Farming volunteerism and hiking in New Zealand, Jan.-April. Advice?
November 29, 2010 10:56 PM   Subscribe

Gap year-ing vegan headed to New Zealand to WWOOF (farm) and hike from January through April. May I please hear your suggestions/advice/experiences?

At this point, I'm registered with WWOOF NZ and have made the travel arrangements—arrival and departure from MA.

I'm WWOOFing to contribute to and be involved with a practice that actualizes my environmental/social ethics, and hiking in between farming gigs to explore both majestic islands. WWOOF would seem to work in a short-term, immediate way; is it a valid strategy to post that I'm free and willing to work right before I fly out? Your take and tips re; WWOOF and the farmer/host situation are especially welcome, as I know little about the system and the FAQ is only so forthcoming.

What ought I not to miss when hiking? What should I avoid? Where/when is/are good places to meet likeminded folk—fellow travelers and NZ inhabitants alike?

Potential difficulties are the management of my insulin-dependent diabetes (type-one), and committed veganism. The former I hope to mitigate with solid planning and a prearranged support network including my provider in Boston. Any advice on successfully filling medications in NZ? As for the plant-based lifestyle bit, I'm not very worried; I'm certainly willing to find alternatives and fend for myself. I don't expect there to be much friction around cultural attitudes, and I always aim to be civil and accepting (as do the other veg-an/etarians I know; just who is it who causes the common resentment?!). I would be grateful for advice on where to find vegan supplies, best chances for restaurants, essentials to pack (primal strips en masse, perhaps?). Happily, I ought to be in close quarters with fresh produce, after all.

So, hivemind—have at it! I'm eager to hear your takes. Of course let me know if you need further info and I'll gladly supply it. Thanks in advance!
posted by alexandermatheson to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen Nadawi's question about New Zealand? It's got a lot of good advice about cultural shock between the US and New Zealand (it's likely to be more serious than you expect).

Do you drink? The wine's fantastic.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:07 PM on November 29, 2010

Re the vegan thing - this could probably be helped by reading the descriptions the farmers may provide, as well as emailing ahead of time. I've definitely seen a lot of descriptions (in the UK and Ireland WWOOF databases I've been browsing) like "homegrown vegetarian food provided", or conversely "please be aware that this is a working cattle ranch". In general, the nature of the organization implies that you won't have too hard a time finding a farm that can deal with your vegan ways. I'm not sure, however, how prevalent veganism is in NZ in general.

You could certainly ask your WWOOF hosts the questions about restaurants, foods, essentials to pack, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 11:11 PM on November 29, 2010

Off the top of my head, take any vegan junk food that you can't live without, it's pretty difficult to find in NZ, although you can get vegan chocolate (whittaker's dark) in most supermarkets. In terms of vegan supplies I guess just the standard asian grocery stores.

Aunty Meenas in Wellington is a bit of a vegan institution, but probably the best way to find out most of this stuff is to hit up Food not Bombs/info stores/random hippies.

Definitely hit up the Nelson/Motueka/Golden Bay region of the south island + Abel Tasman National Park and the West Coast.
posted by fido~depravo at 2:40 AM on November 30, 2010

1. Everything will be more than you expect. For example, a morning coffee cruise around Auckland Harbor will = Volcano Hike. Always have the right gear...

2... This means sunscreen, good shoes, and a breathable waterproof jacket. A hat. YOU WILL GO THROUGH 3 SEASONS IN DAY!! It will be hot and sunny, it will rain, and it will be cold. Sometimes within the same hour. Even in January. Enjoy.

3. You will be expected to drink a lot of alcohol. Have a plan.

4. Everywhere you go will be amazing. Learn some Maori and/or something about the Maori culture, just so you can fully appreciate every second.
posted by jbenben at 10:48 AM on November 30, 2010

American living in New Zealand - Wellington, but I've traveled around a fair amount in the past 2 1/2 years.

I'm not a vegan, but I've found that in the larger cities, you usually have a good amount of vegan cafe options. NZ culture is pretty accepting of health- and green-oriented alternative lifestyles, at least in the decently-sized cities. That said, there are a lot of small isolated villages, and you'll probably find yourself depending on these more than large cities while you're WWOOFing. I think the deciding factor for accommodating your vegan lifestyle will generally be the attitude of the farmers where you're working. From my limited experience, that's a toss-up. Small-town NZ can be a redneck (in their own way) society, and you might run into that. On the other hand, kiwis are the most genuinely friendly and hospitable people I've ever met, and your requests might be graciously honored.

If you're only going to be here for 3 months in the summer, I highly recommend seeing as much of the S Island as possible. Nelson and Golden Bay are amazing, very laid-back and temperate climate. The Abel Tasman Nat'l Park is nearby and has some awesome hiking trails. Stay at Paradiso backpackers in Nelson, it's great and cheap, you'll meet tons of young people. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are gorgeous and you could have a great couple of days exploring there. You should definitely see the Fjordlands down south on the west coast, take a boat ride around and do a glacier hike. I love the mountains, so of course I'd recommend getting into the mountains on the S Island. Lake Wanaka is beautiful and very chill. Queenstown can be fun, it's beautiful and there's plenty of adventurous (but pricey) things to do near there, but it's more of a tourist area. If you have to do Christchurch, head to Sol Square. I'm not a fan of Christchurch though. The architecture in Dunedin is really cool.

You might have heard that the sun is more intense down here. As someone who rarely got sunburned in the US, I kind of brushed this off. It's no joke. Make sure you bring sunscreen with you when you fly over and keep a regular stock while you're here. Put it on if you'll be out in the sun for more than half an hour. Seriously.

jbenben is right about #2 above. NZ is a relatively small island nation stuck in the Pacific, so weather rolls through quickly. Always be prepared for rain.

Once you get here, exchange your money at a post office, there's no commission. Don't do it at the airport.

Prepaid mobile phones are cheap and easy here. If you have a GSM phone, it will work here. Vodaphone and Telecom are the most reliable, but Telecom requires you to use their phones. Don't use 2 Degrees. Calling is expensive but texting is not, so kiwis text like crazy and rarely call or check voice mail messages.

Kiwis love hiking (they call it walking for short excursions, tramping for longer ones). Their backcountry system is fantastic - they spend a lot of money and effort through the Dept of Conservation to keep trails in good condition, and they build and maintain a surprising number of huts. For the most popular hikes, you'll need to book well in advance. Go here for information on trails and huts and such. If you like mountains like I do, you'll want to spend some time hiking around on the S Island more so than the N Island, but there are great options throughout the country. jbenben is right again in #1 above - kiwis tend to understate things, in my experience. A can-do/DIY attitude is pretty well ingrained in their culture here, and kiwis are in general pretty adventurous, and these tend to factor in for things like this. I think my best piece of advice here would be to try and never turn down an invitation. I've yet to have a bad hiking/outdoors experience in this country, and it's rich with outdoor experiences, so lap it up.

As for filling your prescriptions, my friends and I have never had trouble filling prescriptions here in Wellington, and I'm sure that would be true in any urban area. I'm not sure about the smaller towns, but I would be surprised if you ran into trouble getting your prescriptions filled somehow. It might take a little more time than you're used to if you're not in an urban area. In my experience, prescriptions have all been reasonably priced.

You won't have trouble meeting likeminded people or fellow travelers, in my opinion. I think the statistic is that 25% of the people in this country are not kiwis, by birth at least. There are tons of foreigners here, and it's a popular and easy country to come spend a few months on holiday traveling around. Backpackers (hostels) tend to be filled with recent high school grads and young 20s.

I agree with jbenben #3 above - the wine is truly fantastic (especially in Marlborough, Hawke's Bay, and the Wairarapa) and kiwis are big drinkers, so be prepared one way or the other. Especially in the backpacking/WWOOFing community. Kiwis are also quite big on barbequeing, so be prepared for that also.

I hadn't seen nadawi's post before now. It might be a good resource about cultural attitudes etc., especially since there were a lot of responses. But it's a really broad topic to cover here, and in my opinion, the best advice will directly relate to how much you've traveled abroad, which you haven't mentioned in your post. Feel free to memail me as I'm happy to discuss it with you.
posted by hootenatty at 4:33 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Auckland specific vegan stuff :
There's a great store in the city called SAFE - - which stocks a lot of junk food & the bar downstairs in St. Kevin's Arcade, the Wine Cellar, stocks vegan wine.
posted by teststrip at 10:16 PM on November 30, 2010

Response by poster: All these responses are incredible! I'm very grateful. Keep it coming, MeFites!
posted by alexandermatheson at 2:44 AM on December 1, 2010

Response by poster: …or not. Marking as resolved. Thanks again.
posted by alexandermatheson at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2010

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