet enormous task of getting rid of them ALL on pretty much the entire 13 acres of land,and disposing of them on the fire heap. For that purpose, I have a pulling cart, which is quick to fill up with weeds every day.
The Llamas seem to find some of these weeds quite delicious and often snack on them once they're on the fire heap (which happens to be inside their pasture). On occasion, though, they don't even bother waiting that long.
Another task is cherrypicking. Much to Axel's disdain, that's something we used to do a lot back at MegaZebra, though I'm sure he wouldn't object to this more organic variant of doing it.
Franziska is also quite happy to let me do it, since my dislike for cherries means that she doesn't have to worry about me sacking on any of the 873 cherries while on the job.
Not that I'd ever think of doing something so dastardly under the eyes of my very attentive overseer...
There's also a number of trees to be wrapped up in protective netting to prevent the ominpresent birds to prematurely eviscerate the poor innocent fruits and berries...
...and Kathi gets to show off her legendary chainsaw skills to deal with some of the more feisty weeds.
The spoils of war then go to the lamas, who are only all too happy to feast upon the lush greenery.
Naturally, it's also part of the job to ensure that the horses have plenty of fresh hay...
...as well as aromatic bailage, which is fermented high-moisture fodder stored in the form of wrapped bales. The main emphasis here is on "high-moisture", which means that a single bale already weighs more than anything you're likely to find in a typical fitness studio. As long as Kathi is around, the two of us can team up to carry a single of the ultra-heavy bales whenever we use one up, but after that, I have to improvise.
Feeding the chickens is also part of the morning routine - and quite possibly the most complicated one. Unlike the horses and llamas who can be contended with hay and sometimes baleage, the chickens get two bowls of mixed mesh mushed together with a water-and-apple-cider-vinegar mixture that has been used to drench wheat corns, pellets, milk, kitchen scraps, as well as aforementioned drenched (and thus sprouted) wheat corns. Quite a feast, isn't it? And in return, they reward us with a handful of fresh eggs every day.
All of that might already seem like plenty of work, but I'm not done yet. As I said, there's a LOT to be done around here, including smaller tasks like trimming the lawn edges...
...and bigger tasks like raking the entire orchard after the grass has been cut...
...and subsequently gathering and transporting the freshly cut hay to the horses' paddocks.
There's also a number of paint jobs to be done...
...as well as beans to be harvested.
Also, the gutters are in desperate need of cleaning - a task which requires me to literally climb onto the roof on all fours at times...
...and guess whose job it is to pick up after the horses?
Fortunately, that job at least is a lot less grisly than it might seem at first - after all, the horse manure acquires a solid-earth like texture after being in the sun for a couple of days (also, we have gloves). What do we do with all that refuse after gathering it up and bagging it? Why, sell it of course!
Next, there's a freshly constructed strawberry bed box which needs to be filled up with soil...
...and once again it falls to the fox to capture mice which the cats dragged in (note to the cats: you're fired).
There's also grapevines to be trimmed...
...weedmats to be stapled...
...and let us not forget about the everlasting task of picking up the nonsensical amount of bark shedded by the gumtrees in the driveway. In their native habits, the trees shed their dry bark during the summer months to reveal fresh and moist substance as protective mechanism against bush fires, but in these latitudes, it only serves to drive foxes like me insane.
But wait, that's not all of it. In fact, there's more where that came from. Lots more! For example, a number of bushes require pruning...
...and the garden paths themselves need weeding too.
After that, there's also a number of domestic duties, such as preparing home-made yoghurt...
...vacuuming the garage...
...or organizing Bryan's extensive DVD collection (about a third of which can be seen in the following picture).
One final task which is right down my alley is designing a map of the property. This is something I suggested to Bryan, and he was instantly taken with the idea. Thus, I spend one of my days preparing a high-resolution map of the property form him, using Google maps as a primary source, but also dashing around the property to survey the outdated parts, or those that are concealed by the countless trees. In the end, I manage to produce a nifty little map, which will surely help Franziska and Bryan direct other WWOOFers around in the future.
Anyway, I think that's about enough talking about the many many jobs I've done here on the Thornton Grange, so let's take a little break with a...
Interlude: Cycling Around Christchurch
Part of my reward for all that hard work is being allowed to use a rusty yet sturdy old bike to cycle around the city (fun fact: around here, bicycles are commonly referred to as "pushbikes" - took me some time to catch onto that).
The brakes don't work all that well, and I can only use about 3 of the 14 gears, but it still runs. Later on, I should get around to fixing some of these issues, but for the time being, this rustic metal donkey is still good enough to take me for a little trip around the southwestern parts of town.
It's a lovely little circuit of about 22kms, along which I come across a neat model train course set up in the nearby Halswell domain park.
At a track width of over 10cm, this is one of the largest model trains I've ever seen, and since it spans an area of several hundred square meters,, it can even be observed from space... with the right telescope lens.
Regrettable, no trains appear to be running right now, so I move on to find more geocaches along the way. Perhaps the most exciting one is the cache hidden beneath a street, requiring me to go in there to retrieve it.
Fortunately, it is easily found once I'm inside. Nonetheless, if all that cycling didn't already do wonders for my heart rate, then my claustrophobia dropping by and sending its regards sure did the trick.
The rest of the trip is fortunately less heart-rending, and from the top of a bridge, I even manage to get a descent shot of the cityscape of Christchurch.
I also come across an adorable colourful road painting in one of the residential districts...
...as well as a more erratic wall painting on a local school. Once more I take note of how the Kiwis appear to be significantly more artistic than the Germans, and recall about Bryan telling me that here in New Zealand, Montessori and Waldorf-schools receive public funding, allowing parents to send their children to such a school for free.
Eventually, the road takes me back home, and I get some rest for another day of hard work - but not before taking note of the filigrane plumes of cirrus clouds that have sprung up in the sky.
Those who work, must eat - which is especially true if you just noticed that you've lost over 10kgs since the beginning of your journey. Fortunately, Bryan and Franziska are not stingy with their food, and the meals are ample enough to satiate even the most ravenous fox's appetite.
After feeding the animals, the day starts off with a big bowl of breakfast, which I enjoy mixed with home-made yoghurt, as well as a nice cup of tea. Bryan and Franziska are astounded about my capability of eating cereal this dry, but since I don't really like the taste of raw milk, I've been used to eating them raw since my youth. Even the yoghurt is only a recent addition - yet a quite tasty one. This goes out to all you cereal-eaters among my readers: Try it! You'll love it! You can even use different flavours of yoghurt to get different results. My personal favourite so far is mango-passionfruit.
Next up is lunch, which is also pretty straightforward: It consists mostly of bread with some type of spread, though every so often we also get poached eggs. While inherently simple, this still leaves a lot of room for improvisation and trying out things. For example, I find out that both tomato paste as well as a mixture of mayonnaise and rough-grained mustard make excellent condiments. Also, there is this typically English thing called chutney which looks a lot like jam, yet tastes nothing like it. I find it quite tasty as well. In fact, that's one thing I'm definitely going to miss when I return back home.
Dinner is the most varied meal of the day, typically consisting of a large dose of vegetables from the garden, as well as a little meat and sometimes pasta or potatoes.
Thanks to all the eggs we get from the chickens, quiches and frittatas are also regular entries on the menu, and while I don't exactly fancy them, I can't deny that they're full of energy vitamins and nutrients.
The best part is - how could it be any different - on the occasions when I'm allowed to cook,starting off with my legendary fox pizza. Franziska and Bryan humour my hubris at first, and invite all of their kids and their respective mates over to dinner to see whether my legendary pizza can live up to its lofty name.
Two servings later, I have converted another seven people to the faith of vulpizzaism.
On another occasion, I prepare tasty spaghetti just for Bryan, Franziska and me. The prime difference here is that being on an organic farm and all, I prepare the bolognese sauce from scratch this time around - an endeavour that turns out to be quite savoury, unlike the dreaded Mystery Spaghetti X of 2011.
Eventually, my cooking even attracts an emissary of the felines. Now if Totoro was a dog, I'd say he's begging.But cats don't beg. Cats demand.
Finally, one day I also help myself to a chocolate Santa, the likes of which are sold at spectacularly low prizes now that the Christmas season is over. As such, I don't even have to pay a full dollar to treat myself to this chocolatey delight, and while it certainly is nothing like a proper Milka Santa, it's nonetheless quite tasty.
Interlude: A Mid-Sumner Day Trip
Ten days after my last cycling trip, I finally get another day off, and once again, I determine to use this opportunity to explore the parts of Christchurch which are yet foreign to me.
This time, I set my eyes on the suburb of Sumner, which is located at the very eastern end of Christchurch, overlooking the pacific ocean. Getting there and back again is quite a trip, which is why I plan in a full day for doing so, and make sure to take a full bottle of water and some sunscreen along for the trip.
Did 20km already sound like a lot? Well, this trip should take me over a total of 55km, with a total difference in altitude of about 400m to boot. My first side trip takes me up the hills of Huntsbury, and although my dated bike capitulates in awe of the incline, forcing me to push it up all the way, I am eventually rewarded with something that I've been seeking for a long time: A full, scenic outlook over the huge, sprawling city of Christchurch.
My next stop is the Avon-Heathcote estuary again - only this time, the tide is in, and it's actually filled with sparkling blue water.
Avoiding the infamous toxic shellfish (which allegedly kills you faster than a bullet)...
...I eventually arrive at Shag Rock, which is right across from Southshore, and thus marks the narrowest point of the channel connecting the estuary to the ocean.
It's a sunny day, so there's plenty of people on the beach even here in the no man's land between the suburbs. Dog owners in particular seem to enjoy this place - and so do their canine companions.
By contrast, the beach of Sumner is more of a haven for surfers and other humans.
Since I still have a little time left before the zenith hour, I decide to cycle up one of the nearby cliffs, dearly hoping that this won't end up being Kira's Mistake instead.
Alas, the incline once again proves to be a bit too much for my rusty steed, and thus I am forced to dismount and push my pushbike once again...
...but in the end, I am rewarded with a fabulous panorama view of the ocean and the bay of Sumner.
And here's a close-up of Southshore jutting into the channel separating the Avon-Heathcote Estuary from the Pacific Ocean.
On my way back through the streets of Sumner, I come across a sign that makes me feel slightly homesick...
...and as I look for a place to rest during the hot and bright zenith hour, I come across a little cafe and restaurant that has my name written all over it.
Inside, I indulge in a tasty Kiwi BBQ Burger, and have a nice little chat with the manager on duty. After he notices my fox shirt, he even takes a picture of my by the entrance sign to put on facebook, and treats me to a free drink to go with my lunch.
Not wanting to risk getting a sunburn, I put on a fresh layer of sunscreen before departing once again - the grand cosmic photon blaster is quite fierce today after all. The tide is already rushing out again, and as I cycle along the coastal road back to Christchurch, I notice countless sand banks starting to emerge from the waters between the deeper channels.
On the way back, I am once again posed with a difficult decision. However, since I am already quite exhausted (as well as painfully aware of my mount's capabilities), I chose to take the low road just this once, and drive along Ferry Road through Woolston.
There, I just so happen to run into Ajay, who is just walking Bonnie in the Woolston Park across the Renegades Community Centre. Turns out this is his last day here before he leaves for the town of Temuka to the south. His business here has been liquidated, be he is looking forward to taking over a newly built Māori meeting house of his tribe - not necessarily a bad development after all!
On the way back home I stop by the Barrington mall to buy a belt to combat m dwindling waistline, as well as new socks to counter the natural wearout. And then, barely seven hours after setting out, I arrive back at the Thornton Grange, exhausted, but unscathed.
...well mostly unscathed. Despite my repeated application of factor 50 sunscreen, the photon barrage has taken its toll on parts of my skin. Thus, I resort to wearing long sleves for the next couple of days (well, most of the time I'm wearing work overalls anyway, so...).
Nonetheless, I certainly enjoyed this little sightseeing trip, and resolve to make at least another such tour while I'm here.
There's quite a bunch of cute and/or funny things that occur here. Most of them include the cats (how could it be any different).
But there's also some wardrobe malfunctions included. Fortunately, being the grandson of a seasoned seamstress, I know how to handle these things.
Prince: "Oh noes! The vines gots my tail! I is gonna die!!!"
Ah, false alert. Looks like he's all better now, and so very affectionate!
It's not all cats though. The horses can have their funny moments as well, such as the following pathfinding error:
And going from horses to wolves, Kathi and Franziska try out Ecchnasi, and are both quite fascinated by it.
And have you ever heard of the famous Vermont Barometer?
By the way, can you tell what's wrong with this world map that is hanging in the WWOOFer hut?
During my stay in Thornton Grange, I also occasionally visit Joppy in Redwood. On one of my visits there, I have to beware the dreaded surprise kitten.
Back at the Thornton Grange, I find Prince and Totoro sharing the duty of watching the property.
Maybe I should give them a dose of this for their continued faithful services?
By the way, have you ever seen a water tap dripping... through a bubble?
Also, hedgehogs - while certainly not indigenous - appear to be frequent visitors to the farm.
On another day, I finally get to see Bryan's fabled racing car.
By the way, who ever said raking the orchard had to be boring? You can find all sorts of exciting things, such as old nests...
...or even long-lost scissors (another WWOOFer lost them, and Bryan has been looking for these for months).
And here's the new Microsoft Stove: "Because counting normally is boring!"
Prince: "Gotta be sumethin intrestin' in here..."
Now here's an interesting question: Is this sign paradox?
Another time, I find prince reclining on the lawn after a very stressful day of watching the farm.
There's also signs leading to curiously named places...
...which involuntarily brings to mind the universal phrase for "Elephants, come and destroy the whole village except hut number three from right where I’m lying on the floor!"
By the way, have you ever seen a Dvorak Keyboard before? It's like a normal keyboard, but has the key positions optimized to improve accuracy and typing speed even further.
Let us now proceed to my collection of curious traffic signs. First off, here's the extremely common sign for "S-turn that has a side road coming in from the right during the first turn, and another side road from the left during the second turn, yet at a slightly different angle".
Next, there's the sign for "Speed limit 50! We mean it! Seriously! Violate it and you'll be sorry! We've got heat-seeking missiles! And we know where your house lives and won't hesitate to nuke it! And some minor island nations too while we're at it!"
And finally, we have the the "Watch out for horses with riders, bicycles without riders, pedestrians chasing after their runaway bicycles, as well as giant exclamation marks that are easily bigger than pedestrians and horses"-sign.
Oh, and before I forget it: That's not a saw...
...that's a saw!
Interlude: The Grand Snowleopard-Southshore-Circuit
After returning from Sumner, I sat back in relief, certain that I had just finished the longest circuit I'd attempt here in Christchurch.
I was wrong.
Ever since I've been standing at Shag Rock, looking over to Southshore, I couldn't stop thinking about how that was the one place in Christchurch I really hadn't been to so far, and thus, when I get my next day off, my ambition gets the better of me, and I set course for the farthest reaches of town.
Since this is quite the feat, I break down the track into two parts, departing for Joppy's place in Redwood in the afternoon, spending the night there, and leaving for Southshore at half past eight the following morning. This effectively breaks up the circuit into a 23km trip on the first day, and a 42km trip on the second, making for a total of 65km. However, since this time I am also spending some time geocaching, the total tour should take significantly longer than my excursion to Sumner.
The way to Redwood runs mostly through familiar territory, so there's not much to report on there. However, I do make some more delicious pizza for Joppy and Kap, and thus start the next day quite invigorated.
My first stop is the Bottle Lake Reserve, which is famous for its lush forests...
...ingeniously hidden caches...
...traditional wood carvings...
...and cross-country mountainbike tracks.
Eventually, I reach the beach, which is so far off the beaten track that it almost feels like I'm stranded on a remote island here.
From there, my path leads me down south the shore, until I arrive at the New Brighton Pier...
...which is not only popular among fishermen and their friends, the seagulls...
...but also gives me a great view on Southshore, as well as Sumner in the very distance.
From there, it's pretty much a loooooong straight road down south, though I do stop by the way to inspect the odd statue garden.
And then, almost at midday, I have finally made it, and stand on the beach of the Spit Reserve, the southernmost part of Southshore, looking across the channel onto the place I've been to a week before.
The estuary is at a halfway point between high and low tide...
...and it looks like Shag Rock is only a stone's throw away.
The good news is: I made it! I've officially visited the most remote point of Christchurch, protruding several kilometres into the sea. The bad news is that I consequentially have to go back all the way now - a risky endeavour with the sun almost in zenith now. But there's no helping it, so I put on another layer of sunscreen and am on my way.
About an hour later I arrive in the walking mall of Woolston, where I reward myself for my efforts by turning into the local Domino's...
...and ordering a tasty pizza.
On my way back, I make a little side trip to have the bike checked over on account of Bryan, but eventually return to the Thornton Grange, exhausted, but accomplished. With this last trip, I have pretty much covered all of Christchurch either on foot or by bike.
The one thing I'm definitely going to remember about this place is that no job ever worked me as hard in my entire life. My average weeks had 50 work hours (averaged out over the occasional free day), and a normal day would have anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of work in it, with peaks going up to 11. Had I been getting paid for this, it would have covered my expenses for two or three months.
Apart from that, I liked my stay here. Bryan and Franziska are nice people, and the cats Prince and Totoro are indeed very affectionate. I'm definitely going to miss their feline company. Sepaking of animals: Being able to work with llamas was definitely a treat, and although much of my work here was tedious such as weeding entire paddocks or constantly picking up bark in the driveway, I overall enjoyed the variety of different tasks. The food was plentiful (although it contained a tidbit too many cooked vegetables for my taste), the facilities were good, and having a bike to explore Christchurch in what little free time I had was definitely a plus.
Naturally, having stayed with Franziska and Bryan for this long, I've also taken the time to prepare a furry portrait of them together with their cats. Once again, my hosts are very taken by it, and announce they're going to have it framed and put on the wall.
The Road Ahead
Having followed my trip around New Zealand this far, you might find it a bit curious to learn that my next destination is located on the north island, by the shore of Lake Taupo. Since that's quite a distance away, I am taking a plane to get there - well, two planes actually. Since the airline system of New Zealand is a bit bogus, I have to fly back all the way to Auckland first to get a flight to Taupo, and vice versa on the way back. Even so, getting there barely takes 3 hours, whereas going by bus and ferry would have taken over ten times as long!
But why would I go through all that trouble to get to Lake Taupo at this point during my trip when I could simply pay it a visit on my way up the north island later on? Why, because there's a very special event coming up there, and this is most likely the one chance I'll ever get to attend it. As thus, I am not likely to let this opportunity slip away, even if it does put a bit of my dent in my budget. I had planned to compensate for it by working in Christchurch, but alas, it was not meant to be. Nonetheless, my time in this city was mostly a good one, and I met a number of nice people along the way, so I'm not disappointed.
Where will I go after that event? Well, for starters, I'll return to Christchurch so I can continue an uniterrupted circuit. From there, my path leads south towards Otago - but that is another story, to be told at another time.